Sunday, July 27, 2008

Salzkammergut Bike Route

Salburg Lakes

Radina's Photos

Ever since my last Salzburg Trip, I've wanted to explore more of the Salzburg Lakes area. There's not a lot of steep climbing there, so it's ideal for tandem cycling, so when the forecast gave me only a 30% chance of rain this weekend, I dragged Lisa out of bed and onto the train with the big bike on Saturday morning.

Joining us was Radina, a Bulgarian Physics graduate student finishing up at the University in Garching, near Munich. We met through Toy Town Germany, the web-site for English language speakers.

The train trip was uneventful, taking us into Salzburg's main train station right on schedule at 9:42am. The day started out beautiful, with high clouds but plenty of sun. We quickly found the Salzach river path out of Salzburg heading North. I had originally planned to take the same route I had taken before to get to the Seehamer See (minus a bit of climbing), but noted that the map I had indicated that the Salzkammer Bike Route started a bit further North from where I had departed the Salzach bike path. Radina had a high opinion of the bike routes, so we decided to explore.

Past the turn off I took, the bike path becomes dirt, and after about 15 minutes I saw a sign pointing off to the Salzkammergut trail. It was guarded by a gate with a ramp, however, so I took the time to ask some other cyclists in my halting German whether this was indeed the Salzkammergut trail. They told me yes, and that it was hard. Well, it couldn't possibly be tougher than the route I'd already found, so we gave it a go.

As dirt paths go, this part of the Salzkammergut trail wasn't bad, but fresh gravel had been laid all over the trail recently, which made it a bit sketchy here and there, even with the 700x32 tires I was running. The ramps were also a bit painful to negotiated on the tandem, but since we only had 2 of those to contend with, it wasn't too bad. We were rather grateful when pavement reappeared, however, since if it got steep, the dirt and gravel would make for tough going.

At the town of Anthering, the road started headed steeply uphill, not as steep as before, but since it was in the open instead of shaded, we all started sweating profusely. At one point, Radina had to stop because she had put sunscreen over her forehead, and the sweat washing that down into her eyes, must have been quite painful. It took less than 30 minutes, however, before we reached the hamlet of Modlham, and there the grade gave way to gentle rolling hills that were a joy to descend and climb. Radina was quite impressed that she had to pedal to keep up with us downhill since she had no trouble keeping up with us uphill.

Soon, we started a moderate descent into Obertrum am See, which was the lake I had visited before. We rolled along a bit on the familiar road, and when I saw the bakery in Seeham, we stopped, bought some lunch, and got permission to eat it at the swimming beach in town, which charged admission if you actually wanted to swim.

After lunch, we headed North again towards the Mattsee, and there in town, took a wrong turn and got off the bike route. Well, I stared at the map and couldn't quite figure out what was going on. Radina took the map and provided a second opinion --- that we needed to make a left somewhere before starting the descent. So we climbed back up to the top of the hill and there made a right turn before being reassured that we were on the bike route.

The signs were quite sparse, however, and soon we were lost again, heading into Neumarkt instead of heading directly to Strasswalchen. At this point, I started remembering that I had a GPS unit, and put it to good use. The detour to Neumarkt, however, got us to a supermarket that was opened all Saturday, so we bought a bunch of fruits, some drinks, stuffed it into our bags, and kept going.

In Strasswalchen, the bike route became well signed again, and we were taken past the Irsee, which was quite pretty, despite the overcast skies. We felt a few rain drops here and there, but it wasn't bad. Lisa started getting tired, and asked about lodging, so we stopped at every hotel along the way, but found that every place was booked. We were quite dismayed (especially when one of the places we checked had rooms but the man owning it told us he was too lazy to clean up the rooms enough to rent it) until about 1km from Mondsee, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a sign with beds pointing to the right, followed the driveway down to the end and found someone with rooms willing to rent it out for 25 Euros per person. With the beautiful view of the mountains (though we could not see the Lake), we took the rooms, took showers, had a nap, and then went to a local restaurant for a surprisingly inexpensive but filling meal.

I woke up at 6am on Sunday, feeling very good and ready to go. We ate almost all the food we had bought the day before, and then left around 8am to head into the Mondsee. Of all the lakes on this trip, the Mondsee is my favorite. We rolled along the lake, taking in the gorgeous morning --- the road was wet from rain the night before, but the sky was clear, granting us glorious views of the low clouds hanging around the surrounding mountains. We rolled along the single track road, and literally flew along it --- it felt so good and fast that at the top of a rise, I said to Lisa, that was so good, let's go back and do that stretch again. And so we did! Of all the touring I've done in the last few years, I've never immediately repeated a stretch of road, but this stretch was gorgeous and worth repeating right away while the conditions were good.

At the little village of Au, we made the decision to ride to Unterach to see the Attersee. Once there, we cut through a campground and walked to the water's edge to see another beautiful lake in front of us. Then we backtracked and headed onto the South side of the Mondsee. I had noticed markings on the map for a tunnel, and was quite nervous about it, but it turned out that the bike route included routings around the tunnel! First, we wound around a slide protection gallery (granting us a far better view of the lake than a car driver would get), then we weaved between a road under rock overhangs and the lake before plunging into a bikes-only tunnel. I remember being impressed by Austrian bike paths before, but this must have cost an enormous amount of money, and to see it first hand still impressed me.

Too quickly, we left the beautiful Mondsee behind, and headed over to Wolfgangersee, which Radina had built up as being quite the jewel of the area. Well, with all the hype, there was no way it could live up to it, but as we descended down into St. Gilgen, the views simply took my breath away! It was still early, so we took the opportunity to have a quick snack, and then rode through the tourist trap that was St. Gilgen, but did not make it all the way to the Abersee. We decided at this point that we should ride back towards Salzburg, since Lisa had a plane to catch the next morning and Radina was also saddle-sore, it being her first multi-day tour.

Back in St. Gilgen, Lisa ordered an omelette, I had a soup. We then headed out towards Salzburg on the big climb out of the lakes area. The climb wasn't as strenous as yesterday's, but it was quite a bit longer, though the views behind us were pretty. Nevertheless, there was quite a bit of traffic and we were annoyed by it until the bike path showed up. Once on the bike path, we climbed for a bit before descending and seeing the Fuschlsee from a distance. At this point, it got so warm that I swore that I would have ice cream in Salzburg, no matter what. A bypass route took us away from the main road towards Salzburg, but to our surprise once we were within 10km of Salzburg it was just down hill all the way in town.

Once in town, the GPS unit came into play again and we found the train station soon enough (though not without finding the wrong one as Lisa confused my instructions for "Hauptbahnof" with "Bahnof"). There, we bought train tickets, ate ice cream (I had 2!), and then got onto the train back home.

I've heard people talk a lot about terrain perfect for tandems --- if there's a tour made for tandems, it is this one. The climbs aren't long, and aren't particularly steep, and the rollers are a delight --- there are many hills you can just stomp up on your middle chain-ring (or big one if you're in shape --- we're not), and lots of gorgeous rollers. But most of all, the facilities are impressive --- you don't need reservations, and the route is mostly well signed (do carry a map, though!). This is an excellent first tour for anyone (there are more lakes we hadn't explored yet), and highly recommended for beginning cycle tourists or tandemists. If you are out of shape or just nervous about touring, there are luggage services that will do baggage transfer for you, as well as make reservations, provide support, maps, etc. But why give up your freedom? Pack your panniers, fill up your bottles, and ride!
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