Winter is behind us and summer is finally here! Some of the world’s most popular winter destinations take on a new persona as the summer sunshine melts the ski slopes. One of such alternative summer destinations is Lech am Arlberg, a previously exclusive ski region nestled in the Austrian Alps. We recently visited Austria to find out whether the rumours were true: that summer is the new winter in the Alps.

 

Man versus the Alps!

Hiking through Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

Those words kept running through my head as I kept an eye on Bjorn, our hiking guide. This grizzled and nimble Bavarian was Austria’s answer to British survivalist, Bear Grylls. A free spirit who was clearly at home in these beautiful mountains, his multi-coloured hiking gear were a stark contrast to the green hills and snow-capped mountains surrounding the ski resort towns of Lech Zürs am Arlberg.

Hiking through Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

More widely known as a prime winter sports destination, we were in the rural alpine village of Lech (1,400m) to experience one of the world’s alternative summer destinations.

The day before, we had witnessed some dramatic changes in the weather, underscoring the region’s ability to delight both summer and winter visitors. For example, from relatively warm but wet Rüfiplatz station down below, a cable car took us to the top of Rüfikopf, where we found ourselves at an altitude of 2,350m and surrounded by ankle deep snow!

However, with temperatures averaging just below 20 degrees Celsius (68°F) coupled with some great food, hearty schnapps and extremely comfortable lodgings at the family run Hotel Gotthard any worries we may have had about our planned hike through the mountains were soon banished.

Hiking through Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

[Check rates for Hotel Gotthard]

As we set out with Bjorn from the town centre, tiny flakes of snow began to fall. Winter in summer! Though his expression gave nothing away, I imagined Bjorn feeling slightly sorry for us city dwellers dressed casually in our light jackets and sneakers, seeking our quick fix of the outdoors before running back to hide behind our desks and computer screens. Note to self: when seeking an outdoors experience in the Austrian Alps, do not come dressed for a Sunday stroll in the park!

 

Hiking in the footsteps of Walser settlers

Hiking is one of those experiences which puts you right in Mother Nature’s lap and allows her to amaze you with her naked beauty. Covered by ski-perfect snow for most of the year, the lower mountain ranges and valleys in the Alps shed their white coats in the summer to reveal their stunning beauty.

Mountain lakes, rich alpine forests, rushing rivers and lush green valleys covered in wild alpine flowers with hints of edelweiss, make the area perfect for outdoor activities including high-altitude training, biking, hiking, fishing or simply finding space for your thoughts to breathe.

Arlberg, Austria Alps

Photo credit: Lech Zürs Tourism – Hans Wiesenhofer

Pausing to give the slower members of the group time to catch up, Bjorn pointed out our destination in the distance and with half a smile said, “Welcome to the Alps in summer.” The air at this altitude was noticeably thinner as we continued our hike through Tannegg and Gaisbühel-Alpe in the Tannberg mountain range.

Rock climbing, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

Setting out shortly after breakfast, our aim was to reach Bürstegg, an old Walser settlement which (according to records) had the oldest farmhouse in Lech. Accessible only on foot during the summer months, the trail we would follow was part of a network of over 350km of clearly sign-posted hiking trails winding throughout this unique region.

Bürstegg Farm Settlement Arlberg Austria Alps

Photo credit: Lech Zürs Tourism

But first, we had to keep up with Bjorn!

Although Bavarian, Bjorn channelled the tough and resilient spirit of the early Walser settlers of this region. His contemplative eyes gave away little, but by pointing out plants used as herbal remedies, it was clear that his knowledge extended beyond the ability to navigate the terrain.

Hiking through Arlberg, Austria Alps

Just before we reached the hut at Bürstegg, he led us over a wooden bridge, underneath which flowed a crystal clear stream. Instinctively, I stopped and knelt as if in worship and scooped up some water to drink. Its cold and refreshing powers flowed through my body like a chilled bottle of Reisling. I looked up at Bjorn and he gave me an approving glance. In that moment, the world felt right.

HDYTI Tip: The best time to experience summer hiking in Lech Zürs am Arlberg is from early July to September. Hiking difficulty levels range from Basic to Advanced. Always wear proper hiking shoes and carry waterproof clothing, sunscreen and water. Hiking gear can be rented locally or provided complementary by some hotels.

 

Where the river leads

Lech Zürs am Arlberg is part of a network of ski resort towns in the Arlberg region. Located along the banks of the River Lech, the area is home to some of Austria’s most exclusive hotels and guest houses, many showcasing traditional Alpine architecture with rich woods and clean lines.

Hotel Gotthard, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps

With guaranteed snow in the winter, it has a reputation for providing some of the world’s best off-piste skiing, attracting dedicated clientele including ‘A-list’ celebrities (Princess Diana was a regular visitor) and contemporary artists like ‘Skyspace’ creator James Turrell and Sir Antony Gormley. In the summer however, the bustle of the winter season and its après-ski vibe is replaced by serenity.

Lech am Arlberg, Austria Alps

During my stay at Hotel Gotthard, host and proprietor, Clemens Walch, offered to lead a small group on a leisurely forest walk from Lech to the nearby town of Zug, following the path of River Lech.

During the walk, Clemens shared a bit of his family history and his infectious passion for the outdoors. After the peak winter ski season, summer usually gave him a chance to slow down. One moment he was pointing out flowering plants that served as ingredients for some of his recipes and the next he was jumping over rocks to show us his favourite waterfall.

Zug Fischerstüble Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

Our walk ended at the Fischerstüble, a picturesque fishing pond at the edge of the forest where visitors can catch their own trout and have them prepared by an on-site kitchen crew.

As the evening sun reflected off the algae-rich water, I could see why, rather than joining the mad summer rush to claim a patch of sand on some far flung beach, some would prefer instead to immerse themselves in summer magic of the Austrian Alps.

 

Conquering my fear of heights

Rock climbing, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

Photo credit: Melanie Chenoweth

There are few sporting activities that promote fitness, concentration, hand-to-eye coordination and responsibility like climbing, an event scheduled to make its debut as an Olympic sport at the Tokyo 2020 games.

With visions of watching the professionals compete in Tokyo, I set out to try outdoor rock climbing for the very first time and perhaps overcome my fear of heights. The ride from Lech town centre took us through narrow, switchback roads that provided inspiring views of mountain landscapes and mile-upon-mile of alpine forest.

Fully kitted and with the help of my trusted belayer, I began my ascent. Ignoring the butterflies in the pit of my stomach, my muscles hungrily absorbed the dry but fresh mountain air as I took in deep breaths while working my way across the circuit. Reaching the summit, I felt free, alive and at one with nature!

HDYTI Tip: The climbing experience includes all equipment including shoes and helmets. However, feel free to purchase and bring your own gear. Climbing experiences can be booked through the Lech Zürs Tourist Office (site available in English).

 

Golf at the highest level

Golf Course, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

My final outdoor experience was a visit to the new 19-hectare, 9-hole golf course in Lech-Zug. The actual course itself is situated on both sides of the Lech River presenting golfers with some challenging targets, and which at 1,500m is the highest golf course in Austria.

Golf Course, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

More of a spectator than an actual golfer, after a brief tour of the facilities, I was content to sit on the club house balcony overlooking holes 5 and 9 to admire the pristine greenness of the course set against spectacular Alpine beauty.

HDYTI Tip: Guests staying at the Hotel Gotthard receive a 20% reduction for all of the golf courses in Vorarlberg.

HDYTI Tip: Those preferring a less active holiday can wander around the town centre and enjoy shopping, dining and spa/wellness facilities or simply attend one of the many summer festivals in Lech am Arlberg.

 

Looking for alternative summer destinations?

Hotel Gotthard, Lech, Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

[Check rates for Hotel Gotthard]

Lech’s exclusivity has come in part due to its isolation for a number of years. However, that isolation is starting to change (without a drop in quality). With the breadth of exciting summer activities available, those who prefer green to white slopes will find that there is something for everyone.

The secret is out! This winter haven is just as stunning in the summer. Who needs a beach anyway?

 

Details about Lech

Lech Zürs am Arlberg Austria Infographic, Alternative summer destinations

 

Disclaimer: We visited Lech on a press trip (transfers, accommodation, meals and experiences) organised by Taylormade PR working with Thomson Lakes and Mountains, Hotel Gotthard, Lech Zürs Tourist Office and  Vorarlberg State Tourist Board. However, all views and opinions remain ours and we were not paid to publish this article. Our sincere thanks go to all the brand representatives who shared the magic of Lech Zürs and the Austrian Alps with us.

 

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Hiking through Arlberg, Austria Alps, Alternative summer destinations

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).