The Salzkammergut is a stretch of mountains, pine forests and lakes that separates Linz and Salzburg.
Driving in warming sunshine through the farmlands of the foothills south of Kremsmünster, we enjoyed the orderliness of the green pastures that were neatly arranged but unhedged alongside the road.
In their midst large squat wooden farmhouses with wrap-around balconies were festooned with colourful hanging baskets of red, pink and yellow geraniums.
Late summer still held here and many herds of bell-wearing and contentedly grazing dairy cows made the scenes tranquil. Busy mousing cats roamed in the wildflower meadows established where pasture was laid fallow.
Reaching the long and wide Traunsee we had our first glimpse of an Austrian lake busy with activity as locals and visitors savoured the sunshine and took to the waters in canoes and sailboats, on surf boards and in dinghies.
In the shallows, the silvery water glistened like a liquid gel across white sand. It was beautiful but not somewhere we could stay, so we ventured along its west bank to Ebensee.
A sleepy lakeside town, established on mining and later tourism, with a shadowy and short history as a Nazi-run concentration camp and test centre for V2 rockets, Ebensee boast access to the Traun river, it’s gorgeous lake and the so-called sunniest Austrian mountain ‘Feuerkogel’.
After parking up in the lakeside aire with a wonderful view – guaranteed for the sunset – we set off on foot to find the cable car. Ill-advisedly informed it was a short 2kms walk, we marched the two miles up through the winding streets of the quiet town and booked a passage on the 1.30pm sailing.
It took barely minutes to fly up the steep gorges above the trajectory of shallow mountain streams and summer- dry waterfalls to reach 1,600 meters.
It was considerably cooler and visibility was limited further every few minutes by thickening white mists. We hiked off in the direction of the European Cross symbolising unity, and still including a lump of granite from Great Britain in its steel frame, for an hour’s scramble up along rocky paths.
Alone at the viewpoint the atmosphere was eerie in silent swirling mists. A lone blackbird startled by swooping down at our feet and then comically accompanying us as we took ginger steps along the ridge’s top.
After half an hour the sun had burned through the mists and Simon photographed mountain trails coming into view below us. An unseen herd of grazing cattle chimed musically with their cowbells.
The ride down in the cable car whisked us even more quickly across the tops of the pine trees that somehow clung to the rocky crags with their roots visibly showing against the stark white stone. Where a tree had failed to survive, a gaping gash through the forest showed the tumultuous path wreaked by its destructive tumble.
With some first-hand knowledge of the road to the cable car, we set off the next morning on bikes to find the picturesque Langbachsee.
After a two hour slow pedal up alongside a largely dry river bed, which would be full of waters come the snowmelt, we arrived at a packed car park to see the pretty lake busy with lunching day trippers and a local school’s visit.
Taking care to avoid the swift and poisonous lake snakes we ventured along the perimeter of the water’s edge to admire enormous dragonflies with wings of gilt golds and greens.
The hair-raising ride back downhill took just seven minutes as my speedometer registered 27mph and thankfully only one car passed us.
Feeling once again like infallible teenagers we sailed into the supermarket to stock up on locally harvested vegetables… and to buy a couple of the local beers.
We had biked 12 miles or so (half of them steeply uphill!) by the time we returned to Bertha and a lakeside now full of bare-chested and heavily tattooed windsurfers, with their paraphernalia of grubby vans, loose dogs and bored girlfriends.
Once they had packed up and left we had the sunset to ourselves as behind us the Fuerkogel plunged into darkness and pink light crept upwards across the mountains opposite.