In anticipation of heat and good walking we headed towards the mountain resort of St Anton in Pettnau, where we might tackle the hiker’s challenge of the Eagle Walk along the granite crags. Honestly, I was in two minds about this. Whilst the views and the thrill appealed, the extreme heights, my inconvenient flashes of vertigo and my occasionally complaining ‘volcano knee’ did not.
We drove the eerie 14kms through the Arlberg Tunnel wincing as large freight lorries whipped closely past Bertha causing a strange sucking and propelling motion.
It was a relief to see daylight and our motorway exit, but it was closed. We drove to the next one, also closed.
We paused at a busy truck-stop to check the maps and Snopper (the sat-nav) but there was no other way we could reach St Anton without driving up and into the mountains, so we took it as a sign.
Instead, we found ourselves being ushered into and registered to stay at a roadside campsite in Haiming. Unsure how that happened we pitched up as one of three vans on a field set to cater for 100.
The camp was closing in a few days so were pleased our ACSI discount rate was a manageable 16 euros a night. With the bikes quickly off the rack we set out to explore the local area with a map provided by the gregarious campsite owner.
A small herd of gorgeous highland cattle surprised us as we crossed the river by a covered wooden bridge.
Pedalling up to the ski village of Sautens we stopped to chat in the tourism centre. We were the only visitors that afternoon and the delightful Austrian girl explained that soon, with the first snows, the character of the village would change from sleepy to bustling again. She advised a hike up to ‘Piburger See’ lake, but as it was already late afternoon we opted for her second suggestion of a visit to a local Schnapps-making family. It was a giggle with the Matte family who also run the bakery. We were sent back down the steep hillside with a bottle of ‘zirben’ firewater, made from the seeds of pine kernels, and probably one too many shots warming hearts and loosening limbs.
The heat had reached the mid 20’s but the clear skies meant a cold night. Bertha’s cab registered just 2 degrees at 7am and as the gas supply was getting low we couldn’t risk the heater. Instead, with icy hands we headed out in the cold misty air on the bikes to Piburger See.
It was bitingly cold to be cycling at that time of morning without a warm hat or gloves. We stopped for a welcome coffee with locals waiting for the commuter trains at Oetztal bahnhof.
Back in the quiet valley we waved again to the highland cattle and then branched across the river to see the old town centre of Oetz.
The bright morning sunshine lit up the painted houses and flower-filled balconies. Clear cold mountain water poured out of many street side fountains. Again, there was an air of ‘getting ready’ as shops were being stocked up with winter snow gear and large guesthouses aired and cleaned.
The lake is the warmest in the Alps and was busy with splashing swimmers enjoying its 22 degrees, although the sight of shoals of large black fish in the dark green waters quickly put us off the idea of a dip. Instead we meandered about the shoreline spotting toads and glistening gold and silver dragonflies.
It was a shame not to be able to see the waters from above, as we had at Mummelsee, so after chomping our packed lunch we were on our way further up the path to Piburg at 959 meters.