Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of sound-rich portraits of European cities and sites. In this episode, I head to the Austrian Alps, and climb a mountain above the Achensee. The trains and ferries are no match for the nature…for those willing to enjoy it. Two slideshows included
You aren’t bothered by tourists up here, on the face of a mountain above the Achensee, an Austrian lake not far from the German border. Here you can hike among the cows, facing a steep descent to the lake. The Achensee region is one that thrives on tourism and gimmicks, but nature kept my troupe occupied and amazed. So it is on this mountain, with these cows, that I give you my trip to the Achensee.
MUSIC: “A Hiding Place for the Moon“ by Antoine Dufour
This steam engine has crawled through villages for more than 120 years, connecting the emerald Achensee and its Alpine purity, to the larger modern rail station in Jenbach. The Achenseebahn is one of Europe’s oldest cog railways, meaning the 16% grade is handled sometimes roughly slicing down the valley. But the untainted view of sun-kissed, Alpine giants is well worth the hard-backed benches and antique sounds, smells, and feel.
The Achensee is longer than it is wide, with bus, rail, ferry and the occasional parachute connecting a string of towns. Our base camp was Pertisau, nestled a few hundred meters from the water’s edge. All around you the mountains appear deliberate and eternal, some shaped like shark teeth and no less menacing.
Our visit to the Achensee came between the seasons, meaning most of the visitors here were retirees or tour groups. We always try to walk when seeing a new place, though. We like hiking along the shoreline and breathing in what time has cultivated, watching the water lap upon gravel shorelines. Not all visitors take time to just enjoy, even in a place like this. Those people like hopping quickly from place to place..
A number of ferries continue connecting villages that the railway can’t or won’t touch, especially on the lakeside deepest in this valley. As a sailor I can appreciate what cruising atop a waterway can bring. But a tourist boat is not used as it could be, as a way to find another perspective in this place.
That is what brought us here. Riding a gondola to the highest point we could, we hiked in light rain to the Dalfaz Alm, a mountain hut at nearly 1700 meters elevation. Clouds turned to fog obscuring the view, so we stopped to drink hot chocolate and tee, share stories with other hikers waiting out the rain. We took our chances though, taking baby steps down the sheer face of this mountain. The cows judging and staring at us.
We stopped every so often to have a snack, shelter ourselves from bursts of rain, and to take in the view as clouds formed peep-holes to the world below.
A wonderful trip to the Achensee
Inch by inch we cared only about the moment, only about the act of conquering this mountain, about soaking in the waterfall…
…the rain drops, the experience.
The Achensee is a tourist spot for some, meant to be discarded like a punch on an itinerary. But for those who venture into its back-yard there is plenty to experience, and much of it is free, save the time and focus it takes to soak it all in. And that is just what we gave the Achensee.
MUSIC: “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth” by Four Tet
More information on the music in this piece:
Antoine Dufour from the album “Existence”
Four Tet from the album “Rounds”