Cycling, with a little help, in Tirol

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E-biking is all the best bits of cycling – only even better.

And Tirol is so pretty it’s almost a cliché.

Tirol, Austria

It’s a perfect picture postcard of forests wafting pine perfume into the air, mountains towering protectively over the valleys, long lashed cows munching on grass to the soft tinkle of the bells around their necks, and lakes dancing with reflected sunlight. Low wooden chalets decorated with baskets of flowers complete the scene.

It’s a paradise for hikers and hard core (there are a lot of steep hills to climb!) cyclists. It’s an area that lends itself to being close to nature – but what happens if you are not a hiker and you don’t like the puffing and panting of uphill peddling? There’s always the car, but that doesn’t really let you experience the best of what Tirol has to offer.

This is where the ebike comes into its own. It’s a bicycle with a battery that kicks in when the going gets tough. It gives you a helping hand (or foot!) to help you peddle up hills or to take the strain when you feel like a rest.

e-bike

With over 5500 ebikes available to hire and 1200 charging stations it’s easy to understand why Austrians have embraced this green, healthy and easy mode of transport. You don’t even have to wait while your bike recharges – stop at any charging station and simply swap your dead battery for a fully charged one!

In the Achensee area of Tirol there are plenty of places to hire one of the bikes; I hired mine from the Wiesenhof Hotel in Pertisau. From there I headed into the Karwendel Nature Park, taking a trail though the woods, stopping to watch a large red tractor struggle and strain to haul a giant felled pine tree out from the forest – it’s brakes grinding hard as the chain heaved its load.

Austria

On I cycled as the forest became denser and the patches of sunlight falling on the mossy ground became smaller. Then all of a sudden I am past the trees into a meadow of buttercups and lush grass, with a heard of brown and white cows slowly munching their way across the field as their bells, hung by leather straps from their necks, chimed their progress.

In places the path is stony, in particular as I criss-cross the dry river bed, imaging what it will be like in Spring as torrents of melt water race down the mountain.

I choose the route leading to Gramai-Alm. All the routes are clearly marked and give an indication of how difficult they are and how long you can expect to take if you walk. The route to Gramai is marked as fairly easy and will take about 1.5 hours. Despite climbing over 400m I hardly notice the effort as the ebike kicks in when my legs tire a little.

By the time I reach the gasthof and restaurant at Gramai I feel I have worked, but am not worn out, and I am a bit hot and sweaty despite the cool air, but not uncomfortably so. The journey has taken me 40 minutes including stops to admire and photograph the view. This is my kind of cycling – exercise without the pain!

Gramai-Alm offers the perfect place to stop, drink a hot chocolate laden with whipped cream, indulge in a slice of cake or opt for a hearty lunch and a jug of beer.

There are two options to head back – back the way I came (which is tempting as it was so pretty) or the quicker, steeper (entirely downhill) road route. I opt for the road and find myself bombing down the hill at over 48km hour (the ebike has a speedo too). This feels a little fast and out of control and I would like to soak up the view, so I slow down and enjoy watching the route I took earlier from a completely different angle.

I pass a few more cows on the road, a couple walking their ordinary bikes up the hill (without an ebike this would be a monster to cycle up!) and a lady on cross country skiis with wheels – apparently getting in shape for the winter season just a couple of months away.

Pertisau Austria 2012 Oct (47)

Ebiking is a wonderful way to get into the countryside – its faster than walking so you can get further, it’s easier than cycling so you aren’t as worn out (and don’t need the thighs of an athlete) and because it offers that extra bit of help on the hills you can tackle routes you might otherwise avoid. I say this with confidence as the following day I opted to ebike to Feilalm.

Feilalm is a steep climb of over 600m up the mountain side. The road is gravel and makes cycling even trickier, but the views are worth it. Between the trees you catch glimpses of the valley falling away below you, and then as you get higher and the road twists and turns up the mountain side you are rewarded with stunning views of Pertisau far below you, surrounded by fields and the just behind it the lake and more mountains. You can really see how far you have climbed. It’s fair to say it requires some effort – but no burning thighs and exploding lungs!

At the top your real reward awaits you – a small restaurant offering home-made traditional meals of sausage, bread, cheese, soups and goulash or (one of my favourites) Kaiserschmarm with apple sauce.

A plate of food, a fantastic view, a cold drink and the knowledge that you’ve burnt some calories and done some exercise – well, what more do you want?!

 

FACT BOX
Vitalberg – the Tyrolean Steinol Shop, Museum and Cafe in Pertisau – www.steinoel.at
Tyrolean Steinol – www.steinoel.at
Wiesenhof – www.wiesenhof.at
Achensee Tourism – www.achensee.info

About the Author
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist, travel writer and co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET radio and Panpathic Communications. Chantal was appointed a London Leader in Sustainability in 2009.

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