For our holiday this year, I wanted to go somewhere beautiful where I could swim in lakes, cycle and walk. A quick bit of googling took us to Austria and it completely surpassed my expectations. We stayed in Fieberbrunn in the Kitzbuheler Alps, a ski resort in winter that is idyllic in the summer. This is E-mountain bike country so we were the anomalies on our road bikes brought from home, but there were enough well-signposted, off-road cycle routes through the valleys to keep us happy. Everywhere we went, we had a backdrop of mountains and forests; each turn of the road brought another stunning view. We swam every day except one, in ten beautiful lakes (and twice in hot, overcrowded indoor pools that made us appreciate the lakes even more.) I swam more breaststroke this holiday than I have done for a long time, as that makes it easier to appreciate your surroundings. To while away the hours on the car journey home, I’ve put the lakes in order starting with my favourite.
We took two cable cars up the Wildseeloder and then hiked for another 45 minutes or so to get to this proper mountain lake of clear, cold water cradled near the summit. The Wildseeloderhaus was very busy serving food and drink, but few people were braving the water. We swam across the lake, then left our swimming stuff drying on the rocks while we climbed up to the summit. We met a swarm of flying ants at the top so we didn’t stay long and made our way back down for another swim.
The more effort it took to reach a lake, the higher up my list of favourites it gets. We visited this reservoir in the second week, climbing 2,500ft up trails and along roads, making good use of my new trekking poles. The reservoir is used to create energy for the local area so its surroundings are not particularly comfortable – no lush green grass to sit on. But after the long, hot trek to get there it was so delicious to sink into the water and we had the place almost to ourselves.
We cycled to Pillersee on our second day, mostly along a wonderful traffic-free cycle route. Pillersee is a mile and a half long, with crystal clear water, edged by trees and grass along one side and a road along the other. This is the lake we visited the most, including for fireworks and a brass band in our second week and an impromptu triathlon on our last day when we cycled to Pillersee, ran round it and swam across it before heading back for breakfast. I love beaches but lake swimming wins over sea swimming for me every time; fresh water, no waves to negotiate, cool grass to sit on rather than hot sand that gets everywhere, trees for shade.
The cable car up Steinplatte in Waidring delivers you close to a children’s dinosaur theme park. Climbing up towards the summit, you go past a small artificial lake where every ten minutes there’s a loop of tinny music blaring out of speakers, bubbles rising from the depths of the water and a dinosaur head creaking up into view. Fortunately when we got to the top we saw this reservoir of sparkling turquoise water and stopped for a swim on our way down. We weren’t sure if it was allowed but there were no signs telling us not to swim and we couldn’t understand the bloke who stopped to talk to us. Once we were in and swimming a few others joined us including a skinny dipper across the other side.
Schwarsee is a large lake near Kitzbuhel with a hotel on one side, an area with water slides and wooden sunbathing platforms that we paid to go into and a section at the back that we could have walked to for free if we’d realised it was there. We spent the morning here, swimming across to the hotel to check it out, before walking to try and find another local lake that proved elusive.
We spent our final day of the holiday at Zellersee, a massive lake where the water was surprisingly warm. It’s host to a half Ironman next weekend and we watched two women in triathlon suits with floats attached make their way across the lake, disappearing from view in the distance, before they reappeared on their way back. A train track runs along the side of the lake which must make for a stunning train journey.
Waidring bathing lake
This is a very beautiful bathing lake which only features here in the list because it’s small and artificial. We spent a couple of afternoons here, reading under the trees and having a dip in the lake when we got too hot. Most people were doing the Hampstead Ladies’ stroke – breaststroke with head out of the water – and I only saw one other person with goggles. Life guards seem to be very low-key in Austria. There’s no one perched on a chair up a ladder keeping an eye on you.
We walked to Lauchsee from our apartment on our first day in Fieberbrunn, through a beautiful wood. The lake has a couple of small islands on it and an area for small children. We loved it at the time; we just found other more amazing lakes.
Kirchberg bathing lake
A brilliant place for families, Kirchberg has a swimming lake with pedalos and diving boards, a 25m pool and an area with slides and fountains for tiny children. I could imagine spending hours here as a family when our boys were small, but at my stage of life a couple of hours was enough.
Small, shallow, muddy, weedy and freezing, this lake would never feature high on a list of swimming lakes but you can see it was a very beautiful place to stop for lunch on our cycle ride, and we had to have a dip because it was there.