1. Hike & fly – escape the “flygskam”
The Swedish word “flygskam”, which translates into English as “flight shame”, has spread in recent years as a result of concerns many people have about flying and climate change. In this case, however, there is no need for any shame – our flying adventure is 100% carbon neutral. It begins with a hike up to the top of a mountain, where there is plenty of time to admire the views and snap a few selfies before unpacking your equipment and taking to the skies. “Hike & fly” is the name of the game – and it is an outdoor activity which is booming. Whereas in the past hikers would have to drag a heavy backpack up to the take-off point, today there are modern paragliding sets which weigh no more than five kilos and fit into almost any mid-sized rucksack. This lightweight technology also opens up new opportunities for multi-day hikes flying from hut to hut. In some cases, fit adventurers can cover several hundred kilometres at a time. However, that requires good knowledge of the local thermals plus, of course, a paragliding license and plenty of experience. A good way for beginners to experience the thrill of this sport in Tirol is during a tandem flight with an instructor.
- Shimmering on the horizon, a gentle sky blue. Far below, the deep azure of a mountain lake. Between, the grey peaks of the Karwendel and Rofan Mountains. There are not many places that can match Lake Achensee for paragliding conditions. Several centres in the region offer courses and tandem flights.
- Visitors who already know they want to complete their paragliding license in Tirol should think about heading to the Wildschönau region. The mountains here are relatively gentle, meaning the winds are less blustery than in other parts of Tirol and it often takes less time to hike from the valley to the take-off point.
- Experienced paragliders will love the area around the town of Lienz in East Tirol. Thermal conditions here make it possible to fly huge distances between take-off and landing. Some flyers even soar at altitude of over 4,000 metres, higher even than Austria’s highest peak – the mighty Großglockner.
2. Trailrunning – off the beaten track
If you proceed swiftly on foot along a mountain trail, does that make you a trail runner, a speed hiker or just an ambitious walker? The semantic lines may be a little blurred, but one thing is for sure: it’s seriously fun. Proof, if any were needed, of trail running’s growing appeal can be found in the many online blogs and sold-out events. Beginners should embrace the term “trail running” and really explore the twisting trails instead of sticking to the flat gravel paths often busy with families and strollers at the weekends. Road runners are often surprised by just how quickly time passes when out and about in the mountains. A digital watch with a heart rate monitor and GPS function is useful. Stuff a few energy bars in your pockets, pull on some trail-ready shoes and you are ready to go! One of the best things about trail running, apart from the running itself, are the fantastic views. Here are three routes where the views are so good that you will almost forget about your burning thighs.
- The Almentrail by Lake Achensee has everything: knotted tree roots, tricky rock sections – and, of course, plenty of fabulous views of the Karwendel Mountain and the lake itself. The trail is suitable for beginners, but at 14km in length it requires good fitness levels. Along the way there are two places, the Dalfazalm and the Buchauer Alm, to stop off and top up those energy reserves en route.
- Despite the spectacular videos you will find on the internet showing fit and sleek runners in all the latest high-tech gear, trail running is actually a very affordable and accessible sport. You don’t need lots of expensive equipment – and you certainly don’t need to climb every mountain. A good example of an easy run suitable for beginners is the trail leading up to the Bergisel ski jumping hill in the south of Innsbruck. Steep enough to provide a challenge, yet short enough for those new to the sport, it offers great views of the sprawling city below.
- Trail runners keen to head for the heights and churn out as many vertical metres of altitude gain as possible will find exactly what they are looking for in the Pitztal Valley. This valley in the west of Tirol has been a pioneer in the trail running scene for many years and organises both regular training camps and an annual Trail Run Symposium. It also has its own system of signposting trails, including the beautiful route around the Rifflsee lake. However, a word of warning: you will need plenty of kilometres in the legs before coming to the Pitztal Valley – it’s not called the “roof of Tirol” for nothing! Up here, at altitudes in excess of 3,000 metres, the air can get pretty thin.
3. Wild swimming – dive into nature
Wild swimming may be all the rage at the moment, but here in Tirol it has a long tradition. After all, the region’s numerous rivers and lakes make it a haven for those keen to strike out in nature. Given that many of these lakes are located high in the mountains, it should come as little surprise that wild swimming in Tirol can be a real test of steel. The reward, however, is the famous “afterglow” – that unmistakable feeling of endorphins surging through your body when as climb out of the water and dry yourself off. Tirol has everything from relatively warm moorland lakes to freezing-cold mountain lakes. Here are three recommendations for wild swimming in the region.
- Wild swimming for beginners at the Möserer See lake near Innsbruck. At 1,292 metres the lake is relatively high, but it is not as deep as most other lakes in the Karwendel Mountains. That means it warms up quickly in summer and reaches a very pleasant 25°C by the height of the season.
- The lakes around the Thierberg mountain near the Kufstein are a popular destination in summer, in particular the Hechtsee lake. However, for wild swimming we recommend the Längsee. Tucked away deep in a forest, it is one of Tirol’s most remote and idyllic places for wild swimming.
- Our top tip for those keen to feel that afterglow effect is a trip to the Piburger See lake in spring or autumn. Perched at around 900 metres above sea level in the Ötztal Valley, its location within a thick forest means it can get pretty chilly once the temperatures begin to fall. The nearby Gasthaus Seehäusl is a good place to warm up afterwards with a hot drink.
4. Foraging – seek and you will find
These days, more and more people are keen to reconnect with nature – including in what and how they eat. Instead of popping to the supermarket, they are heading out into nature in search of edible berries, herbs, mushrooms and petals. Foraging, as it is called, has moved from a niche hobby to a mainstay of modern cooking and a core element of many top fine dining restaurants. The best thing about foraging in Tirol is that you don’t have to go far to find what you are looking for. As long as you know what it is you are in search of, you will often find it growing in the fields and forests near towns and villages. Lots of places offer guided herb hikes, where local experts introduce visitors to alpine herbs and show them what they can be used for. Check out the following blog post for more about herb hikes in Tirol.
5. Bouldering – scale the heights
“Bouldering” refers to rock climbing just a few metres above the ground without any need for a rope or harness. Unlike traditional rock climbing, you don’t need any previous knowledge or rope skills to give it a go. All that is required is a pair of climbing shoes, a soft crash mat and a bag of climbing chalk for a little extra grip on the rock. The rule is that bouldering is always carried out at a height from which you can jump down safely onto the ground, so even if you do fall there’s not too much risk of getting hurt. Nevertheless, tough boulder problems – as individual routes are referred to – can be tricky and keep climbers occupied for hours. Little wonder the sport is often called “chess for the body”. In Tirol it has a long tradition, with many boulder areas available in the region. Here are some of the best.
- The Silvapark high above the village of Galtür is the largest and best-known boulder area in Tirol. It has an incredible 175 problems ranging from super easy to mind-bendingly tough. It is particularly good in summer, when things get too hot for climbing down in the valley.
- The boulder area “Hualig Almeck” near Imst is proof that good things really do come in small packages. Opened in 2018, it offers perfect conditions thanks to its limestone rock. Most of the routes established so far are rated intermediate or advanced, but there are still lots more waiting to be discovered.
- “Mandlers Boden” is a picture perfect bouldering area in the Pitztal Valley with 176 rocks in a quiet forest. There is something for everyone, from children to experts. The rocks are well spread out, so people can find their own little haven far from the madding crowd.