Travel: Life is like a box of chocolates

... as Gordon Lethbridge discovered in the picture perfect Austrian Alps

Thoughts of a gentle stroll in lush alpine pastures vanished at the sight of the Nordkette rising above the aircraft as we made our approach to Innsbruck. The wall of cliffs and scree made me wonder about the sanity of embarking on a three-day alpine tour hiking from hut-to-hut in the Karwendal Alps.

The huts are found wherever there are mountains in Austria. And in the Karwendal there are about 40 such shelters connected by a comprehensive network of paths. Many of them are in passes, high alpine meadows or close to summits. All are easily accessible - on foot.The beauty of a hut-hopping holiday is that you don't have to return to the valleys each night for a bed and food.

From Innsbruck, our first 400m of ascent to the hamlet of Hochzirl, was courtesy of Austrian Federal Railways. The next few hundred metres were less easy. Our route took us up a track designed for four-wheel drive vehicles that would never know aching muscles. When we reached the edge of the forest, our track became a path and the mountain became steeper - but we reduced the gradient by zigzagging up the slope. Now we were walking through flower-strewn meadows alive with the hum of insect life, and alongside effervescing mountain streams. Small herds of goats, and occasionally chamois, put in an appearance as if on cue from some alpine stage director. Everything was as I had imagined it would be; a pleasant hike in spectacular alpine scenery.

The network of paths in the Tyrol are well signposted and colour-coded for difficulty, using the same system as for skiing (blue for easy, red for moderate and black for difficult - some climbing skills required). Distances and times are usually given on the signposts. Those used to hiking in British mountains should have no problem with red routes. It is not essential, therefore, to take a guide, but many people do. This not only takes care of any route finding difficulties - as an added bonus, a good guide is a mine of information on the alpine environment, flora and fauna.

After about five hours walking on the first day, we arrived at our first hutte. Some hut. Mountain inn would be nearer the mark. Solsteinhaus, far from being a crude shelter, was a large, three-storey building in typical alpine style. Common to all hutte, sleeping accommodation was in dormitories, or rooms with two to six beds. Food and drink were served all day and can best be described as hutte cuisine: basic but tasty, and adequate and filling.

As food and drink are available all day, the hutten are also refreshment stops. But prices are at least 50 per cent more than in the valley, due mainly to the cost of provisioning. Many of the huts cannot be reached by vehicle, relying on cableways, and occasionally helicopter, for supplies.

That evening at Solsteinhaus was spent in the convivial company of other hikers of all ages. The local postman was up doing a stint as village goatherd and, accompanying himself on the zither, sang the traditional songs of the Tyrol.

We woke the next morning to the tinkling of goatbells and an aroma of coffee so strong you felt you had had your daily caffeine fix before touching a cup. After a hearty breakfast, it was downhill to Moslalm, an alpine meadow packed with sensual cliches. Here, we stopped at a small hut for lunch of Almudler, a sparkling drink of herbs and lemonade, and kaiserschmarren, a cross between a pancake and pizza served with wild cranberry sauce.

Most huts are owned by the Austrian Alpine Club or the German Alpine Club. However, some are privately owned and run by families who have brought their cows and goats up to the summer pastures. Moslalm is one such place.

The next hut on our itinerary was the magnificently sited Pfeishutte. Built on a bluff between two peaks, it looks down a steep-sided valley, making it very popular with walkers. We arrived mid-afternoon and sat out on the terrace mesmerised by the panorama before us.

Pfeishutte is at 1922m, so the following day it was only a short climb of a few hundred metres to the ridge of the Nordkette. From here you can look down to the Inn Valley and Innsbruck, the Stubby Alps to the south and to the north of the Karwendal range. From Hafelekarspitze, a peak on the ridge, you can see, on a clear day, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Hafelekarspitze is the top station of the Nordkettenbahn, a cable car. This explained what had happened to a number of the families we had met that morning, and who seemed suddenly to have disappeared. The cable car's lower station was Innsbruck, making it a quick, convenient way down.

Yet use of the cable cars is not to be scorned. They provide easy access for those wanting to enjoy the exhilarating experience of walking the high ridges and peaks of the Tyrol. Along with the hutten, they make the mountains accessible to all.

Flights direct to Innsbruck are scarce outside the skiing season. To Vienna, Lauda Air (0171-630 5924) flies from Manchester and Gatwick; British Airways (0345 222111) from Gatwick; and Austrian Airlines (0171-434 7300) from Heathrow.

Austrian Alpine Club, PO Box 43, Welwyn Garden City, Herts AL8 6PT (01707 324835)

Austrian National Tourist Office (0171-629 0461); e-mail oewlon@easynet.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month