The Alpe-Adria trail – Days 7 to 9

Day seven was another easy one, our shortest day, a pleasant 13-km hike from Obervellach, ending with a tough midday climb to the Danielsberg summit where a terrific reward awaited us.

It was a gloriously sunny day and we began it with an easy hike up out of Obervellach until reaching the train line from Mallnitz to Villach (which we would be taking on our way home from Trieste in a month or so). Most of the day’s trail was through forest and meadows full of flowers and insects.

View back along the Möll valley from above the train line

At one point, we came across a café with a wonderful view of the valley that was unfortunately closed. However, just next to the door, there was a small wooden locker that, on opening, was found to contain a bottle of schnaps and glasses to fortify hikers. As it was only 10 in the morning, we didn’t feel like partaking. All the same, it was a great idea.

Shortly after, there was a huge old wooden house perched high above the valley. It was a beautiful place, but clearly abandoned. And, as we had often seen along the way, it had its own private chapel. No doubt the isolation of these alpine farms made it impossible to get to mass on Sunday, so each one built its own private chapel that, along with the numerous wayside shrines, meant that the locals were never too far from God. Religion continues to play a big part in the locals’ lives as the shrines, mostly crosses, are nearly always decorated with fresh flowers and votive candles, which have their own section in the local supermarkets.

Private chapel

The trail continued to remain high above the valley all the way to the Niederfalkenstein castle, which looked distinctly mediaeval, but in fact dated from the early 20th century.

Railway bridge near Niederfalkenstein

We then headed downhill to the valley, passing through the villages of Gappen, Penk and Kohlstatt. Down there, we found ourselves on the Alpe-Adria cycling trail and, all of a sudden, we encountered lots of cyclists, whereas we hadn’t seen another hiker all day. The cycling trail was clearly much more popular than the hiking one!

The final stage of the day’s hike was a tough climb in the midday heat to the top of the Danielsberg. This pyramid-shaped hill that stands in the middle of the Möll valley is made of harder rock than its surroundings and so was not eroded by glaciers to the same extent. Because of its strange shape, it took on spiritual relevance for the Celts and later for the Romans.

It was one of those climbs when, at many points, we thought we had reached the top only to discover that we had to climb even further. Even so, the trail through the woods was interesting with lots of information panels about local game.

View from the Danielsberg

And when we reach the top, we were rewarded for our efforts. That night’s hotel, the Herkuleshof, was a beautiful old villa perched on the summit of the Danielsberg. After a reviving glass of apfelschorle and a helping of delicious strudel, we discovered that our room had a huge terrace complete to two day-beds where we were able to while away the afternoon, dozing, reading and working on this blog. This beautiful spot was excellent value for money at 55 euros per person, including a terrific breakfast. It also had a very good and reasonably priced restaurant where we had a wonderful dinner, served on the terrace overlooking the mountains. Definitely a place to keep in mind for future holidays.

The Herkuleshof

Day eight was the first really long one, over 30 km from Danielsberg to Trebesing in increasingly muggy heat until a huge thunderstorm broke. It so long because we had been unable to find accommodation before Trebesing, meaning we needed to do 10 km more than the regular stage of the trail.

We began by descending the Danielsberg, something that was much easier than the previous day’s climb. Just before the first village, we followed a path alongside a garden which was decorated with portraits of 20th century cultural icons such as Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Groucho Marx , etc. We had already noticed in many Austrian villages that people tend to put a lot of work into their gardens but this was the best one we had seen so far.

The Groucho Marx portrait

As soon as we hit the bottom of the valley, we had a long and boring trudge along the side of the Möll and the lake formed by the off-run from the impressive hydroelectric plants on either side of the valley. It was getting hotter and muggier as the day wore on and we could have done without this rather boring section.

Things picked up in Mühldorf where there was a beautiful little bar right on the trail with tables set out under a walnut tree. They served their apfelschorle with a twist of lemon, which made it even more refreshing. As I chatted to the friendly owner, I remarked that we had seen more cyclists than hikers. She reassured me that there were plenty of hikers on the trail but very few doing the whole distance like us.

Hikers vs bikers in Mühldorf

From Mühldorf, we had a steep climb up over the bridges and stairways of the Barbarossa Gorge up to a cave with a table where Emperor Barbarossa once spent the night with his soldiers before being chased away by the devil. The only remotely diabolical thing we saw there was a slowworm across the trail about which three Austrian girls were having hysterics.

We continued to head uphill at a gentler pace through a blend of woods and meadows. At one point, we had the surprise of finding a field full of ostriches, not an everyday sight at 900 m.

Meadow butterfly

Our goal was the organic farm inn at Hohenberg where we wanted to make a lunch stop. We kept climbing but there was no sign of the farm or the pilgrimage church above it. They didn’t look too far on the map, but in the muggy heat it felt like it took forever to get there. When we finally arrived, we flopped down on the terrace and were served another hiker’s snack platter that was possibly bigger than the one at the Goldberghütte! As we were leaving, the friendly owner invited me to fill my water bottle at the spring flowing just next to the terrace. The water was delicious and came in very handy after the salty speck on the platter.

As we still had some way to go, we did not bother going up to the pilgrimage church but carried on our way towards Hühnersberg. Just after passing the inn there, which marked the official end of the day’s section of trail m, the storm that had been brewing all morning finally broke. I spotted a wooden building further up the road and we decided to head there to seek shelter. It turned out to be part of a sawmill, a line of open sheds filled with planks, timber and, in the final one, a huge pile of aromatic wood shavings where we settled down to wait out the storm. In that shed, nestled in the wood shavings, safe from the storm that was as violent as the one in Stall, we dozed off, basking in the scent of the shavings, and, when we woke, the storm had passed. Thinking back to the Slovenian lady on the third morning who had asked me what we would do in case of rain, I could now answer, “Find a woodcutter’s shed and fall asleep on the shavings!”

From Hühnersberg, the trail mostly followed the road. The storm had cleared the air and it was a joy to be walking in much more pleasant conditions. We passed a number of farms with some very friendly, inquisitive cows as we headed downhill. At one point, we passed a distinctly mediaeval-looking farm that would have made a perfect movie set for a historical drama. Just as we were passing it, the owner appeared, followed by his very friendly-looking dog. When I heard him call her Hexe (witch), I asked him how a dog ended up with such a name. He simply replied that it was because she was magic!

The countryside after the storm

After one final village, the road headed steeply downhill towards Trebesing that we were able to spot in the distance. And, finally, around 10 hours after setting off, we arrived at our destination, a very comfortable family pension in the valley below the village, where the delightful owner was waiting for us on the terrace while having an aperitif with a friend. Both ladies were extremely impressed with what we had done that day and how far we were intending to go. That said, neither one of them felt like doing the same!

As the pension did not serve meals, the owner advised us to head back up to the village inn for dinner. This meant adding another three or four km there and back to our total for the day. So, after a shower and a change of clothes, we set off. More rain was forecast and the sky was already grey. Just as we arrived at the inn, a young guy pulled up in his car on the opposite side of the street, got out, and hailed us like two old friends, asking us how our day had been, if we’d been able to deal with the weather, etc. Another example of the sheer friendliness of the locals in this part of Austria.

And this friendliness continued at the inn where we were the only diners. The waitress asked us all kinds of questions about where we had come from, what we were doing and why, saying that she would love to do the same if only she could get away. We hadn’t encountered such interest in our journey until now but it would continue during the rest of our time in Carinthia, resulting in all kinds of wonderful encounters and conversations.

After a delicious dinner, we headed back to the pension where we went out like lights and didn’t even hear the endless rain that fell throughout the night.

On day nine, after a hearty breakfast in a very friendly atmosphere – the pension was full of families who were clearly regular guests – we set off up the hill towards the inn to return to the trail. Just after the inn, the heavens opened again with yet another storm, forcing us to shelter beneath the overhanging roof of the local fire station. We stayed there for about half an hour, hoping the rain would ease off, before finally relenting and putting on our rain gear. The rain continued to fall on and off all the way to Gmünd, which we seemed to reach in next to no time.

Gmünd was a pretty, very artistic little town where the main street had been taken over by a crafts market of incredibly high quality. As we strolled around after coffee before returning to the trail, Odile’s gaze was drawn to the dresses, skirts and tops displayed on the stall of a charming Slovenian lady. They were beautifully designed and in a very light fabric, meaning they would take up very little space in the pack. So, Odile asked if she could try on a dress. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that she was still wearing her rain pants and began to take them off without removing her boots first. Hopping around on the spot, she instantly lost her balance and began to teeter at an alarming rate towards the adjacent pottery stall. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on the potter’s face as he envisioned the proverbial bull in a china shop in the guise of my wife about to shatter his wares. Luckily, thanks to a team effort by the Slovenian lady, myself and the potter who never stopped puffing his pipe, we caught Odile just in time, but it was a close call. After that, the least we could do was buy a top and a skirt. As for the potter, I think he was glad to see the back of us.

Gmünd

We stopped just off the main square, well away from any market stalls, to remove the rest of our rain gear as we clearly weren’t going to need it for the rest of the day. Just as we were closing the packs, an Austrian lady came over to ask us about our hike. She had walked sections of the trail, but never the whole thing in one go. She wished us all the best, telling us we were in for an unforgettable experience.

Heading out of Gmünd

After Gmünd, the trail crossed farmland then headed into the woods for a while before another detour due to a landslide and construction work. As a result, there was a very long and boring section along the road. The walking was easy but we were soon fed up with it, especially as there was no shade to be found anywhere.

We decided to give the torture museum at Sommeregg a miss and, thanks to a shortcut through the outskirts of Seeboden, quickly reached the hotel that we had booked for two nights (the next day would be our first rest day). It was another family-run place, simple but with incredible service and excellent food. The owner was never intrusive but attended to our every need, keeping a discreet eye on everything at all times and with a great deal of humour.

Our rest day turned out to be a total washout. Apart from two hours on the Sunday morning when we walked into Seeboden, it rained nonstop, meaning that the day was spent resting in our room, eating the hotel’s excellent homemade cakes in the afternoon and waiting for dinner time to come! A true rest day before returning to the trail.

Seeboden between two storms

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