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Report 2033: Alpine Journey 2012

By SL Jones from Illinois USA, Fall 2012

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Page 4 of 10: The Vision Realized - Grossglockner & the Virgental

photo by L J

The Pristine Virgental

In previous trips to Austria, we had not been lucky enough to drive the Grossglockner Strasse, over Austria's highest mountain, though we'd talked about it. As we left St. Gilgen the sun was shining, the light was clear, and this was our chance! Ideal for new car adventure. It was a wonderful drive, quite memorable. It is a toll road, long and expensive. No complaints from us. Every km and euro was worth it. I took many photos of snowy peaks, glaciers, roadside snow, and hairpin turns. We had lunch at the Franz Josef structure, beside the well known (and apparently rapidly receding) glacier - beer, goulash soup and green salad. This drive was a glorious experience. We moved on to a valley that is dear to our hearts, from two previous trips. We had been in the Virgental (a tal is a valley) in 1990 as hikers. And shortly after that, we returned again for a Christmas time excursion with Steve's family, and were happily snowed in. We remembered it as a perfect place, pristine and gorgeous in both seasons. We had to return and see it. In the East Tyrol, it's not far north of Lienz, which is near the Italian border. It lies within the borders of the Hohe Tauern National Park. It is just south of the Hohe Tauern Tunnel. And until the tunnel was built it was cut off from the north. Its isolation contributed to its lack of a good way, in my opinion. Getting there was very doable on the same day as the Grossglockner.

Wow. The unspoiled Virgental was even better than we'd remembered. This is a working valley, dairy farming, with some small B&Bs that cater to hikers. This is a real hikers' valley, with many alpine huts up above. No skiing, no billboards, no multistory buildings - Just flower decked chalets and small lodgings. (See links to older SlowTrav postings re: the Virgental, in Resources)

For nostalgia's sake, we stayed at the Linderhof Hotel in Bobojach (again) We know that this wasn't the best lodging or the most charming lodging available, but it was a salute to Steve's late dad and his love for his Bobojach experience. The farmhouses that had housed us before in Bobojach were no longer open for guests. This is certainly not a really cool hotel, but our room was large, comfortable, and inexpensive. The family who owned and ran the place was quite nice, and the food was pretty good. They had the most amazing mushrooms, gathered freshly from the area. We had a rushing river - the Isel - and waterfalls to look at from our balcony. Lovely sleeping, as the fresh air and the sounds of the water were so relaxing. We walked to Pragraten along the river. We watched people haying on impossibly steep terrain, doing things the old-fashioned way. It looked like hard work, and taking advantage of dry weather, they stayed with it until dark. We ate traditional food that was quite tasty in Hinterbichl, while we watched the cows walk through town. We simply loved our two nights in this glorious place. Maybe we will return....

We had seen signs of protest in the valley - apparently about some kind of dam on their glacial river, the Isel. A little internet research confirmed that the Virgental is indeed struggling with preservation. The Isel was just declared ecologically significant, said the article I read, a first step in stopping the advancement of plans for this dam. It would be so sad to see the authentic way of life and the beauty of this valley disrupted.

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