During our latest journey to the Austrian Alps, my daughter cherished a steep crimson run shadowing the craggy mountainside, whereas my son most well-liked a extra scenic, gently-curving green-coloured route. No, I’m not speaking in regards to the area’s celebrated ski slopes, however about two slides close to our resort.
When my little boy discovered one which deposited him virtually straight from his meal-time excessive chair into the neighbouring journey playground — which is 1,800m above sea stage, affords panoramic views throughout the Salzach Valley and had a near-empty financial institution of full-size trampolines — we knew that our high-altitude vacation was a success, regardless of the absence of any snow. In reality, referred to as Alpendorf, this a part of western Austria was early final month having fun with 28C-ish warmth and sunshine, tempered by a refreshing mountain breeze. It will likely be a bit of cooler now, however nonetheless hovering round 25C.
Like many Austrian mountain inns, the quietly luxurious Alpina Sporthotel within the village of St Johann im Pongau (simply St Johann to most), about an hour’s drive south of Salzburg, serves up powder and sizzling spiced gluhwein for half the 12 months, then, after a brief closure within the spring, pivots throughout the hotter months into what locals name a “kinderhotel”. Coined by the nation’s vacationer board within the late Eighties, this colloquial Mitteleuropa time period for a summer time family-holiday resort was turned on its head right here, with sea and sand swapped for mountain journey — much less bucket and spade, extra Birkenstock boots.
The Alpina — which turns 50 this 12 months — was one of many unique kinderhotels, however is now a part of a franchise that adopted the time period as its identify and operates throughout Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Wherever they enterprise, friends at these inns can rely on healthful outside actions, in addition to lashings of natural Hipp mush (made in Bavaria) to spoon to infants.
Certainly, staying at a Kinderhotel is as a lot a break from your individual parental to-do listing as it’s a change of surroundings. For example, every household’s assigned desk within the Alpina’s searching lodge-cum-elegantly minimalist eating room comes laid with bibs and plastic cutlery or colouring books and pencils, in keeping with the wants of the smallest VIPs, and a listing of its actions that day.
My husband and I, our daughter (5) and son (virtually two) pull up on the Alpina’s conventional Styrian façade — all wood gables and bloom-wreathed balconies — having endured a tense early-morning dash by way of Stansted. Regardless of having stayed in an airport resort, we solely simply made the ultimate name for our flight due to apocalyptic queues and a damaged bag-drop conveyor belt. In any case that aggro, the low-key seamlessness on supply on this environment friendly a part of the world serves as a much-needed, soothing corrective. Due to a household carriage providing area to park these napping of their buggies and a nook for roaming toddlers, our direct practice from Salzburg felt like a day spa by comparability.
Each guardian of younger youngsters is aware of the ability of routine, so we leap straight into the resort’s afternoon kaffee und kuchen hour, with cream truffles and sizzling chocolate. Afterwards, having become the robes specified by our room for us all, we head to the indoor lagoon pool, the place the primary slide of the journey — a twisting yellow corkscrew — delivers riders right into a heat plunge pool. There’s additionally time for a dip within the rooftop infinity pool, which appears to be like over the identical breathtaking side as that playground under us, however alas, doesn’t maintain the little ones’ consideration for fairly so lengthy.
That is when the children’ membership tends to come in useful. Alongside supervision for kids aged 4 weeks or older, it lays on every day programmes involving crafts or baking periods for youthful sprites and horse-riding classes, treasure hunts, mini hikes and den-building to entertain larger ones — there are even bunnies to cuddle. Although most different juniors listed here are German audio system, they make pleasant chit-chat in English. Mother and father are welcome to linger or accompany their youngsters on some excursions.
For all that, our little monoglots want watching and using the cable automobiles that hum out and in of the Bergbahn station subsequent door. Both facet of ski season, these gondolas transport guests one other 500-odd metres as much as Geisterberg, or Ghost Mountain, whereby buggy-friendly paths lead by way of a sequence of spooky-themed play parks in the direction of the summit. If a break is required, the tractor-pulled ghost practice is an particularly jolly expertise, introducing two pleasant cartoon spirits who seem within the type of waving, costumed mascots and on vibrant billboards, for which children can subsequently search (grownup £23, youngster £14; snow-space.com).
Between a haunted home, fowl’s nest-style climbing frames, water runs, a rope-pull lake crossing and several other extra slides, we spend one of the best a part of a day up right here. My husband and I take it in turns to settle into one of many many deckchairs and revel in wondrous Alpine views as the children hare about, discover and get to know the native goats. By the point we attain the mountain high, our little companions have ostensibly been fooled into doing the kind of hike to which they often object vociferously. This kind of excessive altitude, family-friendly theme park is a rising pattern throughout the Austrian Alps, as ski resorts attempt to seek out new methods to draw summer time and shoulder-season guests, and is standard in different alpine areas such because the Wilder Kaiser, the place extra luxurious family-focused inns together with the Stanglwirt (stanglwirt.com), together with the close by Naturhotel Forsthofgut in Leogang present an upmarket tackle the household resort idea.
For a non-skier like me, the feeling of discovering an entire further panorama above the remainder of the world and — above the clouds, even — is thrilling. The whole lot up right here is sun-dappled and silent however for the jangling of alpine cowbells. The mountain’s marvellous stillness appears even to soak up the noise of the numerous youngsters it hosts.
Prater amusement park, Vienna
Geisterberg has an admirably mild business footprint, however I’m nonetheless delighted to seek out a few trad-style timber eating places — the Buchau-Hutte (buchauhütte.at; mains from £11) and the Gernkogel Alm (gernkogelalm.at). Each supply genuine Austrian mountain meals and chilly beers served by ready employees in conventional costume, however higher nonetheless, every is provided with but extra play gear in view of the tables, permitting us to settle in fortunately beneath a large parasol.
Heat although the solar is, the air stays recent (rendering layers important) so we really feel completely justified in ordering not solely conventional frittatensuppe (shreds of pancake in clear meaty broth), beef goulash and a few wurstel sausages, but additionally a hearty apple strudel and a few germknodel (a neighborhood speciality involving dumplings stuffed with spiced plum) to see us again all the way down to base. By the point a cable automobile deposits us beside the Alpina, our daughter has not solely realized the names of two different children from the playground, however a bit of tune in regards to the mountain too.
After such a profitable hike-in-disguise, the following day we undertake a brief taxi trip to check out St Johann’s new tree path. Ten minutes’ brisk strolling takes us to the primary of 4 units of tunnel-like climbing nets, suspended 6m or so above the forest flooring, up which my husband shimmies together with our eldest. The identical glade additionally incorporates a “motor-skills” park — a kind of balance-focused impediment race designed to maintain ski and snowboard buffs in form, but additionally unexpectedly addictive for our two-year-old (free; josalzburg.com).
My husband is the one one formally scheduled to take a subsequent lunch nap, however after the surfeit of recent air the remainder of us decide in as nicely. Upon waking, we head to the Liechtensteinklamm, a gorge that is among the space’s best-known sights and a success with vacationers because the late nineteenth century (grownup £10, youngster £5; josalzburg.com).
St Johann’s new tree path
This one undoubtedly isn’t buggy-friendly, in order our daughter counts every of the 200-odd steps, her brother stays strapped to my husband’s chest, having fun with the white noise of water that has over a number of millennia refined the riverbed and partitions to marble-smoothness. Progressively ascending in tandem with the Grossarler Ache stream previous a sequence of small waterfalls, the climb gives an excellent answer to baking afternoons with tinies in tow — at factors the sky resembles only a small slit above our heads, the shade serving to to maintain the rocks cool.
We crane our necks to take a look at the steep, slender sides and admire the crashing torrent of turquoise-blue water under. Paths and brief tunnels traverse the gorge earlier than an iron walkway spirals as much as a final viewing platform. Subsequent to right here, a ultimate, magnificent waterfall thunders down from the clifftop above; all of us take pleasure in its misty spray, then relish an ice cream on the exit.
Staying half-board on the Alpina yields entry to intensive breakfast buffets and the choice of a five-course themed meal or an à la carte dinner every night. Though youngsters are welcome within the resort’s elegant Panorama Restaurant, ours want the casual bistro terrace, which we discover extra stress-free too.
As soon as the kids are tucked up in our spacious household room, linked to a monitoring service that works between the landline and your cellular, we’re in a position to keep up as late as we like — which seems to be 9.45pm. However when exhaustedly delivering we uncover one other immensely civilised Teutonic behavior: the availability of a quilt per particular person, somewhat than per mattress.
Our journey concludes with a few days in Vienna, simply reached by rail from Salzburg in two hours. Once more, these trains once more have a devoted, virtually open-plan household carriage designed to make travelling with tots as stress-free as doable. Vienna pleases with vast pavements and loads of greenery — maybe it sounds dreary, however these are the stuff you discover when pushing a pram, together with allotted areas on buses that locals are fast to vacate. In contrast with the UK, getting round en famille right here proves a doddle.
Visiting Vienna with children centres not on that august classical music scene, however the dozens of low-cost outside swimming pools to which locals and vacationers alike flock in summer time — and the comparatively lurid (by stylish Viennese requirements) Prater amusement park. The town’s buzzy MuseumsQuartier plaza is host to an unlimited waterbed made from Astroturf that our pair additionally spend a very good hour hurling themselves round whereas we sip creamy coffees. Later, science-based gentle play and a corridor stuffed with steam engines on the Technical Museum hit the spot too — and that’s earlier than its café serves us schnitzels and beers.
Be it cable automobiles, ghost trains or slides, our youngsters had been completely enchanted by Austrian infrastructure — which together with all of the enjoyable meals and leisure allowed us to understand per week that delivered quite a lot of moments of treasured peace.
Harriet Walker was a visitor of the Austrian Vacationer Board. The Alpina Sporthotel has half-board household rooms sleeping six from £421 and half-board doubles from £195 (sporthotel-alpina.com). Fly to Salzburg then journey by rail to St Johann