“You can’t go wrong with this kit,” explains Willi, our climbing guide. “There are two carabiners keeping you safe and secure here.” We’d love to trust Willi but the towering treetops at Lienz Climbing Park loom over us, commanding our respect. We gaze up as teenagers and adults shimmy about on ropes. Ladders dangle freely in the air and tractor tyres appear to float from tree to tree. We – six females and a one male – observe the course with a mixture of excitement and disbelief. “Let’s give it a go then,” says Willi. “Begin with the easy blue routes, then you can try a red before progressing to the blacks.”
Just two hours ago in Innsbruck, we had no idea just how much fun a high ropes course could be, or what other adrenaline kicks we’d find out here in the Hochstein mountain area. Now, after two laps on the ‘Osttirodler’ summer toboggan run, we find ourselves hanging here between the treetops, our life insurance dangling from a thin steel cable which stretches from tree to tree. Putting all my faith in Willi, I grit my teeth and leap into the air, only to find myself flying weightlessly for 20-metres until I reach the next tree. “Woo hooo!”
After a hearty lunch at the Moosalm family hotel, right next to the high ropes course, we drive past Osttirodler down into the valley to reach Iselsberg, where the Defregger family from Straganzhof are waiting for us with coffee and Kiachl pastries. A popular place for Tirol farm holidays, this rural retreat may not have quite the same thrills as a high ropes course, but it does have beautiful views of the Lienz Dolomites and a wonderfully homely feel.
Continuing our tour of the area, just four and a half miles further on, we meet Martina Kuenz, who is eager to share the secrets of her famous brandies with us. During a tour of her farm, we stop to taste delicious schnapps and try East Tirol’s traditional distilled spirit: Pregler. Made from apples and pears, authentic Pregler is only made in East Tirol. With so many different spirits to try, everyone has their favourite – mine is the Zwickel beer brandy.
After tasting, we ascend to the Dolomiten hut, where dinner awaits us. For the past few years, the hut has been managed by a young Polish couple who serve excellent Tirol specialties. When I asked the owner why he had moved to East Tirol, he replied with a blank look: “Because of the mountains, of course.” I looked out the window at the craggy flanks of the Lienz Dolomites and nodded understandingly.
After a peaceful night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast in the cosy Straganzhof hut, we continue our tour, making our way to the ‘Vitalpinum’ show distillery, which lies between Sillian and Lienz. Tirol’s first ever pine oil distillery, this working attraction was established 125 years ago by the Unterweger brothers. Visitors come here to experience the distillery as well as explore the fantastic ‘wellness garden’ where you can walk through a ‘herbal shower’ and pad barefoot through fragranced thyme.
Hopping onto bikes, we ride downstream along the Drau cycle path (which runs directly past the distillery) to the impressive Gallitzenklamm gorge. Here, Paula from the local Tourist Office greets us. “Several years ago we decided to revive the Gallitzenklamm,” she says. And it seems like their efforts have worked: we watch several climbers scale the via ferrata here (some tackling the highest level ‘F’ routes), while children play pirates on a mini raft and run, jump and swing around on a host of other wooden structures. We decide to take it easy and walk across the wooden boardwalk to the end of the gorge. Even on hot summer days, it’s pleasantly cool here, Paula tells us.
Back from the gorge, we cycle a few miles downriver to Lienz train station. We travel home by car and, on the way back, pass yet another fantastic attraction: the Wurzerhof in Villgrattental valley. This rural hut offers wholesome holidays in unspoilt mountain surroundings, where you can enjoy nature tours and all sorts of outdoor pursuits. But sadly, it’s time for us to head home – East Tirol, we’ll be back!