Photo: Flickr user bortescristian
Just a little more than an hour’s drive south of Salzburg, you’ll find the charming village of Kaprun, located near the Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest nature preserve in the Alps. A great place for a weekend getaway in any season, Kaprun sits at the base of Kitzsteinhorn, a glacier-covered peak that reaches 3,203 m (10,509 ft) above sea level.
The village itself reflects its medieval roots. Its 12th century castle sits on a rise as you enter the town. Extensively renovated recently, the castle is offered as venue for weddings and special occasions. In July, it’s the site of an annual medieval fair, attracting as many as 4,000 visitors to see the spectacle of jousting and other medieval traditions re-enacted in period dress.
The biggest draw to Kaprun, though, are the outdoor activities. With its neighbour, Zell am See, Kaprun is famous for its skiing, particularly on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. The permanence of the glacier provides for skiing ten months of the year. There are excellent runs for all levels as well as for snowboarders. And there many off-piste possibilities too.
You reach Kitzsteinhorn in the Gletscherbahn, an aerial tramway that is supported at one point along its three-part length by the tallest support pillar of any aerial tramway in the world. At the summit, you find breathtaking views of the valley below and alpine peaks far into the distance.
Even non-skiers can enjoy the natural beauty of this alpine wonderland. There’s plenty of walking and hiking trails. The aerial tram is open year-round for those who want to visit the glacier up close.
And for truly astonishing beauty, don’t miss the nearby Hochgebirgs-Stauseen Alpine reservoirs, open summers. Begun during the Second World War, they were completed with funding from the Marshall Plan. The two dams are fed by the glacier and are, respectively, 1,068 and 2,040 metres above sea level. Their waters feeds a power plant in the valley below that contribute to Europe’s power grid.
To get to the reservoirs, drive past the entrance to Kitzsteinhorn and continue to the free parking structure, on your right. From there, a bus takes you up canyon roads up the mountain and the alpine valleys to a funicular. The funicular, with a track well over a metre wide, is claimed to be Europe’s largest. The final stage of the journey is on another bus, up dramatic roads with sheer drops on one side while placid bell-wearing cows graze on the other.
At the reservoirs you’ll find a visitors centre with children’s activities, several food options and guided tours of the reservoirs that even take you inside the dam’s wall.
On your way back to Salzburg, consider stopping at another natural wonder, the Eisriesenwelt (Giant Ice World) at Werfen. When you do, make sure you have warm jackets and walking shoes—you’ll need them!