A sudden desire to ski during the summer made me discover Tyrol, a region of Austria I’d never been before. The Ziller Valley hosts one of the accesses to the Hintertux Glacier, in the Alps. And its beauty made me feel like a little girl again, when I thought I would have loved to live in a house of stone and bricks lost in the mountains.
I’ve found a beautiful valley surrounded by even more beautiful mountains, rich in activities for all legs and ages. I was genuinely fascinated by it. I kept photographing everything around me, especially the hundreds of cows lying lazily in vast meadows full of flowers, constantly calling my attention with their cowbells.
The Austrian Tyrol and Zillertal, Heidi’s valley
This is a misleading title. The famous grandfather of the even more famous Heidi lived in the Swiss Alps, not in Austria. Yet who knows why, in this valley there are various references to the animated TV show protagonist and her friends.
Ziller Valley is very green (in summer), rather narrow and the river Tuxbach runs through it. The villages are really characteristic, with wooden houses and sloping roofs. The valley ends in Hintertux, the last village before the first cable-car that all year round invites skiers to enjoy the Hintetuxer Gletscher, the perennial glacier which dominates this area.
In Zillertal there are probably more cows than human inhabitants. During the summer months, you can see them in the meadows around the villages and all over the mountain slopes. Little forests, tiny lakes, good restaurants and more cows dominate the panorama up to around 2000 metres. Above this altitude, the vegetation begins to decrease and slowly you’ll start encountering snow. When the clouds part, I guarantee the view from above is truly breathtaking!
How to reach Tyrol during the summer
Ziller Valley is found about 30 km on the E45 from Innsbruck, which is the closest airport, with almost only national flights. A more useful airport is Munich, which sits 120 km from Strass Im Zillertal, the first village for the valley, just after the junction from the E45.
From Strass Im Zillertal, the valley becomes narrower and narrower, and it slowly climbs up for 50 kilometres, ending in Hintertux, at an altitude of 1500 metres.
Note that to drive on the Austrian motorways you need to buy the Vignette, a sort of sticker to display on the windscreen. The Vignette gives permission to circulate freely for the period of your choice, from 2 weeks to a whole year. The prices range approximately from 10 to 100 euros. You can buy the Vignette online or at petrol stations just before or after the Austrian border.
Summer activities in Tyrol
You can face the summertime in the mountains in total relaxation or as a moment of intense sport and exploration. This corner of Tyrol has everything you could wish for for your summer holidays.
First of all, make sure your host gives you the Tux Finkenberg Ticket. It is a nominative card that offers tourists various advantages. Among the most useful, you can find discounts for renting bicycles and ski equipment, reduced-priced admission tickets to swimming pools and, above all, the free use of the 4104 bus. This is the only public transportation that runs up and down the valley every 30 minutes.
I suggest you to stop by the Tux Tourist Office to ask for information on the activities in the area, maps and events. Here I list the activities most interesting to my taste.
Summer skiing in Hintertux Glacier
One of the main reasons Tyrol is famous throughout Europe is the presence of the Hintertux Glacier. Its ski-lifts and cable-cars are open all year round, and every summer they attract thousands of ski lovers suffering from snow withdrawal. I know there are ski resorts in Italy, Switzerland and France that are open in the summer. Nonetheless, as far as I know, they all have periods of closure and do not guarantee opening during the summer months. In Hintertux, on the other hand, you can ski 365 days a year.
Because of the temperatures, though, not all the slopes are open during the warmest months. Only above 2500 meters does the snow manage to stay in good condition and sufficiently deep even between June and September. The three consecutive Gletscherbus cable-cars take skiers up to 3200 metres. From here, around 7-8 slopes are usually always open, one of which descends to the departure of the third cable car, at 2600 metres. They are wide, medium-easy, well maintained and, although limited in length, quite fun!
On the Hintertux Glacier website, you can find the ski-pass prices, interactive maps, info on the available infrastructure, tips and other useful information.
Zillertal is full of hiking itineraries at low altitudes and also above 2000 metres for all kinds of legs. The tourist office in Tux offers a thousand maps and all the advice you can desire.
The path network in the area is well maintained, properly signposted and offers different scenarios and levels of difficulty. Generally speaking, at low altitudes you will come across meadows packed with cows. Most of the trails pass directly through the fields. The cows in Zillertal are unattended, both day and night. They are curious animals and tend to be calm, but keep your distance anyway. Cows are big and heavy, they could hurt, even unintentionally!
Hikes at higher altitudes may include the use of cable-cars or chair-lifts, both to facilitate ascent/descent and to avoid the use of a car. For those who don’t ski, I recommend going up to at least the first Gletscherbus station, at 2100 metres. There are various trails, family entertainment, a restaurant and viewpoints with spectacular views.
I became obsessed with the Wanderpass, the hikers’ passport. It’s a booklet the Tux Tourist Office gives away for free, on which you collect stamps. These stamps are hidden in wooden boxes closed by a simple chain. They could be found on the door of a cabin, hanging from a tree or at a viewpoint. If you collect enough stamps, you win a pin, but don’t think it’s an easy challenge!
There is a simplified version of the Wanderpass for children with further stamps, games and educational explanations about the glacier and its area. I think that both of them are fully “functional” only during summer, as many of the stamps are hidden in inaccessible places when the mountains are covered in snow.
The most beautiful trails in the Ziller Valley are almost always non-circular routes. To help reach the starting point of the hike, or go from the ending point back to the car/home, in addition to the valley bus, hikers can book the Wandertaxi. It makes more or less fixed stops on the way and reduces the walking effort!
Nature Eis Palace: the ice caves of Hintertux
A few years back at an altitude of 3200 metres, a passing-by skier discovered by chance an amazing net of ice caves, only recently opened to the public. They are located just below the highest slope, the number 5. This part of the glacier doesn’t move because the substrate on which it rests has a denser composition which prevents slippage. For this very reason, scientists are very keen on studying these caves and their ice. They dug a 50-meter-deep “well” to check how old the ice was. We are certainly talking about millions of years, and some interesting discoveries could come out of it, maybe even some frozen animals!
The ticket office is a metal booth next to the arrival station of the third Gletscherbus cable car. You need to pass by it even if you’ve already booked your ticket online. The visit to the caves of the Nature Eis Palace lasts about an hour, is only partially guided and can include a section in a dinghy. Indeed, pure water “flows” in these caves (in truth, it doesn’t move at all!) and some hardcore sportsmen come to Hintertux on purpose to train for ice swimming competitions.
Don’t forget to dress properly: the temperature inside the caves is stable at zero degrees all year around. Also wear comfortable sturdy shoes, that can give you some grip on snow and ice.
Climbing, paragliding, mountain biking and other sports
Like all the best mountains, every summer the rock in Zillertal is excellent for some good climbing. There are via-ferrata with fixed ropes and climbing walls throughout the valley. Some of these routes are also suitable for children, and for those who want to learn, many schools offer courses to tourists even for a few days. If you are not sure what equipment you need, ask for information before attempting any climb.
Many hiking trails are suitable for bicycles. It’s a sport I’m not familiar with, but I’ve seen so many mountain bike renting shops that I suppose the area is particularly suitable for the sport! You can download a mountain bike route map to help you plan your tour.
At Finkenberg, you can experience the thrill of paragliding. A handful of agencies offer tandem flights, with prices varying depending on the length of the flight. Reservation is always mandatory.
I could go on and on, mentioning archery and golf courses, tennis courts and more. I leave you the complete list of summer activities available in Zillertal. Your mountain holiday will be anything but boring!