An Alpine Summer Holiday
This summer we spent a glorious few days high up in the Tyrolean Alps in Sankt Anton am Arlberg, Austria. In the winter there’s an array of red, blue and black runs, skiers, snowboarders and apres ski bars. In the summer the slopes are alive with wildflowers, hikers and mountain bikers.
We chose to go there as part of our Interrail journey through Austria and France in July and August (you can read more about Interrailing as a family here). We jumped on the train in Salzburg, and in just a couple of hours we alighted, significantly higher in altitude and surrounded by looming peaks. They were especially grey when we arrived and the heavens opened soon after. That’s the risk you take choosing to spend a summer holiday in the mountains. As the 6yo old never tired of reminding me…you know you’re in the mountains when the weather changes all the time!
We stayed in a two-bed AirBnB in St Jakob, a small village that sits on the edge of St Anton. It’s linked by a free bus service (running once an hour until 6.30pm) to St Anton centre, but it’s also only a 25min walk. With our luggage and some food to get us through the first night, we took the bus to our apartment and happily settled in, waiting for clouds to lift so that we could enjoy our views.
We stayed five nights in total which gave us four full days to enjoy what St Anton had to offer. Here’s what we did!
Day One – Local Walks
The weather forecast on our first day was dubious. It was meant to be sunny early on, but the reality was drizzle, sun, heavy rain, sun, more drizzle…you get the picture! The old adage for hikers is that the weather is never bad, you’ve just got the wrong gear. With that in mind we donned our raincoats and walking shoes and headed out.
The St Anton tourist office can provide you with plenty of maps covering walks for all abilities. Our apartment was also well stocked with information. We chose a walk that we could easily do from the apartment. We’d spotted plenty of mini-waterfalls cascading down the mountain, so we chose to visit one of the main waterfalls in the area, the Stockibach Wasserfall. The footpath started across the main road from our apartment and looped back into St Anton. Happily, it also took in the spot where MrP and I were engaged 10 years ago!
The walk followed the river, took a winding route up through a meadow and found a route through a pine forest before reaching the waterfall.
From the waterfall it was a fairly short walk to the centre of town. We crossed town and then struck out under the shadow of the cable car, heading to the Sennhütte for lunch. The walk was rather steeper than we’d anticipated (unsurprising as we were walking up a ski slope) but it finished up at the base of Senn’s WunderWanderWeg, a walk introducing children to the natural wonders of the mountain environment. From edelweiss to herbs, a treetop walk and interactive water feature, there was plenty for the kids to get involved in. We took in some elements on the way up to lunch, and others after having our fill of traditional Austrian mountain food (Wiener schnitzel anyone?).
Day Two – On the Cable Cars
Every visitor to St Anton is issued with a Sommercard (each visitor also pays a small tourist tax on top of their accommodation price to cover this) giving them access to the summer programme which includes guided hikes, free E-bike hire and even yoga. It also gives each visitor access onto the cable cars and chairlift for a whole day at no additional charge.
Day Two was a blue sky day, so we decided to make it our cable car day. We took the Galzigbahn then Valluga 1 to 2,650m. After exploring here we headed back down to the restaurant at the top of the Galzig for lunch and a play in the playground before following the Panoramaweg Mutspuren walk around the mountain. You can read more about our day at the top of the mountain on the Little Trekkers Go Large blog.
After completing the Panoramaweg Mutspuren, which took us about an hour and a half, we took the cable car back down to St Anton then changed onto the Gampen chairlift. Riding a chairlift in the summer is quite an experience. I’d say it’s even more hair-raising than going on with your skis! After a quick drink at the restaurant at the top of the lift while the kids played in the playground, we followed a path winding down the mountain back to St Jakob. It took a bit of map reading and trusting our sense of direction, but we made it. The kids loved spotting the signs of St Anton’s winter life. On this walk we worked out it would be possible to ski back to our apartment. Plans are being made to return for a winter ski trip. . .
Day Three – Bikes and High Ropes
On our third day the weather was due to be a little cooler – perfect for a bike ride. We didn’t have our own bikes with us, so we had to find some to rent. Unsurprisingly every shop which normally rents skis in the winter turns into a mountain biker’s dream in the summer. Apparently E-bikes are the thing to have in the mountains. Our kids weren’t old enough for them (10 years minimum), so we had to make do with traditional mountain bikes (and burning calories and thighs!).
The ride out of St Anton was tough! Only the 8yo and MrP managed to ride it the whole way. I got off and pushed for the final stretch, as did the 6yo. It was worth it though as we headed over to join the Verwallweg – a route which winds along a valley to a stunning lake. Cyclists can choose to cycle along the walking path or take the quiet road. We did a mix of both.
The first stop on the path was the EldoRADo bike park (no additional charge). MrP and the kids were in heaven! I assumed photo and video-taking duties. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves in the morning. The kids whizzed round and round, falling off, laughing, then whizzing round again.
We rejoined the bike-friendly Verwallweg and cycled along the valley, enjoying the scenery. The walking path is broken up by story-telling stations and mini playgrounds. Our finish line was the St Anton High Ropes course (Hochseilgarten). We checked in and found we had about an hour before we could take part, so we cycled over to the lake and the impressive dam and hanging bridge before having a spot of lunch.
We got started on the high ropes after lunch, and what a course it was, including not one, but two zip wires across the river, and then another zip wire to finish. The obstacles were some of the most challenging I’ve experienced, but the kids loved it. You can read more about our afternoon on the ropes on the Little Trekkers Go Large blog.
Day Four – Archery and Swimming
On our last day we decided to make the most of the St Anton Sommercard with a free archery lesson and a swim. We booked our slot for archery on the website a couple of days before. The 8yo had made a special request to do some archery this summer, and happily for us it was included as an activity on the card.
We met our teacher and the other members of the group at Arl.rock, the climbing centre next to the train station, and spent a very happy couple of hours firing off arrows at targets on a nearby meadow. The teacher was patient and instructive. The kids loved it, and MrP and I enjoyed ourselves too.
We had lunch at our apartment then headed back into St Anton for a swim at its very fabulous public pool. Entrance is free with the Sommercard. I had fond memories of the pool. On our last visit to St Anton I’d not been able to ski as I’d broken my collarbone a few weeks before our trip. I spent the week swimming in circles in this pool before heading up the mountain to meet up with friends. The indoor pool is great, with little cubby holes to hide in. You can swim from the indoor pool to an outdoor egg-shaped jet-propelled flume. There’s also a large outdoor pool. It’s possible to spend hours here with water-loving children.
We found four days to be the perfect amount and left on our fifth morning excited about the next leg of our journey…Paris! (You can read about our bike tour around Paris here.)