Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park

The drive up into the Alps proper was made easy by the wide lanes of the motorway and long slow inclines. At 1000 meters we stopped to rest Bertha’s steaming tyres and take in the views of the peaks with a mid-morning coffee.

Our travelling compass and altimeter ‘the orange thing’ confirmed our height as being 1005 meters above sea level. We had started out at 250 meters from camp.

A 6km toll tunnel took us through the peak of Hochfiend as the illuminated road reached 1148 meters above sea level – well done Bertha!

Bertha taking a rest after climbing up to 1000m

Camping at a luxurious €20 a night rate (we thought it was a bargain €13 as advertised in our off-season campsite guidebook, but various park and tourist taxes were added) we had fabulous views of the mountain peaks and free-flowing solar powered hot showers which used the freshest mountain water.

‘Flocke’ the pretty white and apricot camp cat made a fuss and as one of only three vans on the site we pretty much had the run of the place which was being spruced for the season by its charming family of owners.

Camping Maltatal

We headed out early the next morning on the cycle trail to Gmünd, an artist’s town to rival Gordes in Provence.

The route took us up the mountain sides and through farm yards which seemed to present a picture of spring in the sunshine – contented dairy cows, gleaming ponies, flustered ducks, clucking chickens, friendly cats, fluffy rabbits and waving farming families were all out enjoying the gorgeous sunny morning.

Gmünd Castle across the Lieser river

Gmünd is an utterly beguiling town centred within its medieval walls and boasting original public and patrician houses now renovated and worked in by artists and sculptors.

Ringed by mountains and set on a pretty river it simply has the best of everything but does not feel pompous or self-important, rather quietly traditional and charming as typified by its award-winning town dairy herd contentedly chewing in their stables within the dark cool town walls.

We meandered along the winding streets and had coffee in the main square watching everyone’s delight on this fine spring day. At noon the square emptied as shops shut and workers headed home for the lunch break.

The roasted chickens being sold fresh from the spit by the street seller tempted a few others but we headed on out to cycle the route back along the riverside with a picnic salad lunch.

National Park Hohe Tauern

Passing Bertha’s camp we continued on for another few miles at a steady pace alongside the river to Fallbach. We were deceptively climbing at altitude and it was only when we returned at speed downhill that we realised the incline!

Of course there was a clue. A 200 meter waterfall dropped precipitously down the mountain side forming a 60 meter high grubby snow mound at its base. In a few weeks time this would be free-flowing, fresh mountain water.

Fortified on a goat cheese sandwich and salad, we headed further up to the picturesque Wasserland, a two and a half hour trail of waterfalls and mountain springs. Cycling up to the first stop at Grossfalls we called time on further inclines and turned around for home.

Barely touching the pedals we flew down the mountain road the 6kms to Bertha. An exhilarating end to a largely mountain climbing day on the bikes!

Cycling back though the Hohe Tauern Park

The first day of spring ended with the trusty outdoor catering equipment, ‘the cadac’, set up for the first time since Normandy in June last year.

The tantalising aroma of curried chicken wafted across the site as the sun set slowly behind the snow-melting peaks. Weather in action.