We had the most fantastic family holiday this summer, but it was a surprise to all of us how much we enjoyed it!
Although we like sport, we are not the most outdoorsy kind of family, which was why I was dubious when Catherine Crone of Headwater Holidays suggested trying out one of their cycling vacations. The company offers tailor-made walking and cycling tours, but, when I made it clear that our cycling experience consisted of little more than occasional sessions in the gym (me) and wobbly trips around the park (9-year-old Robert), she suggested a trip whereby the company offered you bikes and a hotel as a base and left you to decide how much or little cycling to do. We did far more than we thought we would, and we LOVED it!
Here’s Jess to tell you more:
“This summer, my family and I spent a wonderful week in the Salzkammergut region of Austria by Lake Wolfgang, and had an incredible time. We flew from Gatwick to Salzburg, and then stayed in the Hotel Bergrose in Strobl, about an hour and a quarter from Salzburg and right at the end of the lake, or St Wolfgangsee. It was absolutely beautiful.
The hotel in itself was amazing; our family room had incredible views and was really spacious, and there was loads of space for relaxing. We frequently played on the table tennis table, enjoyed the swimming pool and spa and ate strudel outside by the river. The Hotel Bergrose is also a restaurant, and as we were staying on half-board evening meals were included in our stay. This was brilliant, and the food was delightful. We have never stayed in a place where a hotel is able to cope with all of our family’s strange dietary needs, but this hotel managed to prepare delicious four-course meals every night for all of us, despite my brother’s allergies and the fact that none of us eat meat. I know that my parents really appreciated this.
As this was a Headwater holiday, our family were given bikes and talked with John, the rep for Austria. We were told about all of the best places to go, cycling routes and got to read a book by other people who had stayed in the hotel and their thoughts. This was really useful, and gave us a great idea of what to do during our stay.
As we did soooo much during our holiday, I have decided to break it down into days and two blog posts! We travelled on both Sundays (and we even cycled on our first day, to the nearby little village of Strobl).
After a great breakfast, we all cycled 8km to the lovely town of St. Wolfgang. The sun was shining and it was a relatively easy ride with lots of cycle paths, so we had a great journey. After checking out some of the shops and eating cake from the bakeries, we decided to walk along and look at the views, which were stunning. The Wolfgangsee was really clear and sparkled in the sun, and the mountains were breathtaking.
Next, we took a trip up the cog railway to the top of a mountain, which was simply fantastic. The summit was 1,783m high and the views were the best I had seen in my life. The 360º views of lakes Wolfgangsee, Irrsee, Mondsee and Fuschlsee were phenomenal, and everything just seemed so tiny and surreal.
After the 35 minute journey down the mountain, we took the ferry back to Strobl, and then cycled onto our hotel.
Today we took the 150 bus to Bad Ischl (mum and dad want me to point out that, although they didn’t find Austria to be very expensive, at least compared to London, the public transport was pricey!) and had a look around. First of all we had sublime cake in the world-famous Zauner coffee house, and I had a triangle full of marzipan and chocolate, which was honestly one of the nicest things I have ever eaten.
After this, we visited the Kaiservilla, which was the summer home of the Emperor in the times of the Habsburg Empire, and was described by Franz Josef I as “heaven on earth” for himself and his family. We took a guided tour around the house, and were given interesting sheets in English, as the tour was in German.
I thought that the house was lovely, and was fascinated by pretty much everything, especially the letters on the Emperor’s desk. I definitely did not expect him to live so frugally, and was surprised by how bare his room was.
On Wednesday, we took the bus to the small town of Hallstatt where we visited the Salt Mines. First of all, we took the railway to the top of the mountain, which had astonishing views over the town. After walking through an exhibition about burials at the salt mine and some signs with facts about the workers, we got to the main entrance, where we donned strange suits and walked through a museum before starting our tour, which was in German and English.
We walked through a tunnel into a mountain, which was quite cold. It was really cool to see the salt stuck to the sides of the tunnel. The tour was seventy minutes long, and was full of videos which had English captions. We did feel that some things were lost in translation and would have also liked to know a bit more about the history of the mine, which was a shame. However, I really enjoyed learning about the techniques used to get salt, and how the mine was formed in the first place.
The miners used to go down slides to get into the mine, which we also got to ride. Although I would have liked to go faster, they were still loads of fun. The second one was 64m long and they were both quite steep.
At the end of our visit, we took a train out of the mountain, which went very fast. It was actually one of my favourite parts of our trip to Hallstatt! Then we took the bus back to our hotel.
Read Part Two of our wonderful holiday – including a trip to the site of the Sound of Music, Salzburg. And please enjoy our video too.
Disclosure: we were offered a discounted media rate for a Headwater cycling holiday to Austria. However, all our views are entirely our own.
For more on European holidays, read our tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower, with kids.