|How old am I:||55|
A three-day walk from his home in Zederhaus, one of the small villages scattered throughout Lungau, brought him to what appeared to be an impenetrable granite wall. Satisfied and likely relieved, he went home. He was right about the beauty.
Weather forecast for the next 9 days
Not until tunnels were blasted through the Alps in could one travel to or from Lungau without scaling the mountains that encircle it. When the passes were closed, as they often are in winter, no one got in or out.
Its people, bound by their geography and history, evolved into a 20,member family that embraces the occasional traveler fortunate enough to wander in. Innsbruck, Kitzbuhel, Zurs, sure, but Lungau? Lungau still sneaks in under the jet-set radar.
This time there was less snow than usual, but the skiing was still good. Everyone -- even beginners and intermediates like me -- could enjoy the skiing, he said. When we arrived in Munich on our way to Lungau, it was a frigid, blue-sky morning. At a crossro south of the city, we ignored the western routes that lead to the too-chic resorts of Tirol and Vorarlberg and turned east, toward south-central Austria.
An austria frozen in time
We sped an hour and a half through wintry Bavarian farm country, then paused for coffee and warm apfelstrudel at the Cafe Bazaar in Salzburg. We climbed above the tree line to the Seekar summit. Peaks on the southern horizon mapped the road to Italy. Albert and I pointed our skis downhill and plunged nearly 2, feet before regaining the village.
No traffic crowded our descent. We skied ourselves limp, then squeezed in around a communal table at a slope-side hut for spicy Bosnian sausage, mulled wine and a few polkas.
Later that evening we hitched a ride on a snowmobile back up the mountain, shared a pan of kasespatzle Austrian macaroni and cheesethen screamed back down to the village on bentwood sleds at a pace guaranteed to sober up even the most schnapps-addled Austrian. Roman milestones marked the ancient commercial north-south route through Lungau as we drove the stretch of highway from Obertauern into the heart of Lungau and the village of Mauterndorf. The original inhabitants, medieval toll-takers, extorted cash from travelers in return for safe passage.
That night the only cash our host demanded was for our pints of lager.
The locals exchanged greetings. Greetings turned to song. Austrian harmony filled the chamber. After midnight, we drove the block or two down the empty, winding road from the castle, between rows of half-timbered houses and traditional stepped-roof buildings, and pulled up in front of the Gasthof Steffner-Wallner. An enormous, slobbering St. Bernard bellowed from the end of the deep entry and shuffled across the worn marble floors to inspect us. Hans Steffner-Wallner, the owner of the inn, appeared through a small doorway, welcomed us with grins and knuckle-breaking handshakes, then led us to our cozy room.
At 6 the next morning, Albert and I climbed out of our deep down nest and made our way to the breakfast room, where we gorged on slabs of dark bread spread thick with home-churned butter and wild strawberry jam, followed by creamy coffee.
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Sure, the lifts begin at 8 a. But why? Skiing is fine, but better is the camaraderie of other skiers. You can ski anywhere in the world, but you will find Lungauer hospitality only in Lungau. On his way out, he tossed Albert a cell phone. I grinned too. For all the simplicity and tradition of their agricultural lifestyle, it was clear Lungauers too were attracted by modern devices.
We drove 10 minutes south to the village of St. Erwin Resch, a former Austrian national ski champion, sold us organic chamomile lip balm at the base of Aineck, then tossed a couple of schnapps singles into our mitts. Icy peaks floated in a fog sea under an endless blue sky. A quick warmup in the Adler Horst turned into a languid afternoon around the fire, boots off, soaking up Lungauer folklore, courtesy of the brothers Gspandl.
As the winter sun dropped behind the Alps, we dragged our limp limbs out for the descent to St. We pulled up beside a two-story slate-roofed house next to the church. Albert knocked on the weathered door. I heard some shuffling, then some keys jingling, and finally the door creaked open. First a battered leather Merlin-the-Magician hat appeared. Then a remarkably smooth face with dancing eyes, high cheekbones and a waist-length gray beard peeked out at us.
He was a combination of Haight-Ashbury hippie and Indian sadhu. His house has neither electricity nor, other than the wood stove in the kitchen, heating, so we went to the nearby gasthaus to share a beer with him. Late on Christmas Eve he celebrates Mass in a barn and plays Joseph in a skit reenacting the birth of Christ.
On Palm Sunday he dresses like Jesus and rides a donkey to Mass. On our drive back to Mauterndorf along village streets, kids shouted greetings to us through their home-crafted masks and costumes. They tramped from house to house, reenacting the journey of the three Wise Men, to be rewarded by townsfolk with sweets and coins. Albert and I fell into the local rhythm. We argued politics over coffee at Cafe Hochleitner until 10 a.
Skiers made room for us at an already-bulging table. Pans of kasespatzle, bratwurst and sauerkraut were pushed aside to accommodate pints of beer and mugs of hot wine. Soon we were watching the locals dancing polkas on the tables. An hour later we were up and dancing with them. When we finally scrambled back out to the hill and stepped into our skis, it was nearly midnight and socked in with a ground-hugging fog. A decision was made -- perhaps by the soldiers among us -- that the person most familiar with the mountain should lead us down to the base of Fanningberg.
Tony offered to take in his tractor those who preferred not to ski down. A few Germans accepted, visibly relieved. The rest of us lined up single file and skied two turns, and then the whole thing fell apart.
It was a midnight free-for-all with torches flying. Each wanted to be first over the finish line. The following week Albert and I ventured out of Lungau to explore the neighboring resorts of Turrach, Rtadt, Flachau and Schladming. We ed a horse-drawn sleigh ride to a creaky wood cabin deep in a forest behind Katschberg mountain, where accordion and zither music and a meal of roasted venison waited.
We agreed to meet with strangers if the locals can ever be called strangers the following evening at midnight on a full moon for a ski trek up Aineck Mountain. We crashed curling parties on frozen lakes and were cheered as heroes. We witnessed wacky skits performed by cabin-feverish village elders at annual winter festivities. He invited us to his year-old home for a feast of spit-grilled lamb, hand-picked chanterelle mushrooms and Lungauer erdlinge potatoes. At 2 the next morning, he and his wife sent us off with an invitation to return the following summer to celebrate his 50th birthday with a shooting party at Schatten Lake, the site of our earlier curling fest.
They assured us that by then the lake would have thawed, transforming itself into a liquid jewel.
Albert and I savored our last moments in this undiscovered, authentic Austrian Shangri-La, with its huge-hearted, life-loving, accordion- and zither-playing folk who will meet you, invite you into their homes and then drink you under their tables, all in the same evening. Lungau is three hours by car. Lungau is an hour away.
To call the s below from the U. Das Seekarhaus, Obertauern;faxwww. The recently refurbished Seekarhaus is at mid-mountain, making it ideal for a ski holiday or a summer hiking retreat. Gasthof Steffner-Wallner, Markt 90, Mauterndorf;faxwww. It is as authentically Austrian as they come.
It offers good food and easy access to downhill and cross-country skiing, golf and hiking. Gasthof Gambswirt, 7 Marktplatz, Tamsweg;faxwww. Wellnesshotel Eggerwirt, St. Michael;faxwww. In Mauterndorf: Schlossschenke, Markt 27, A cozy couple of rooms in the 12th century Mauterndorf castle.
Cafe Essl, Markt 53, Regional cuisine with a modern touch. Try the traditional schnitzel or the local game specialties. Messnerhaus, Markt 56, The fanciest place in Lungau, in a beautifully remodeled 11th century rectory. Specialties include local cheeses, game, trout, locally distilled spirits and Austrian wines. Open evenings only.