High in Austria’s Alps is a destination where nature takes centre stage – Sankt Johann-Alpendorf. Fifty-five kilometres from Salzburg, this region is perhaps better known to ski enthusiasts. Yet, in the summer months an alpine playground bursts into life and families hit the hiking and cycling trails, enjoy the pure mountain air and absorb some of Europe’s most stunning scenery.
Sankt Johann-Alpendorf is home to a range of fabulous accommodation; from luxury 5-star hotels to rustic alpine lodges, there’s a veranda with panoramic views waiting for you. The town is also home to an array of festivals and cultural events as well as the largest shopping street in the Pongau district. Here, designer stores nestle among vibrant cafes and bakeries, although most will be looking to make a purchase from one of the many outdoor-adventure stores – because Sankt Johann-Alpendorf is all about the mountains and valleys.
At more than 1,750 metres Gernkogel Mountain towers over Sankt Johann-Alpendorf, its appearance shifting with the seasons. For most of the year the snow-capped terrain is where only the most intrepid venture – but come the summer months, a glorious network of trails is revealed, providing endless hiking opportunities for all ages and fitness levels.
But before you lace the boots up, families with children must explore the Ghost Mountain leisure and adventure park (Geisterberg), which can be reached by gondola from Sankt Johann-Alpendorf. There are four worlds to explore with the park’s interactive mascots Gspensti and Spuki: Earth-Spirits, Fire-Spirits, Water-Spirits, and Air-Spirits. There are over 40 adventure stations across Ghost Mountain, offering everything from climbing towers, slides, swings, aqua amusements and, of course, picnic benches that offer prime panoramic position for a spot of lunch. The highest point of Ghost Mountain is the Ghost Tower where a 360-degree observation deck offers an awe-inspiring panorama of the mountain range. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place for all the family.
Depths of wonder
A half-hour walk from Geisterberg is the reservoir at Sonntagskogel. To take a serene stroll around its shores before kicking back to the sound of birdsong is to live the alpine dream. But before you get too relaxed, Sankt Johann-Alpendorf is home to the Liechtensteinklamm Gorge. At 300 metres in depth and some 4 km in length, the gorge is one of the longest and deepest in Europe and offers an atmospheric hike to the sound of rushing rapids echoing off the cavernous walls. Local legend has it that the gorge was created when the Devil, in a fit of rage, threw water down on to the rocks with such force that the chasm was formed. Despite its inauspicious origins, the Liechtensteinklamm Gorge is one of the region’s premier attractions, and thousands of visitors each year navigate the 1 km wooden walkway to the point at which the gorge culminates in a spectacular waterfall. There is a small entrance fee, but the Berg & Schlucht combination ticket includes access to the Liechtensteinklamm gorge along with a pass for the gondola lift and admission to Ghost Mountain.
The gondolas of Alpendorf that ferry visitors to Ghost Mountain, carry a reassuring seal of approval: “Best Austrian summer mountain lift”. Before the ascent begins, children can burn off energy at the Gondola Valley Station. Open daily until October, and until 9pm in August, this beautifully landscaped adventure playground offers excitement in the form of a giant jumping mat, a mini-go-kart track, boating and various slides and swings.
Another popular family attraction is the educational tree trail along the Panoramaweg path. All of Austria’s 30 species of conifers and deciduous trees are evident here, and with detailed information provided along the way, budding botanists can sharpen their knowledge in time for the new school term.
Reach your peak
Most soon discover that one visit is not enough to take in all that Sankt Johann-Alpendorf has to offer. One day you can be taking in the picture-perfect beauty of Tappenkarsee Lake, while the next it’s time to explore the incredible frozen world of Eisriesenwelt (World of the Ice Giants). Within the Hochkogel mountain, Eisriesenwelt is the largest ice cave in the world and is a true natural wonder.
All of this is within easy reach of Sankt Johann-Alpendorf, along with a lifetime of alpine trails to explore. By winter Hahnbaum might be Austria’s best-kept ski secret, by summer it’s the gateway to some of the world’s best hiking. Then there’s the Alpendorf Panoramaweg, a paradise for those who see a map, compass and a loaded backpack as the best route to happiness.
From Alpendorf, you can shorten the ascent to the Gernkogel alpine and hiking area by taking a mountain lift and accessing the hikes from the mountain station. Another popular destination is beautiful meadows of Maurachalm on Sonntagskogel mountain in the Grossarl valley.
Every week in the summer, the adventurous summit on guided hikes to the Hochglocker and Hochgründeck mountains. Biking enthusiasts will find the perfect route to suit every style around Sankt Johann-Alpendorf. From family-friendly scenic outings to the 300 km Tauern cycle path on the Salzach. There are easy mountain bike trails for those new to the sport, or steep, winding climbs and descents for experts in need of a new challenge. Electric-bikers are also catered for, with a plethora of serene jaunts through mountain pastures to choose from.
Finally, there a few more picturesque places for a work-out than the banks of the Salzach river, where two outdoor fitness studios complement two Nordic walking trails and nine running trails. Getting fit never felt so good.