Video & Blog: A winter slow holiday by train at Fuschl am See, Austria
Lucy Symons takes the train to Austria to try snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the beautiful village of Fuschl am See.
>> For departure dates, availability and to book this holiday with Inntravel:
Snow-based activities: Hotel Seerose, Fuschl am see, Austria
I boarded the Eurostar and headed to France for the first leg of my wintry adventure. I love this journey – it is so very, very civilised and oh so easy – you just sit and enjoy the view. I am always surprised at how quickly we get through the chunnel and are whizzing across French countryside, watching the tree lined roads and the little villages, the churches and the farms as they zip past.
>> For departure dates, availability and to book this holiday: Snow-based activities: Hotel Seerose, Fuschl am see, Austria
It’s snuggled in the quiet back streets of the Latin Quarter just behind the Jardin du Luxembourg. Formerly a monastery and home to Americans studying at the Sorbonne waiting out the blitz in WWII, it was briefly a jazz club (possibly due to those same Americans refusing to go home after the war) and for the past four generations has been a smart little hotel run by the same family – a wonderful combination of modern and Haute Époque, all 31 rooms are different, but most have high ceilings and exposed beams, a very comfy double bed, a huge floor to ceiling French (dare I say?) window, a lovely en suite - clean and spare but generously proportioned furnished with Roger and Gallet smellies for your ablutions.
There’s a fabulous portrait of a Jack Russell gone Legionnaire in the lobby, a resident black and white cat called Skype who you must meet, and do admire the original boundary walls in the court yard. Top tip: there is a garret room (51) which is just perfect, tucked under the eaves and overlooking a local Lycee (traditional whitewashed, Parisienne school building with a court yard) which has a connecting door to a twin bedroom – perfect for parents with children who need a bit of space.
I was made to feel very welcome, handed a local map and (after a thorough quizzing) recommended two different bistros that fit within my budget. I took off to do a recce… it seems this area, (with the Tour Eiffel twinkling in the distance) is a warren of little book shops and Japanese restaurants. Within half an hour of arriving, I had been offered a seat on the metro, asked by a teenage boy (who took off his headphones specially) if I needed help and watched a man give another customer the change he needed at a shop register. Warm and fuzzy! Full marks, Paris. I had a classic French meal at one of the bistros I had been pointed towards, Les Fontaines (9, rue Soufflot), and jolly nice it was, too. Buzzy but not crowded, cheap and cheerful, the service was suitably nonchalant in a way only the French can really do. Full marks.
The next morning I took off to the Gare de l’Est which is also on the 4 line, but seriously only a very short walk from Gare du Nord, so don’t even think about taking the metro if you arrive at one and need to leave by another. The platforms at Est are colour coded and even though my train to Stuttgart was not yet listed, I knew it was on the yellow side, so I could find a machine to composté my ticket (something you must do in parts of Europe - where available, if you haven't compostéd your ticket, then you aren't en règle and you're liable to pay a fine). I boarded the TGV train, found my seat and was off through the French countryside. In no time, I was handed a stylish black box which opened to reveal my breakfast – smoked salmon blinis, yoghurt and a variety of pastries, coffee and juice.
I arrived at Stuttgart within a few hours – a thoroughly uninspiring, communist style station, it is obviously in a very industrial area – think Slough. My brief pause there was punctuated by a fairly unpleasant coffee. The next train, the Eurocity, took off through Germany and on to Austria. At one point I wondered idlly when we would hit our advertised speed as we seemed to be going at a very sedate pace, but on glancing at the on board display I saw to my great surprise we were actually travelling in excess of 300 km/h.
The trains are obviously so well designed, you just don’t feel as though you are zooming at such velocity. I had picked up some delicious French provisions when I was in Paris (I couldn’t resist) and so had a little impromptu picnic including a half bottle of wine – this is perfectly acceptable on the train - and there is a buffet car for those who get peckish but didn’t plan ahead.
My host, the congenial Franz, collected me from the station and took me for a quick sight seeing tour of the old city of Salzburg. Sadly we didn’t have time to use the fabulous walking guide Inntravel had included in my paperwork, but I wish I had as Salzburg really is gorgeous. Centred around the river Salzbach, overlooked by the traditional and dominating 11th Century Schloss (a largely complete fortress with attached castle where some of the Sound of Music was filmed, built on the cliff top), the old town is a delightful warren of very tall, narrow buildings dating from the 1400s, some actually built in to the cliff face. Replete with old cobbled streets, lots of archways and elegant museums, a Benedictine Abbey, a Baroque cathedral (the Kollegienkirche), the Bishop’s residence (with a glockenspiel made up of 35 bells which rings several times a day) and concert halls.
I was shown the pedestrian shopping area (the Getreidegasse) with wrought iron shop signs and the delightful ornate horse “carwash”: a traditional arched and galleried trough in the centre of the town where horses once walked through to get clean. This is Mozart’s home town (his childhood home is now a museum); a fact you wouldn’t escape noticing as every other building and street, square and park is named after him or boasting of some famous thing that he did or that he played or ate there. It’s hard to imagine that one man, who travelled extensively since he was a child and died at a tragically young age could really have done and been and devoured everything that is claimed, but I chose early on to smile sweetly and enjoy the stories.
I arrived at the four star Hotel Seerose(“Hotel Waterlily”) and was welcomed by the staff all traditionally dressed in dirndls. The hotel is modern (having been rebuilt in the past six years from the ground up) and now has 30 spacious and tasteful rooms. Each of them has a view of either the gorgeous Fuschl lake or the mountains. There is a wonderful dining room that seems to be sitting on the lake itself and a swimming pool with panoramic views across the water. There is also a wellness centre, boasting a sauna, steam room and solarium; you can book a pedicure or manicure or massage if you’d like. I could have happily stayed there for my entire trip… but there was too much to see and do!
The breakfasts at Seerose are heavenly: a buffet style extravaganza with everything you could possibly think of. A choice of cereal or yoghurt with various toppings, breads and pastries, scrambled eggs and bacon and boiled eggs, plates of cheeses and cold meats and fruit salad and melon. There is also a table with delicacies from the area: cheese, ham and sausages from nearby farms, apple juice from the local orchards and pickles and relishes.
Having stuffed myself, I decided to follow the excellent walking trail leaving from the front door of the hotel circumnavigating the 11kms around the lake on well marked paths. But should you prefer to venture further abroad, there are free buses which run from Fuschl to Fastenau and Hintersee to access both cross country and downhill skiing as well as winter walking. The Wolfgangsee (Mozart’s favourite lake…) is home to a rather unusual Christmas Market which takes place earlier in the season: travelling by boat to the three main villages around the lake you can disembark to visit the stalls set up there – each has a different feel and local music, entertainment and vendors. It’s only been running for less than a decade but between the Christmas Market in Salzburg and those in a castle in the surrounding area, this new venture is already a huge draw for visitors and sounds delightful. I’m only sorry I arrived too late to enjoy it.
From the Wolfgangsee you can travel by cable car to more winter walking trails at the top of the Zwolferhorn. At 1478m it offers you amazing panoramic views of the entire “Lake District” of Salzburg. Or wander down to St Gilgen, a picturesque little village with a traditional onion dome church tucked in the valley by the waters edge. Here I found the Dallmann café and chocolatier in the central Mozartplatz where the owner, Rudi, makes and sells his own Mozart Truffles. Allegedly a favourite of you-know-who, they are marzipan and pistachio and hazelnut and chocolate and really quite delicious. Freshly made on the premises, I was instructed how to wrap them but spent rather more time sampling, I am afraid. Rudi also makes his own version of the traditional Sacher Torte, adding marmalade and calling it a Mozart Torte. Fond of Rudi, I resisted asking if it had ever been actually tried by its namesake…
If you want to see if you can rise to the challenge of learning new winter sports I recommend you meet with Rudi Auer who runs a wonderful ski shop, SportAuer in Faistenau where you can rent everything: snow shoes, skis and sledges and anything else you might find the need for. I was kitted out in amazingly comfy boots for cross country skis and in a few minutes, instructed in how to snow shoe and try these new (to me) winter sports. The whole town is covered in 54km of wonderful loipes (ski trails) that are well-tended and signed, one starting from the front door of the rental shop. (There are 140 km spread over the surrounding seven villages, floodlit at night and should you choose, guides are available to take you out on your own or part of a group). You do need a pass to use the trails, but at €10 a day it will hardly break the bank.
Even I found the skiing remarkably easy (much less of a learning curve than downhill skiing where you could take weeks or months to get good enough to truly enjoy the surroundings). Snow-shoeing can be done in any of the woods or fields that surround the area, or you can join a guided group. Both cross country skiing and snow-shoeing are literally a case of clip and go, I discovered to my surprise… they are great exercise and a wonderful way to enjoy the wildlife and the beautiful wintery Austrian wonderland.
After you’ve indulged in an exciting afternoon of outdoor pursuits, head to the amazing micro brewery, the Bramsau Brau perched in the mountains above Faistenau. It seems churlish not to at least try their delicious beer and a plate of local cheese and hams. The brewery is all behind glass so you can see them as they shovel in the barley and hops to brew the next batch. It is a delightful spot, overlooking the valley of Fastenau, a perfect destination if you have snow-shoed or walked the multiple well-marked winter trails which criss-cross this area. You can even rock up on your skis and fortify yourself before the journey back down to the village.
Back at the Hotel Seerose I would recommend a swim in the pool as the sun slides picturesquely behind the mountains or a roast in the sauna. Smart little cocktails are available from the bar before you dine. A half-board hotel, supper at the Seerose is a four course, epicurean delight: each night after the salad buffet, you are offered a starter (a terrine or pate) and then a traditional soup and a choice of three main courses (one vegetarian), followed by pudding. The staff are delightful and attentive without being over-bearing. The hosts, Franz and Gabi, made a point of sitting with and chatting to every table through the meals, inquiring after people’s adventures and suggesting places to visit or things to do. I felt completely at home, which considering the number of rooms they have and that they run at 80% occupancy year round, is quite a feat. The helpful girls in their (non-ironic) dirndls were just heaven, going so far as to arrange a breakfast tray for me on my last morning before my anti-social early train.
With thanks to Rebecca Bruce at Inntravel who expertly organised our itinerary and to Ulrich Teitz from Deutsche Bahn for his help with our train tickets.