Other mountain sports 60%
Summer spirit 91%
The Wildschonau is a place of simple pleasures: long walks through summer meadows, bike rides on roads barely used by cars, lazy days by the pool. Thierbach is the star attraction – an absurdly pretty village hardly anyone visits. But in the long run you’ll find the low prices just as lovely.
Lifts open in summer: 2 gondolas
Walking trails: 300km
Lift pass: included in the free Wildschonau Card
Table of Contents
A Short Guide to Summer Holidays in the Wildschonau
Close your eyes and think of Austria. What do you see? If it’s a summer landscape of forests, Alpine meadows and cute wooden farmhouses, festooned with flowers, then you’ve pretty much pictured the Wildschönau.
This association of four villages, east of Wörgl in the Austrian Tirol, is a place where agriculture still counts, and 260 farms feed their produce into the local economy. The tourists come, of course, each summer, but in nothing like the same quantities as you’ll find in Kitzbühel, or the Zillertal. As a result you get a tranquil, laid-back atmosphere and a simpler style of summer holiday.
Of course, you’re not far away from the razzmatazz of 21st century infrastructure. WAVE – Wörgl’s indoor-outdoor water park – is a short bus ride away, and you’re only an hour’s drive from the bright lights of Innsbruck. But that’s not the point. This is where you come to get away from it all – hiking through the summer pastures, freewheeling down forest tracks on a mountain bike, and eating your own bodyweight in locally-made cheese.
The villages, by the way, are lovely – and none more so than end-of-the-valley Thierbach. This former silver-mining settlement forms a loose cluster of barns, farms and guesthouses around an onion-domed church – and the chief reason it’s not more famous than Alpbach for its looks is because so few people know about it. No wonder the locals say “We only show Thierbach to the people we like.”
Walking holidays in the Wildschonau
Aside from the atmosphere, the Wildschönau’s 300km network of waymarked hiking trails is its main attraction. Detailed on the region’s official website they unlock long, satisfying ridgelines, dramatic gorges and endless grassy mountainsides.
Prepare to be spoilt. If all you know of walking holidays is the barebones infrastructure of a British national park, you’ll find the Austrian style of mountain holidays very pampering. On two of the Wildschönau’s mountains there are off-duty ski lifts to whisk you to the summit, while all the most popular walks are peppered with mountain huts, serving everything from local soups to ice cream sundaes. You can of course pack your rucksack with sandwiches instead: but at the very least, it’s hard to resist the siren call of a beer served on sun terrace on your final descent.
Here, to give you a taste of what’s out there, are three hiking highlights. There are plenty more, and one of the easiest ways to find them is to join the guided walking tours which are free to anyone with a Wildschönau card. (The card is free for anyone booking an overnight stay in region.)
The Kundl Gorge
One of Austria’s most dramatic gorges follows the Wildschönau river as it muscles between 200m cliffs, en route to Kundl in the Inn Valley. The two-mile path is broad and easy, and the scenery never less than spectacular. As a result this is one of the only paths in the district that’s ever likely to be busy. Go at the beginning or end of the day if you want it to yourself.
A trail for cheese-lovers
Let’s not forget, the Wildschönau is a working landscape, as well as a holiday destination. It’s home to 46 alms (or summer grazing pastures) – some of which are still home to mountain dairies.
The biggest is the Schönanger Alm, which covers 680 hectares and is owned by 25 farmers. Here, at the Alpengasthof Schönangeralm, 2,000 litres of milk a day are turned into butter and camembert, emmental and tilsit by award-winning cheesemaker Johann Schönauer. A meal here is a fitting climax to the six-hour hike which begins with a gondola ride from Niederau on the Markbachjochbahn, and bags three 1900m peaks before dropping back into the valley. (And don’t forget: if you’re interested in the rhythms and traditions of Wildschönau farming, check out the Z’Bach Farmer’s Museum in Oberau.)
Conquering the Gratlspitz
This is the big walk from the beautiful village of Thierbach: a stiff, four-hour circuit from the Klingerhof, which climbs through 833 vertical metres. The setting is idyllic – the Gratlspitz is home to several species of lily and orchid – and the views over Alpbach, the Inn valley and the Wildschönau are superb.
Check out our guide on the best hiking boots for the Alps for advice on the right kind of boots to buy for an Austrian walking holiday.
Cycling, MTB and E-Biking
The Wildschönau is primarily a hiker’s destination. It doesn’t have the kind of specialist MTB infrastructure that’s been developed in, say, the Sölden’s Bike Republic. But it’s still a lovely place to explore on two wheels: especially for those who are looking for a less hell-for leather experience.
Both Auffach and Thierbach are set in valleys with no-through roads, so there’s not much traffic outside the morning and evening commute, and every part of the region is threaded with broad tracks to and from the alms, as well as minor roads and mountain and forest trails. Meanwhile the Markbachjoch and Schatzberg cable cars will take all the grunt out of a climb by carrying your bikes uphill for you.
The result is a peaceful, bike-friendly landscape that’s perfect for easy-going rides on e-bikes, fitness-boosting climbs and whizzy, wind-in-your-hair descents.
The pin-up village of Thierbach is, for example, a natural e-biking destination: so too the Alpengasthof Schönangeralm. Ebikers can also join guided tours every Wednesday at 9am, with licensed guide Rainer Schoner.
Schoner also runs the Wildschönau Mountainbike School, and can guide more strenuous rides – for example, following stage 13 of the trans-Tirol Mountain Bike Safari, which passes through the Wildschönau, or climbs to the summits of the Markbachjoch and Schatzberg.
The Wildschonau for Families
For families, the Wildschönau’s heated open-air swimming pool complex is a big draw – complete with water slide, fun pool, swimmers’ pool and paddling pool for little’uns. Big lawns with plenty of shade add to the laid-back atmosphere, and the complex is free to use with your Wildschönau card (available to all overnight guests). The complex is half-way between Oberau and Niederau, about a mile from each.
Also free with your Wildschönau Card is the Dragon Club. It runs Monday-Friday and offers a daily programme of supervised activities for kids, so Mum and Dad can sneak off for a proper walk/bike ride/massage/morning in bed.
Add to this the attractions of bike rides, mountain-biking lessons, horse-riding, a high-rope course and lots of family walks, and you’ve the makings of an inexpensive break, filled with simple, outdoor pleasures. It’s a good antidote to the sedentary, digitalised life so many of our kids live these days.
By the way, if the weather isn’t cooperating Worgl’s Waterworld (accessible by public bus services) is waiting, complete with a double-looping waterslide, a pirate ship, and several relaxation zones for the grown-ups.
The Summer Solstice and Other Festivals
Keep an eye out for local festivals and regular events while you’re in the Wildschönau. One of the most atmospheric takes place at the summer solstice. On June 22, the Markbachjoch lift runs from 6-11pm, and the locals congregate on the mountain around a giant bonfire: part of chain of beacons around the Inn valley that celebrates the longest day.
Later in the summer, over the weekend of August 8-11, the 64th Wildschönau Valley Festival celebrates mountain culture in one of the biggest traditional gatherings in the Tirol. Expect parades, wrestling, and lots of music. Then on August 25 comes the much-loved dance music festival, above Auffach.
More regular events include weekly evening concerts by the Niederau, Auffach, Mühltal and Oberau brass bands, which reflect an extraordinary level of musical involvement in such small villages (the area also has 15 choirs). It’s one of the Wildschönau’s defining characteristics: Oberau’s specialist music high school was the first of its kind in the Tirol.
Where to Stay in the Wildschönau
Each of the four main villages in the Wildschönau offers something a little different. If end-of-the-line, cool-your-boots atmosphere is a priority, then base yourself in Thierbach: but don’t expect to have a mountain of tourist infrastructure at your fingertips – you’ll have to commute to the other villages for that.
If the open-air pool is a priority, Oberau is a good bet. It’s here that you also find the largest concentration of hotels with indoor pools, as well as most of the four-stars. This is also the home of the Wildschönau Mountainbike School so it’s the natural base for bikers too.
Hikers who want quick access to the lifts should target Auffach and Niederau, both have plenty of accommodation, but Niederau is closer to the pool. Niederau is also the best village for bike hire.
Wherever you stay, however, you’ll notice prices are deliciously low. In July a week in a four-star hotel here is 2/3rds of the price of a four-star in Kitzbuhel, meanwhile, an apartment for a family of four starts at around €100 per person for a week (2019 prices). Check out the official Wildschönau accommodation guide for the full range of options.
A classic Tirolean four-star: the Landhotel Tirolerhof is spotlessly clean, courteous, and traditionally-styled. It backs onto what is – in winter – Oberau’s beginner ski slope, and is set back from the road through the village. So the atmosphere is calm and relaxed despite the central location. There’s a small pool in the basement wellness area, and a good sauna and hamam – but in summer you’re likely to gravitate to the big public pool at the edge of the village (which is free with your Wildschönau card).
In a rural setting, on a quiet road above Oberau, the four-star Landhaus Marchfeld gets rave reviews for its pretty rooms, voluminous breakfast and friendly owners. It claims to be the smallest four-star in the Tirol, but there’s space for a steam room, sauna and infrared cabin downstairs.
A few metres from the Marchfeld (above), the four-star Apparthotel Talhof is canny option for families. It’s owned by parents with young kids of their own, and every room is an apartment, with a balcony and kitchen. Downstairs, there’s an indoor pool, and kids’ playroom. Meanwhile, a ten-minute drive takes you to a summer pasture with its own small lake for swimming.
Want a traditional Tirolean farmhouse all to yourself? The Hinterbranterhof is the place – set at 1200m, on the slopes of the Sonnenberg, above Oberau. You’ll need a car to make access easy. But it’s utterly worth the commute to your daily activities when you’ve got a base as pretty as this. The interiors are recently-restored and rather chic – and the views are superb.
Just 150 yards from the Schatzberg gondola, the three-star Hotel Platzl is offers one of the best combinations of comfort and convenient village-centre location. Many of the rooms have been recently refurbished, and there’s an outdoor pool – the perfect place to cool your boots after a big ridge walk or a long bike ride. Guests love the friendly staff, too.
One of Auffach’s strengths is the number and quality of its self-catering apartments. Haus Zuhag is one of the most highly-rated. Close to the Schatzberg gondola, it’s festooned with flowers in the summer, and offers unpretentious and sparklingly clean accommodation at very reasonable prices – in 2019, €143pp for a week in July.
Set just above the village of Auffach the Hinteraltensburg is an organic farm with several a couple of apartments and several family rooms for guests, as well as a separate “hut” nearby for larger self-catering groups. Breakfast and dinner is also available, and there are lots of opportunities to meet the cows, chickens and ponies.
In an idyllic setting, five minutes’ walk above Auffach, the Ferienhaus Dahoam is an upmarket barn restoration surrounded by summer meadows. There are three bedrooms, and prices are very reasonable, given the quality – €245pp a week for a family of four in 2019.
Sport & Vitalhotel Wastlhof
The best hotel in the village is the friendly, spacious and well-equipped four-star, Wastlhof, which has its own indoor swimming-pool and children’s playroom. The hotel has 50 traditional and stylish bedrooms.
The friendly three-star hotel-pension Hannes next door to the Wastlhof is also good. It has 28 rooms and a new wellness area. It receives rave reviews on TripAdvisor: “Lovely room, with plenty of space…peaceful environment located close to shops/lift. Fantastic staff, very friendly and always willing to go the extra mile…”
A simple, clean and inexpensive guesthouse in one of the prettiest villages in the Alps: no wonder guests are so happy with the Gasthof Gradlspitz. The family atmosphere is a bonus, as is the hearty food in the restaurant downstairs.
Where to Eat in the Wildschönau
With 260 farms in the region, it’s no wonder food is a big deal in the Wildschönau. We’re not talking Michelin-starred gastronomy. This is more of a zero-food miles destination. Here, you can sample cheese that’s made in same building as your mountain restaurant, using milk from the cows grazing in the summer pasture in front of you. You’ll eat plenty of locally-produced meat, eggs, and kitchen-garden vegetables too.
There’s also an extraordinary local schnapps scene. In part that’s because the one of the local distillates is so weird. Called Krautinger schnapps, it’s made from turnips. But it’s also because of the quality of Siegfried Kistl’s schnapps, produced in his farm above Oberau. If you’ve ever enjoyed a tot of the strong stuff, you have to go for a tasting.
To get the best of the local produce you need to explore. So don’t stick too rigidly to your hotel’s restaurant, or the pizzeria near your apartment block. Joining a guided culinary walk is a great way to start. So too is visiting the Bauernmarkt shop in Oberau, which serves lots of local goodies. But obviously you’ll need to try some of the local restaurants.
Up in the mountains, there are 23 huts and restaurants serving food. Above Auffach, the modern (but traditionally-styled) Gipfö Hit is a favourite in winter as well as summer and cooks all the Tirolean standards (Speckknödel in der Rindsuppe, Gröstl, Kasspatzl) well. Below it, at the Schatzbergbahn mid-station, the Koglmoos offers similar fare – as well as superb ice-cream sundaes.
Just above Oberau, at the Riedlhof, zebu beef is the main ingredient – a lean, dark meat which tastes somewhere between veal and venison, and comes from the owners’ own herd. Meanwhile, at the entrance to Thierbach, the Hörbighof is the place for home-made cakes.
As well as the Alpengasthof Schönangeralm, cheese-lovers should target the Holz Alm, a 40-minute walk from the Markbachjoch above Niederau. It’s the region’s second largest summer pasture – owned by 18 farmers and home to a mountain dairy (€4: book ahead for the 90 minute tour).
Finally, the most charming and atmospheric of all the valley restaurants is the Thalmühle s’Wirsthaus – a deeply Tirolean, wood-panelled inn at Mühltal, on the road between Oberau and Auffach. It’s been open for over 50 years, and offers a delicious old-world atmosphere, as well as excellent food.
Want to know what the Wildschönau is like in the winter? Check out guide to the Ski Juwel the intermediate-friendly ski area it shares with neighbouring Alpbach.