Susan and I stood atop an alpine ridge high above the village of Vent. It was our last day of alpine walking in the Austrian Alps. Lowering skies threatened snow. I was totally absorbed in the rugged silence of the high mountains. It was transcendent.
As the emotional rush softened, I leaned over to ask, “Why didn’t we start here?” She answered, “We’d never have left.” And to think we came to the Alps almost on a whim.
We were at the end of three months in Germany, knew we were going to cycle along the Danube River across Austria but couldn’t decide whether or not to push further east after that.
One moment we’d think, Bratislava. The next it was, Slovenia might be better or Croatia. The next day we’d go around and around again.
The truth is that we were a little weary and weren’t too enthusiastic about struggling with the logistics of a new region. Besides, we had petsits scheduled through TrustedHousesitters in Ireland and England.
When Susan observed that we’d been five years in Europe and because of Covid induced cancellations in 2020 and 2021 never visited the Alps, the idea of hiking in the mountains took root. Problem was, we had no idea of where to go. So I just picked a place based on the pictures on Google Maps. It looked to be an easy train and bus connection from Salzburg and the holiday apartment we selected was priced right. That’s how we came to Sölden.
We did not know what to expect from Sölden. Neither of us had even heard of it. So I was a bit surprised to find a town dedicated to alpine sports, both summer and winter. Sölden lies near the heart of the Ötztal Valley surrounded by 3,000 meter peaks. Even on the bus ride from the train station in Ötztal our enthusiasm for the locale was mounting. Then when we saw that the apartment we'd rented had a stunning view of a mountain called Nederkogel and that we could see and enjoy the view from the bedroom (as we sipped our morning coffee) it was clear that the next three weeks were going to be filled with mountain fun.
Yvonne, our host at Skorpion Apartments, the small family-operated guest accommodation where we stayed, had plenty of local tourist information available, In fact, everywhere we went it was clear that the Ötztal Valley tourism groups had gathered almost all of the information visitors like us would be likely to need. The one exception was any indication of where the 8200 bus that passed near our apartment actually picked up riders in town.
We were about a mile from the grocery stores in Sölden. It would have been nice not to have to shop every day. But, as we were in town to do some serious hiking, I suppose it didn’t really matter. Further, any temptation to buy a bottle of wine was tempered by the prospect of having to carry it back home after a hard day of hiking. Thus, we ended up enjoying the best tasting tap water we have ever encountered. Didn’t miss the wine at all.
There's an abundance of well marked hiking trails.
Public Transportation in the Ötztal Valley
When we started, Susan and I decided to restrict ourselves to public transportation as we rambled across Europe. We purchased senior discount cards for rail travel in Spain and France, and took advantage of the special nine euro monthly passes available in Germany this past summer, even when that meant we ended up standing for most of the journey.
When It came to Austria, we didn’t think discount cards made sense. That is until we came to the Ötztal Valley. Even though the price was quite high, the Ötztal Inside Summer Card was worth every penny of it.
The card included
- transportation on all of the bus lines from the train station up to the villages of Obergurgl and Vent
- chairlifts and gondolas
- a couple of spa visits
- even miniature golf
The chairlift and gondola rides were restricted to one up and one down, per lift or gondola, per day. But there were so many options available, our 10 day card did not cover enough days to sample all of them. We did make almost daily use of the Gaislachkoglbahn, sometimes just to enjoy the quiet unfolding of the views as the gondola climbed from the village center to an elevation of 3040 meters.
We aren’t downhill skiers, so riding the cables was fun enough for us. The real advantage though, was we got to avoid the steep and long uphill hikes up out of the valley. We arrive above timberline fresh and ready to trek. And the views we enjoyed will linger long in our memories.
We made a couple of mistakes during our visit. Both involved hesitating a bit too long. First, we didn’t purchase the Summer cards until the end of our three weeks in Sölden and several of the higher elevation gondolas and chairlifts had closed down for pre-ski season maintenance. With a combination of snowfall and closed lifts, we didn’t make it to all of the high mountain places Susan wanted to see.
Second, we delayed visiting the village of Vent and the opportunity to climb on, but not to the top of, Wildspitze, the highest peak in the Austrian Tirol. The advantage was we had the mountain and village nearly to ourselves. We were awed by the glaciers we could see across the valley and would have lingered but the threat of snow chased us off the mountain.
It was okay though, the tiny village of Vent was warm and welcoming even though we were there on the last day of the Summer season. So we didn’t discover the delightful post guesthouse until it was too late to return for a cozy fireside dinner. We will save that for another day, if we should ever come back.
Our short hike on Wildspitze was awe inspiring.
Jamie wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more. His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net