I laughed when it was suggested that my family and I go on a cycling holiday. Although we like the outdoors, we aren’t one of those ‘outdoorsy’ families who go scuba-diving and trekking, and who laugh in the face of rain and adversity. But I was persuaded, and although I can’t believe I am writing this, we all loved it.
As our nine-year-old son could barely cycle around the park without falling off, we chose not to go for a scheduled holiday whereby you cycle a certain distance per day and stay in different hotels. Instead we went for recommended routes and a week in just one hotel. Headwater, the company we went with, rightly call this a ‘relaxed activity holiday’.
"The tour of the salt mines, which are thousands of years old, were fascinating – the kids particularly loved going down two miners’ slides and riding a small but very fast train."
We don’t normally go on organised holidays, so it was a very pleasant experience to find ourselves met at Salzburg airport by our rep John and driven to the hotel. That certainly took a lot of the holiday stress away.
We went out for our first cycle on our first day; the main road was a bit hairy but we soon found the cycle path and were quickly surrounded by gorgeous mountains, feeling uplifted. We rode to nearby Strobl, a lovely little town by stunning Lake Wolfgang, with a few restaurants and shops. From there, in glorious sunshine, we cycled to St Wolfgang itself, which is in the Salzkammergut region.
This whole area is connected to a certain composer who has Wolfgang as his first name – in fact, it’s said his mother named him after the lake! St Wolfgang is a lovely if touristy town to simply stroll around - like something from a film set. Afterwards we went to the top of the Schafberg Mountain via the cog railway, as recommended by John. The views, from 1783m, were magnificent. We took the railway down again before lazily deciding not to cycle back to Strobl but to take the bikes on the ferry instead.
Another day we took the bus to the spa town of Bad Ischl and visited the world-famous Zauner coffeehouse and the Kaiser Villa, a gorgeous imperial building. We also took the bus to Hallstatt to see the salt mines, accessed via funicular railway. The tour (in English and German) of the mines, which are thousands of years old, was fascinating – the kids particularly loved going down two miners’ slides and riding a small but very fast train. Hallstatt itself, by the side of the Hallstattersee Lake, is captivating – a UNESCO heritage site, and the oldest inhabited village in Europe.
Our holiday also took in a long bike ride to the charming town of St Gilgen at the other end of the lake. We must have ridden about 14km that day – I loved pelting along with the wind in my hair! We stopped at St Gilgen for a walk, a paddle and a pizza plus a play in the little park with its spectacular lake view. Then we rode the ferry back, which took about an hour.
With its magnificent fortress, shops and churches, Salzburg was an unforgettable day out – not least because of our terrific tour guide, Michaela Muhr (bookable via the Salzburg Experience website), who gave us a history lesson that worked for the whole family. We took in a lot of Sound of Music history – how could we not? – but we also found out that not only Mozart but Doppler was born in this city, and visited the magnificent water gardens at the Palace of Hellbrunn, where my son adored getting soaked. We could actually have done with another day in this city, in particular to catch a concert.
Our hotel, the Bergrose, was well set up for families, with flexible accommodation, a swimming pool, table tennis, a sauna and a steam room, and a gorgeous stream along the back of the garden. We stayed on a half-board basis –something we’ve never done before – and it was a great pleasure not to have go out each evening and try to find suitable food. Our son has various allergies and the hotel chef really rose to the occasion, transforming our holiday – this was one of the first times we’ve been away without him being ill.
We did so much that it’s hard to pick a highlight from the trip, although my son turning to me after a day’s cycling and saying, simply, ‘I love this holiday’ has to be one of them.
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