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Salzburg Autumn Mixes Cows & Culture


Fun until the cows come home. Copyright: Jim Johnson, 1999.In autumn, when the madding throngs continue to crowd Salzburg's ancient alleys, I like to escape from the city to the province of the same name. In the alpine foothills to the east, local villages celebrate the harvest with the Bauernherbst. To the south and west of Salzburg, solitude awaits in the region's mountains and glacial valleys.

 

Loosely translated as "harvest festival," the Bauernherbst pervades daily life. At open-air markets, farmers show and sell produce fresh from field and orchard, slaughterhouse and smokehouse. Artisans and craftspeople demonstrate and sell their wares. In one town, visitors can watch villagers cure ham for the winter. In the next, women dressed in peasant clothes grind grain and bake bread in an ancient gristmill. Bands and folk-dancers perform in traditional garments. The area's cozy inns join in, too, preparing the region's favorite seasonal dishes, like apple fritters and Pofesen-plum jam sandwiches dipped in egg and deep-fried.

Nothing is contrived. Tourists simply share in the celebration. I especially enjoy how villagers throw open their doors to neighbors and travelers alike. In the village of Perwang, the Idenhammer family showed me how they wash, cut and press old breeds of apples for cider, storing the juice in massive stainless steel vats. They also press and ferment pears for Most, a traditional regional beverage that, due to its ability to travel well, was more popular than beer during the Middle Ages.

Herr Reichel…ready to make a bang! Copyright: Jim Johnson, 1999.In nearby Mattsee, Marina Haselberger showed off her inn's peat baths. Workers gather peat from adjacent bogs, heat it to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and then slough it into wooden tubs. Guests travel from throughout Europe to reap the baths' therapeutic benefits. I passed up the experience for another Haselberger family specialty, sampling from five giant flasks of home-made Schnapps.

An explosion drew me into the hills to the tiny hamlet of Grossenegg, where master gunmaker Herr Reichl creates 40-pound muskets for use in traditional celebrations. In one room, he carved intricate patterns into blocks of wood. In another, a furnace heated the molten metal he would mold into barrels or etch with fine scrollwork. Over the coming days, wood and metal would meet to form the ceremonial firearms. Before I left, he tamped gunpowder and tissue into a completed one, held it to his hip and shoulder, and fired. The shot thundered across the hills.

A detailed map of bicycling routes helped me create a personal Tour de Cheese. Along the way, cheese masters at six Emmentaler factories explained how different mixtures of clover, grass and herbs fed to local cows caused subtle differences in the flavor. At the Bambichlhof, an idyllic hillside farm worked by generations of the Stiedlbauer family since 1602, I joined a group of hikers for fresh cheesecake chased down by glasses of thick, chunky buttermilk. Ducks and goats milled about, chickens pecked at the ground, and kids ran carefree in the meadows.

Nature dwarfs hikers in beautiful Hohe Tauern National Park. Copyright: Jim Johnson, 1999.Austria's alpine escape, the Hohe Tauern National Park, which includes nearly 500 square miles within the Province of Salzburg, offers even more rustic solitude. This protected wilderness contains nearly 300 mountain peaks two miles or higher, and year-round snowfall adds new layers to ancient glaciers. Within the park's so-called "outer zone," roads are open only to farmers, innkeepers and a handful of van drivers. The "core zone" is accessible only by foot.

A network of hiking paths and nature trails connects the dots between mountain lodges and rustic huts, and many travelers spend a week or more traversing the area, either alone or in guided groups. Having neither equipment nor stamina, I opted instead for a day-trip led by park rangers selected for their knowledge of the region's flora and fauna and of local culture and history. Their love of nature is a given.

According to the rangers, our trek into the Huettwinkel valley followed a north-south trade route established by Celts and Romans. By comparison, a nearby mountain lodge was modern; it dated to 1389 and had been in the same family since 1556.

Rangers rest at the Tauernhaus, built in 1389. Copyright: Jim Johnson, 1999.As we entered the valley, meadows burst with buttercups. On each side, waterfalls flumed over sheer cliffs. A ranger pointed out mountain goats on distant outcroppings, barely specks to the naked eye. Along an elbow in the path, cows barricaded and butted us mischievously. Further ahead, a pony adopted our group and stayed with us for miles. "They must be from small farms," a ranger explained. "During the winter, the farmers bring them down from the mountains and pamper them. During the warm weather, they're allowed to roam free. They really crave the attention."

 

About two hours into our hike, we reached a rustic lodge that served as base for a World Wildlife Federation project to bring back the bearded vulture from the brink of extinction. Using a telescope, we viewed two hatchlings on a sheltered ledge. Each day, a worker climbed the cliff and lowered fruit and meat by rope.

Soon, the cliff walls grew closer, and we were forced to cross a raging river. The only way across was to leap from rock to rock. Someone had placed a small marker nearby mourning a recent death -- by drowning. I slipped during my first leap, trailing my left foot; the glacial flow was numbing.

Just ahead, the path took a sharp turn, and I saw the rest of the group standing silently. The view, until now hemmed in by the cliffs, exploded. Ahead of us, a broad waterfall crashed into the river. Behind it, a dozen snowy peaks formed the backdrop for a massive glacier. I don't even remember crossing back.

If You Go:

Getting There

Although the closest airport is Salzburg, it's often less expensive to fly to Munich and travel by train or van to Salzburg. From there, trains and buses run frequently throughout the province. Most places of lodging will help you make arrangements from Salzburg.

Language

German is the native language, although English is widely spoken.

Lodging

Inns, hotels, pensions and private rooms abound, with the lowest prices found in the smaller villages. For a real taste of local culture, consider the new "Salzburg Farm Holidays" program, with approved locations near the Hohe Tauern National Park and the Bauernherbst activities. Each farm must meet strict quality guidelines and have private baths and at least one English-speaking family member. The farms encourage guests to participate in farm life by milking cows, working in the fields or just playing with barnyard pets. Many farms also have bicycles for exploring.

Clothing

Salzburg in autumn is much like New England: comfortably warm and dry. Be prepared for cold and rain, however. In the mountains, snow is possible even in early September. Sturdy shoes, layers and protective outer gear are musts if you're hiking.

Information

For information on lodging, hiking trips and Bauernherbst activities, contact the Salzburg State Board of Tourism, P.O. Box 1, A-5300 Hallwang, Austria. Phone: 011-43-662-6688.
Fax: 011-43-662-6688-66.
E-mail: Information is also available through the Austrian National Tourist Office, 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110. Phone: (212) 944-6880.

Rangers rest at the Tauernhaus, built in 1389. Copyright: Jim Johnson, 1999.As we entered the valley, meadows burst with buttercups. On each side, waterfalls flumed over sheer cliffs. A ranger pointed out mountain goats on distant outcroppings, barely specks to the naked eye. Along an elbow in the path, cows barricaded and butted us mischievously. Further ahead, a pony adopted our group and stayed with us for miles. "They must be from small farms," a ranger explained. "During the winter, the farmers bring them down from the mountains and pamper them. During the warm weather, they're allowed to roam free. They really crave the attention."

About two hours into our hike, we reached a rustic lodge that served as base for a World Wildlife Federation project to bring back the bearded vulture from the brink of extinction. Using a telescope, we viewed two hatchlings on a sheltered ledge. Each day, a worker climbed the cliff and lowered fruit and meat by rope.

Soon, the cliff walls grew closer, and we were forced to cross a raging river. The only way across was to leap from rock to rock. Someone had placed a small marker nearby mourning a recent death -- by drowning. I slipped during my first leap, trailing my left foot; the glacial flow was numbing.

Just ahead, the path took a sharp turn, and I saw the rest of the group standing silently. The view, until now hemmed in by the cliffs, exploded. Ahead of us, a broad waterfall crashed into the river. Behind it, a dozen snowy peaks formed the backdrop for a massive glacier. I don't even remember crossing back.

If You Go:

Getting There

Although the closest airport is Salzburg, it's often less expensive to fly to Munich and travel by train or van to Salzburg. From there, trains and buses run frequently throughout the province. Most places of lodging will help you make arrangements from Salzburg.

Language

German is the native language, although English is widely spoken.

Lodging

Inns, hotels, pensions and private rooms abound, with the lowest prices found in the smaller villages. For a real taste of local culture, consider the new "Salzburg Farm Holidays" program, with approved locations near the Hohe Tauern National Park and the Bauernherbst activities. Each farm must meet strict quality guidelines and have private baths and at least one English-speaking family member. The farms encourage guests to participate in farm life by milking cows, working in the fields or just playing with barnyard pets. Many farms also have bicycles for exploring.

Clothing

Salzburg in autumn is much like New England: comfortably warm and dry. Be prepared for cold and rain, however. In the mountains, snow is possible even in early September. Sturdy shoes, layers and protective outer gear are musts if you're hiking.

Information

For information on lodging, hiking trips and Bauernherbst activities, contact the Salzburg State Board of Tourism, P.O. Box 1, A-5300 Hallwang, Austria. Phone: 011-43-662-6688.
Fax: 011-43-662-6688-66.
E-mail: Info@szgtour.co.at

Information is also available through the Austrian National Tourist Office, 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110. Phone: (212) 944-6880.