Wedged within a glacial cleft in the Gailtal Alps with mountain ridges flanking its northern and southern shores, Weissensee is Austria's highest swimmable glacial lake, the least developed of Carinthia's large lakes, and a spectacular and peaceful nature reserve. It stretches as a turquoise and deep-blue slither for almost 12km and in most parts is about 1km wide.
Theatrically set amid the jagged limestone spires of the Dachstein massif, rolling pastures and the aptly named Bischofsmütze (Bishop’s Mitre) peaks, Filzmoos is quite the alpine idyll. Despite some wonderful hiking and skiing, the resort’s out-of-the-way location deters the masses and the village has kept its rural charm and family-friendly atmosphere.
Söll is a well-known ski resort 10km south of Kufstein. Once a favourite of boozy, boisterous visitors in the 1980s, the resort has successfully reinvented itself and is now a family-oriented place with myriad outdoor activities. The tourist office, in the centre of the village, provides information on activities and will help you find accommodation.
Ehrwald’s crowning glory is the glaciated 2962m Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, straddling the Austro-German border. From the crest there’s a magnificent panorama of the main Tyrolean mountain ranges, as well as the Bavarian Alps and Mt Säntis in Switzerland. North of Zugspitze is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany’s most popular ski resort.
Gerlos Alpine Road
Open year-round, the highly scenic Gerlos Alpine Road (www.gerlosstrasse.at; toll per car/motorcycle €8.50/5.50) links the Zillertal in Tyrol to Krimml in Salzburgerland, winding 12km through high moor and spruce forest, and reaching a maximum elevation of 1630m. The lookout above the turquoise Stausee (reservoir) is a great picnic stop, with a tremendous vista of the Alps.
A stupendous feat of 1930s engineering, the 48km Grossglockner Road swings giddily around 36 switchbacks, passing jewel-coloured lakes, forested slopes and above-the-clouds glaciers from Bruck in Salzburgerland to Heiligenblut in Carinthia. The superfit can bike it: it’s worth the back-breaking uphill for the exhilarating downhill, some say.
The Mostviertel, in Lower Austria’s southwestern corner, takes its name from apple cider which is produced and consumed in the area. By Lower Austrian standards, the landscape is spectacular, with the eastern Alps ever-present in its southern reaches. It’s largely ignored by international tourists and is certainly an area off the beaten track.
Faaker See & Ossiacher See
Villach is blessed with two major lakes nearby with low-key summer resorts. Both the Faaker See, situated 6km east of Villach and close to the Karawanken Range, and the Ossiacher See, 4km to the northeast, provide plenty of camping, boating and swimming opportunities. Above Annenheim and providing a backdrop to the Ossiacher See is Gerlitzen (1909m), a popular ski area.
Around Bad Gastein
Stepping 3.5km south of Bad Gastein, you reach the unassuming village of Böckstein, whose medieval gold mine has been reinvented as a much-celebrated health centre, the Gasteiner Heilstollen. Visitors board a small train at the Gasteiner Heilstollen that chugs 2km into the depths of Radhausberg mountain, where you absorb the healing radon vapours. The trial session costs €29.
Sleepy little Mauterndorf has fairy-tale appeal; its narrow streets are dotted with candy-coloured houses and fountains. While the surrounding high moors and exposed bluffs are set up for walking and skiing, its remote setting in the Lungau region keeps things quiet. The village centrepiece is medieval Burg Mauterndorf.
Shadowing the turquoise Inn River, the Inntal (Inn Valley) has few major sights but the scenery is beautiful, particularly around Pfunds with its jagged peaks and thickly forested slopes. Many homes here are similar in design to those found in the Engadine in Graubünden, Switzerland, further up the Inn Valley.
It’s a bizarre feeling to slip out of sandals and into skis in midsummer, but that’s precisely what draws people to the Stubai Glacier. Just 40km south of Innsbruck, the glacier is a year-round skiing magnet with more than 110km of wide, snow-sure pistes that are great for cruising and intermediate skiing. Summer skiing is limited to between 2900m and 3300m.