East Tirol. Christian, my husband, has been backcountry skiing and ski touring in Villgratental Valley several times. Every time he returned home, he was totally enthralled by the experience. Not only because of the varied backcountry terrain; he also liked the remote valleys and the pristine wilderness in this area on the border to South Tyrol. East Tirol is where Austria and Italy collide. There is no mass tourism here. Instead of vast hotel complexes, the mountainsides here are dotted with sun-bleached timbered farmhouses. But that’s not to say that it’s a backwater, just alluringly remote. East Tirol is close to Italy and to the Sexten Dolomites, with the world renowned Tre Cime (Italian for “three peaks”). These distinctive battlement-like peaks of northeastern Italy are on display in East Tirol, Dolomites near and far can be seen. Moreover, the fusion of an Austrian-Italian style of cooking makes this place a hit.
When Eva invited us to try a “Farmstay in Tirol” this year, she suggested a number of farms all over Tirol. Christian wanted to go to East Tirol and that was great for me, too. In East Tirol, the iconic Italian Dolomites give way to the Lienz Dolomites. Officially, however, and despite of bearing the same name, this range is not part of the Italian Dolomites. The capital, Lienz, is as well the biggest town of East Tirol with a population of 12,000. Our wonderful lodging, “Badstube” Cabin at Straganzhof Farm, has a sunny foothill location in Iselsberg, right opposite to the awe-inspiring, jagged and rugged peaks of the Lienz Dolomites, topping out at 2,700 meters.
On Thursday morning, Ascension Day, we load our Volkswagen Transporter and head toward East Tirol (after three days on the farm in East Tirol we planned another two nights in the Sexten Dolomites). The drive from Chiemgau to the south is always smooth and pleasant for us. Seeing the low mountains of the Bavarian peaks and then entering the Austrian Tirol through Entenlochklamm Gorge in Kössen is simply gorgeous. This is where the rugged and jagged snow-capped peaks of Wilder Kaiser Range dominate the scene. We listen to our holiday mixtape (which, in fact, is a CD). Seeing lush greenery and spotting animals like horses and cows never fail to delight my girls. They keep asking, “Are we on vacation?” “Yes, we are on vacation!”
We are driving over Pass Thurn and are amazed by the clear view of the Alpine Main Ridge. Wonderful, lofty and glistening white peaks as far as the eye can see. The drive winds down to the valley once again and resumes its climb to Felbertauern Tunnel on the other side. We are on our way through some of Europe’s most heart-stoppingly glorious Alpine scenery. The far end of the tunnel is where the South begins and nestled into a remote valley to the west sits the mighty 3,666-meter peak of Großer Venediger. This is the perfect spot for our first rest and we take the kids on a short walk toward Venediger. A special Valley Taxi or carriage rides are available to get visitors to Venediger Lodge, a very popular spot in the summer. There are coaches full of travellers, through travellers, day visitors and Alpine trekkers on multi-day hikes. Now, in early May, it’s all very peaceful here. We are not sure if the taxi/carriage operates at that time of the year—we didn’t see either on our way. However, to get amazing close-up views of Venediger is quite a long hike. That’s not what we intended. We walk a few steps into the valley and discover an Alpine pasture village of quaint and historic farmsteads that is not inhabited in May. An abandoned place that closely resembles an intriguing ghost town. The only sound we hear is the rumble of motorcycles passing in the distance, their engines echo from the winding road across Felbertauern Pass.
What comes up next, a few valleys further sourth, is Defereggental Valley, a picture-perfect smattering of traditional hotels and inns in a snow-choked end-of-the-world location. This is a sleepy place in spring, too, in between winter and summer season. Almost all hotels are closed for the season. We continue driving to the pass at the end of the valley, where the road descends to Italy’s South Tyrol. Now, the pass road is closed because of snow. All we see up there is a few people on backcountry skis. We’re enjoying the view and Christian talks of getting back here on his splitboard. We continue driving back out of the valley and head for Lienz.
What greets us at Straganzhof Farm is a cosy outlook and friendly hosts. The view of the Lienz Dolomites is stunning. Our home for the next three nights, the quaint cabin named “Badstube”, dates back to the 18th century and has been refurbished with attention and much love for the detail. Staying at Badstube feels (pleasantly) like stepping back in time. The nearby road casts the only cloud, everything else is just perfect.
The Main House boasts a tiny spa with dry-heat sauna and a playroom attached. Our girls love the huge backyard trampoline in the garden, the playground and, of course, the goats and the calves. The service is superb and the rich breakfast is great. Their own Alpine pasture hut en route to 2,401-meter Straßkopf Peak is a true gem.
The walk to “Schöne Aussicht” Inn (elev. 1,299 m) is ideal for small children. Once there, we enjoy the serenity and awe-inspiring mountainous views and the great food while our girls are romping about the playground. The journey to Roaner Alm Alpine Pasture Hut (elev. 1,903 m) takes a bit longer and requires some endurance. We carried our girls every now and then but it took us seven hours to complete the walk. The trail begins a gentle climb through lush forest before it enters the wide open world of Alpine pastures. The grade is moderate and the tread is good. Perfect for introducing children to the wonders of nature. Roaner Alm is an inviting place with breathtaking views that serves hearty delicacies to hungry walkers.
Another afternoon trip took us to the shores of emerald green Tristachersee Lake with the jagged peaks of Lienz Dolomites looming overhead. With a hotel, swimming beach and campground on its shores, the lake is not what we would call pristine, however, it is peaceful here at that time of the year. The tiny lakeside loop is perfectly suited for children, too. The fish in the hotel tank, the boats made of bark and the playground brought a look of euphoria on my girls.
Naturally, there are many more worthwhile options to explore in the area (e. g. Lienzer Hut), but we prefer to head for nearby Italy and the wonderful Sexten Dolomites after our enjoyable stay at Straganzhof Farm.
As the weather report forecasts much more sunshine at home in Bavarian Chiemgau than on the south side of the Alps, we decide to get back home after having spent one night in our Volkswagen Transporter in Italy. As usual, we enjoy the drive and take it slowly. We always enjoy the journey as much as the destination. We pay a visit to Straganzhof Farm and take a detour through Mölltal Valley, to Heiligenblut. Well, the journey takes a little longer than expected because ahem, we get a little lost at one point… So we drive up the long and winding—and quite adventurous—“old Glocknerstraße Road” (its upper section is a dirt road) only to be stopped by a road barrier in the end, shortly before reaching the actual “Großglockner Hochalpenstraße” Road. There’s no passing through there; so we have to turn around and drive all the way back down. Which is fun as everywhere are stunning Alpine panoramas. This time, we follow the official Grossglockner High Alpine Road, a toll road. At Euro 35, the toll fee is not exactly a bargain, but the drive is definitely worth it. The sharply winding road soars high to Kaiser Franz Josef Höhe. There is not much traffic on this working day in May. We spot dozens of marmots (the girls are enthralled), white glistening, retracting glaciers and Oberwalder Hut. And, with luck on our side, and 1.5 hours of waiting, the clouds give way to the sun and provide stunning views of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner (elev. 3,798 m). We continue to Edelweiß Spire (elev. 2,571 m), which provides an unsurpassed vantage point for 3,564-meter Großer Wiesbachhorn Peak—perfect for Christian who scaled its summit a few years ago. The day passes in no time and we arrive home at 8:30pm. Well, great… It’s good to be home again! However, we are already planning our next trip ;)
The Bottom Line: Staying in East Tirol is like finding treasure. Getting there is half the fun, as there are wonderful sceneries to explore along the way. East Tirol may not offer the full slate of tourist facilities and infrastructure you’ll find up north, but the collection of sleepy, undiscovered gems did definitely put a smile on our face. We enjoyed every bit of our farmstay there; it’s a dream come true, especially for kids. And, if the kids are happy, the adults are in for an awesome holiday. We also appreciate East Tirol’s nearness to Italy and to the Sexten Dolomites. For more details please refer to Farmstays in Tirol and www.tyrol.com.
Esther is a mum of two girls and loves being in the mountains with her family. She kindly shares her adventures on Instagram as @mama_2thelittleones and on her Blog: www.mylittletreasuresoflife.wordpress.com