This week Travel Tuesdays set its sights on the Austrian Alps, but, as Charlie Caller finds out, Austria has a lot more to offer then just your usual skiing trip…
Niederau, in Austria’s Tyrolean region, has incredible slopes, exciting culture, and also the chance to fulfil your lifelong dreams of being swung upside down by a large yodelling man in tight leather shorts, while having your rear end smacked. As mentioned, quite the culture.
Whilst skiing the Austrian Alps is something for your bucket list, what often goes amiss is their unique culture and entertainment. A ‘Tyrolean’ night was held in the Harmony Hotel at which one could explore and admire the history of the area dating back to the first settlers in 10,000 BC. It appeared to be civil enough, however, it seemed instead like it was an opportunity for the Austrian locals to admire tourists’ backsides. The night consisted of folk dancing performed by six cheeky men and women. As soon as the males appeared in their leather lederhosen, leaving nothing to the imagination, it should have been quite predictable how the night would turn out.
Accompanied by the cheerful sound of a Steirische Harmonika (a type of accordion) the alpine folk dancing of rhythmic slapping and stomping made for a fun atmosphere. Each dance depicted a different aspect of Tyrolean culture from farming to mining, with comical elements incorporated. As they stepped around in a circle to the music, one of the boys would sneak a peek up the skirt of the girl in front only to be told off by the older boy. It was almost like being in a mischievous version of the Sound of Music.
Between the dances, the traditional wooden building also hosted a chance to dance to the accordion, which was accepted eagerly by the crowd. Following that was a well-coordinated performance of Edelweiss on 7 cowbells, each ringing out their own note, by a single man who also yodelled. Originally, yodelling was used as a form of communication between Alpine villages by herders through the mountains in central Alps. Due to the fact humans can achieve the loudest noise possible with their voice alone by yodelling, it was a pleasant surprise to instead welcome a soft melody.
To end the night, the dancers returned and three volunteers from the crowd were selected to mirror their jolly dancing and to be whirled over the shoulder of a local. Unfortunately for the performer who chose a larger male, to the crowd’s amusement, he was the one being thrown over a shoulder instead.
As for the skiing, Niederau is perfectly place to explore the nearby slopes of Oberau, Auffach and Schatzberg- accessible via a free shuttle bus and an extremely long gondola built in 2013. Whilst they are not as steep or long as the neighbouring slopes of the French Alps, they are the perfect place to build up confidence as a skier or snowboarder. All of them host slopes varying from flat blues to steep blacks so once you exhaust one mountain it is easy to slide over to the next for more challenges.
Between slopes, Austrian food is all about carbs. From Käsespätzle (basically macaroni and cheese) to chicken schnitzel (basically a giant chicken nugget), nothing is more enjoyable than taking off your skis and filling your stomach with local delicacies to fuel the next run. The perfect place for these meals are in one of the many restaurants on top of the mountains to enjoy an exquisite view of the Alps stretching as far as the eye can see in any direction appearing
so undisturbed and peaceful.
Once you have exhausted the mountains, the Après bars are positioned perfectly to slide straight off the slopes to have a beer in the warmth. What is so fantastic about them is that because they are often so small, only five or six groups of people are required to fill them up and make them seem like the most popular club in town. From dancing on tables to playing English and Austrian music for the whole town to hear, they are personal but lively and a great way to end an active day of snow sports.
Overall, the small town of Niederau has a lot to offer with a small crowd of regulars guaranteeing that if you go once you will almost definitely visit again or at least be highly tempted to.