Explore Austria Beyond the Sound of Music

If you’re planning on visiting Austria, think about venturing beyond Vienna and Salzburg. Sure, Vienna’s Opera House is a stunner. And the romance of the Danube and the majesty of the Habsburgs dangle a huge lure. Of course, Salzburg – identified with Mozart, the Sound of Music and a looming fortress, remains a perennial favorite.  Beyond the cities awaits so much more. Why not explore Austria at its most authentic?

Willkommen! to Explore Austria from a New Perspective on TravelSquire
Willkommen! Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Explore Austria on an Alpine-style Adventure

Board a train for an Alpine-style adventure (4.5 hours from Vienna; 2 hours from Salzburg) to the region of Saalfelden Leogang – comprised of its two namesake towns of Saalfelden (pop. 17,000) and its smaller sister Leogang (pop. 3,200).  I hadn’t heard of either (in fact, I couldn’t even pronounce their names); but that soon changed.

I can instantly see when I arrive here that the destination is different – the air, the terrain, the vibe, everything. Situated in the Alps, it is burrowed in a valley between two divergent mountainous spans, one covered in rocky peaks, the other complemented by steep, grassy slopes. Though well known for its winter season and all the sports snow entails, my fall visit reveals more.

“Willkommen!” reads the sign at the entrance of Naturhotel Forsthofgut (translation: Forest Farm Estate).  I’m staying for several days and will immerse myself in tranquility.  A heated towel is offered from a silver tray. Relaxation has begun.

Inspired by the surrounding Alps, the 105-room/250-staff hotel is a five-star vacation resort (one of two in the area). Still owned by the fifth-generation Schmuck family, family member Christoph and his wife, Christina, have managed the hotel since 2006.  A staggering 400 years ago The Naturhotel Forsthofgut began as an accommodation for forest workers, and to this day continues to celebrate its alfresco connections. “As a nature hotel, we feel uniquely united with the outdoors and value the power of nature,” acclaims the resort.

Guest at the waldSpa in Austria
waldSpa Guest Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Impressive Amenities and Indulgent Dining

No stranger to indulgence, the hotel’s wide array of amenities is impressive. Its 61,000-square-foot, forest-themed waldSPA offers an adults-only section (refreshments include beer and schnapps alongside water), as well as a family zone. Appealing to its younger guests are a mini zoo with baby alpacas and lambs and the newly debuted horse stable and riding ring for the teens. Additionally, there are five saunas, three outdoor swimming pools, a lake house and organic swimming lake, a traditional Onsen hot pool inspired by the bathhouses of Japan and a Finnish lake sauna.

The resort’s four eateries include the fine dining restaurant “Echt,” which gives a maximum of eight guests the opportunity to have an intimate dining experience with Chef Michael Helfrich who is noted for his three Gault&Millau toques (like Michelin stars). At the Restaurant 1617 Austrian classics grab the spotlight. ForsthofgutCUISINE offers three distinct menus: classic Alpine, vegan and locally sourced specialties. And, newest to the hotel, the Mizūmi Lake Restaurant is dedicated to everything Japanese.

Gault&Millau has awarded the region with 14 toques spread over seven restaurants, many of them within walking distance including GenieBerhotel Die Riederalm and its à la carte restaurant “dahoam.” Awarded three toques, it has thrived under the tutelage of owner/head chef Andreas Herbst who is noted for the restaurant’s ever-changing, creative menus. Intimate and sophisticated, each table is fronted by dark suede banquettes and partially secluded by a curtain of rose gold chains swinging from ceiling to floor. The dining room’s oversized window astonishes anyone entering with an incredible view of the Alps.

Explore Austria on this tranquil bike path
Tranquil Bike Path Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Bike Your Way to Culinary Delights

Noted as Austria’s largest cycling region with 50 miles of trails, visitors would be remiss to forego exploring by bike, especially an e-bike. “They’re growing like mushrooms,” says Sabine Enzinger, founder of Elements Outdoor Sports, who rents the bikes of the expanding network of paths. As the guide for our day’s culinary tour, we follow her along routes through the valley. We pedal from producer to producer of the numerous delicacies to enjoy directly from the farms.

Beginning with a taste of hand-picked saffron baked into a loaf of bread, we make a stop at the acreage of George and Carina Wölfler. “It’s a family project and that is most important for us,” says George. The operation involves George, his wife, mother, uncle and relatives. After winding through the valley, along village backways and past fields of colorful produce, the next stop is Zieferhof. Owned by Bernhard and Lisa Perwein, this organic dairy’s specialties include cheese and yogurt from the family’s 300-year-old farmhouse.

Austrians might describe the lunch stop as simply “a typical mountain eatery.” But for us, it is the day’s highlight, with Alpine specialties like Pinzgauer (small cheese dumplings), Kaiserschmarrn (a fluffy dessert pancake served with plum stew or applesauce) and a refreshing Radler (a beer and lemonade combo).

TONspur Islands
TONspur Islands Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Explore Austria and Find Your Happy Place

With hiking a popular pastime and the year-round Asitz lift a mere 200-yard walk from the hotel, don’t miss discovering the Saalfelden Leogang on foot. “Hiking here moves slow and steady,” announces our guide Barrie after disembarking the cable car at the top.  Goats greet us as we begin a circular hike along Leos Game Trail to the GroBer Asitz.  Our first stop, the Cinema of Nature affords panoramic plateaus. Then, we relax at the TONspur Islands where we lay on comfy loungers and hammocks. As we listen to the sounds of the last concert season we immerse ourselves in the serenity of the setting.

Five-star lodging, epicurean eats, world-class biking and hiking – all exist in the Austrian Alps. Descriptions sometimes dilute an experience, but the suggestion on Naturhotel Forsthofgut’s room keys best sums it up: “Find me at my happy place.”