This little-known (by Americans) resort town in the Austrian Alps Ziller Valley offers R&R, adventure, and even nightlife.
By Nikki Goth Itoi
A friend and frequent traveler to Austria recently offered two points of advice for traveling in the Austrian Alps: explore on a whim some of the hidden Alpine valleys and villages, but don't plan to stay in Mayrhofen.
Years ago, he had wandered into the Ziller Valley and arrived at this bustling town, only to find it overrun with thousands of sales representatives from Amway Corporation. It seems Amway likes Mayrhofen so much, it brings its employees to the town for two months every spring and another two months in the fall.
It's an arrangement that can make finding a bed in Mayrhofen a challenge, even in off-seasons. But Amway aside, Mayrhofen is a treasure in winter and summer alike, and worth a visit by anyone seeking Alpine serenity, outdoor adventure, or some combination of the two.
An easy two and a half-hour drive from Munich or Salzburg, the Ziller Valley begins at the town of Jenbach (population 6,000), and runs south following the Ziller River between the Tux Alps and the Kitzbühel Alps. At the end of the valley sits Mayrhofen, a town of 3,000 residents that grew from its origins as a summer haven for Viennese city folk to an 8,900-bed skiing and hiking resort.
The town handles its flood of year-round visitors remarkably well, thanks to an 11-employee tourist office which sends out some 300 brochures a day to prospective guests. They manage to do so while catering to the needs of thousands of current visitors, and also insuring that the town preserves its traditional flavor by sponsoring frequent Tyrolean evenings at the Europahaus convention center and other venues around town.
During the winter months, Mayrhofen caters to a fairly young and boisterous crowd of Dutch, British, and German skiers. Until a couple of years ago, the resort had a poor reputation because of terribly long lift lines, but since the installation of a new 15-person per car gondola, the Penken-Seilbahn, Mayrhofen has become one of Austria's most popular ski resorts.
A number of wintertime activities, however, don't require traipsing around in stiff boots attached to long, skinny planks. The tourist office can arrange a hot air balloon ride or a panoramic alpine flight, horseback riding, sleigh rides, ice skating, or tobogganing. In the rare case of inclement weather, indoor activities include swimming at the "adventure" pool (Waldbadstrasse); soaking in a hot tub, sauna, or Jacuzzi; playing squash, billiards, bowling, or chess; and of course, browsing the shops along Hauptstrasse.
When the Snow Melts
In summer, this ski town transforms into a mountain paradise that appeals to a slightly older, and less raucous crowd. The tourist office likes to point out that the towns location at the end of the Ziller Valley can be deceiving. For hikers, this is only the beginning. Four side valleys branching out from Mayrhofen provide miles of trails for grand views of the valley, low-level walks or hikes, and hut to hut tours and glacier crossings for serious backpackers.
To get the full effect of the Ziller Valley, take a ride up the Penken gondola. Conveniently, it departs from the middle of town (between #470 and #476 Hauptstrasse) within walking distance of nearly every hotel. Even nonskiers will appreciate the spectacular views and the abundance of beer huts, outdoor bars, and restaurants serving staples like local brews on tap, hot mulled Glhwein, Wrstel, Wiener Schnitzel, Gulasch soup, and apple strudel. The Penken gondola is open year-round, from 9am till 5pm daily, weather permitting.
For the truly adventurous, Mayrhofen's most unusual pastime in winter and summer is paragliding. On a clear day, one can look up from the valley floor and spy a dozen or more brightly colored parachutes drifting down from the mountain tops to the valley floor. For 1,000 AS ($79), adventure-seekers can ride tandem with a guide for a 20 minute-long sail that ends at the Edenlehen Hotel
This June, Mayrhofen will host Europe's biggest paragliding competition, the Yahoi Mountain Festival. It's an event that's designed for observers as much as for the participants. The tourist office claims that during last years competition there were 211 paragliders in the air at once.
In addition to paragliding, there is a national kayaking competition, a farmers festival and handcraft presentation, and of course plenty of Tyrolean food and live music.
Apparently, a day of fresh mountain air isn't enough to tire the majority of visitors. Contrary to what one would expect of a secluded mountain town, Mayrhofen has a night life that should please most anyone. Many of the upscale hotels offer live music: the Elisabeth Hotel has a Tyrolean Day on Saturday afternoons, piano music on Tuesday evenings, and a live band on Fridays; the Neuhaus provides music it describes as "evergreens" songs not Tyrolean, but also not too modern; and the Hotel Strass invites local bands to play in its lounge. In addition, Mo's Esscafe & Music Room (Hauptstrasse 417, tel +43 5285/63435) is an American pub that features karaoke.
Exploring the Region
A recommended excursion from Mayrhofen is to leave the valley and drive east on Route 165 over the 1,507 meter (4,944 feet) high Gerlos Pass and across the northern edge of the Hohe Tauern National Park toward Zell am See. This 1,786 square meter park is Europe's largest, and contains both Austria's highest peak, the Grossglockner at 3,797 meters (12,458 feet) and Austria's tallest waterfall, the Krimml.
In the summertime, there are spectacular views of the triple level falls from the road. Visitors can walk up a four km (2.5 miles) path to get a closer view. (Entry costs 10 AS/$8 between May and October. The trail does get steep in some parts.) Unfortunately, in winter the Krimml is just a large slab of ice and visitors then may wonder what all the fuss is about.
After the falls, Route 165 continues east toward the town of Mittersill and the start of the Felber Tauern road, which runs south toward Lienz. (More information on Lienz and the Hohe Tauern National Park will appear in a future issue.)
Whether Amway is in town or not, the Mayrhofen tourist office will arrange for overnight accommodations in any season.
During our visit in early February, we learned most hotels were booked on the weekends through mid-March, but it was not a problem to find a room midweek on short notice.
Traffic gets congested in the village center, but most hotels have parking and there are several public lots throughout the town.
Our favorite Mayrhofen accommodations are to be found at the tiny three-star Gästehaus Martha, where Karl and Martha Felbermayr offer seven double and two single rooms all immaculately maintained and newly decorated in pastel colors and simple Tyrolean farm furniture.
The house dates to 1920, when Martha's grandfather built a one-story building for the family and for hosting summertime guests from Vienna. In 1950, her parents renovated the building and added a second story. And in 1991, Martha took over, putting bathrooms with showers (not tubs) in every room and again redecorating. The result is a house that feels new but still has a sense of history, and rooms that are bright and clean, if simple.
In the summertime, she has mostly regular guests, but there are usually a few rooms available. The largest and best is the so-called "pink room," a two-room double on the second floor with large windows that open to a sweeping view of the valley. The two singles are rather small, but one has a disproportionately large bathroom to compensate. Doubles on the top floor are slightly older with smaller windows, but still have good views.
Breakfast is served in a cozy room on the first floor. There is also a business room equipped with a fax machine. The hotel is centrally located near the tourist office.
Daily Rates: Singles 260 to 310 AS ($21-$24), doubles 520 to 620 AS ($41-$48)
Contact: Karl and Martha Felbermayr, Gästehaus Martha, Durst 267, A-6290 Mayrhofen, tel./fax +43 5285/62324
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 17/20
In a slightly less central location lies another good value: the three-star Hotel-Pension Edenlehen, overseen by the energetic 23-year old Andreas Hundsbichler and his wife, Irmgard. Together, they tend to 34 double rooms and four singles, plus a restaurant, wine cellar, sauna, and solarium.
The front lobby welcomes guests with a breakfast room flooded with morning sunshine, a fireplace and a small bar. Guestrooms are quite simple in decor, but all feature balconies, TV, and phone. South-facing rooms have larger windows that offer a view of the neighboring town of Finkenberg and the end of the Ziller Valley. Rooms to the north have a view of Mayrhofen and the Penken gondola, but the windows are smaller, which makes the rooms a bit darker. All bathrooms are modern with bathtubs, but the lighting won't be sufficient for tough critics.
Parking is plentiful, as the Edenlehen is just a 10-minute walk from the town center at the edge of a field that is the site of the Yahoi Mountain Festival. Paragliders float down into the valley to land right in front of the hotel and then come in to share a cup of coffee or a shot of sour apple Schnapps with the Hundsbichler family.
The Edenlehens only foreseeable drawback is for those traveling sans children. The place is very family-friendly and Andreas and Irmgard's four young children are very much in evidence. Still, a member of the tourist office staff told us her own parents like the Edenlehen best of any place they've stayed in Mayrhofen.
Daily Rates: Singles 460 to 660 AS ($36-$52), doubles 920 to 1320 AS ($72-$102)
Contact: Andreas & Irmgard Hundsbichler, Hotel-Pension Edenlehen, Rauchenwald 676, A-6290 Mayrhofen, tel +43 5285/2300, fax 2300 15
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 14/20
Also in the category of plain but adequate is Ferdinand and Elisabeth Moigg's three-star Hotel-Garni Almhof.
Despite its central location (about 1/4 mile from the town center), the Almhof is peaceful and quiet. Every room has a balcony, a small bathroom with a shower (no tubs, but plenty of hot water) and toilet, plus a TV, radio, phone, and safe. Parking isn't a problem.
In our small corner room, which featured windows across the length of two sides, we awoke the first morning to a fantastic view of snow-capped peaks glistening in the sun and the Penken gondola starting its morning climb up the valley wall. At night, however, the lighting in both the main room and the bath was rather dim.
Still, if chatting with a cheery hostess in the morning while enjoying a traditional Austrian breakfast orange juice, coffee or tea, cold cuts, cheese, rolls, and jam gets your day off to a good start, then the Almhof is worth a visit.
Daily Rates: Singles 320 to 380 AS ($25-$30), doubles 640 to 760 AS ($50-$60)
Contact: Ferdinand and Elisabeth Moigg, Hotel-Garni Almhof, Laubichl 141, A-6290 Mayrhofen, tel +43 5285/29 32, fax 29 32 20
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 15/20
The Elisabeth is the finest Mayrhofen has to offer and, though a stay here will put a serious dent in your wallet, the hotel and its staff will probably make it worth the expense. Mike Thaler, a son of the owners, has worked for the Ritz Carlton and other fine establishments all over the world and recently returned to share his experience with the town's only five-star hotel.
Every guestroom is decorated differently, but all feature wood paneled walls and ceilings, a balcony, mini-bar, satellite TV, and separate rooms for toilet and bath. Some doubles are bright and airy, others tend more toward dark and cozy. Most of the bathrooms are a bit small for a grand hotel, and even here, the lighting was disappointing.
Amenities abound at the Elisabeth. In particular, the fitness center is a destination in itself, with a large indoor pool, sauna, solarium, steam room, body styling, massage, beauty salon, and Jacuzzi. And its restaurants, Die Gute Stube, serving Austrian and international cuisine, and Mamma Mia, with pasta and pizza, are popular with locals and regular Mayrhofen visitors.
Daily Rates: Singles 1090 to 2250 AS ($85-$176), doubles 1980 to 4700 AS ($155-$367)
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 13/20
Just across from Mayrhofen's train station (which isn't visible from the hotel in the summer time), a busy receptionist and manager, Elisabeth Gredler, runs the four-star Hotel Neuhaus, making sure guests in its 150 rooms are well tended to.
The hotel actually consists of three connected buildings. The newest rooms were built in 1995 and they are considerably larger than the original ones. About 90 percent have balconies. Those facing south have the best view. Most also have a separate toilet and bath, and a bathtub rather than just a shower. Heated towel racks are standard, as are double sinks. And the lighting in both rooms and baths is excellent.
Between the high seasons and the Amway invasions, the Moigg family is trying frantically to renovate its older rooms. At Christmas last year, new carpet and curtains were put in the older rooms; the lobby and guest restaurant were also recently refurbished.
In the oldest part of the house are three small restaurants open to the public, each of which serves a different menu. Other guest amenities include an indoor and outdoor Jacuzzi, a three-lane bowling alley, billiards and table tennis. Under construction in the basement is a new sauna. And the hotel is actually connected to the town cinema and another pub. Parking is available on the street or in the hotels garage.
Daily rates: Singles 720 to 1200 AS ($56-$94), doubles 1440 to 2400 AS ($113-$188)
Contact: Josef Moigg, Hotel Neuhaus, Marktplatz 202, A-6290 Mayrhofen, tel. +43/5285/67 03, fax 63 8 08
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 11/20
Mayrhofen's Strass family reportedly owns half the block of Hauptstrasse next to the Penken gondola. Its Hotel Strass and Sport Hotel Strass are especially well-known among British tourists for a lively après ski scene. In addition, the family owns the Garni Strass and the romantic Villa Strass.
The decor in these establishments ranges from modest and unremarkable at the Sport Hotel to luxury rooms with hand painted authentic farm furniture and canopy beds in the Villa.
All rooms include a bath or shower, toilet, balcony, TV, safe, radio, and telephone.
Nonsmokers and vegetarians get special attention here: the hotel reserves a section of its dining room for nonsmokers and offers a vegetarian menu as one of three daily dinner choices.
For sports enthusiasts, the Strass offers two squash courts, an indoor swimming pool, table tennis, billiards, an arcade, solarium, and a hot tub with its own bar. Underground parking is available for an additional fee.
Daily Rates: Strass Hotel & Sport Hotel - singles 520 to 970 AS ($41-$76), doubles 1040 to 1940 AS ($81-$152); Villa Strass & Garni Strass - singles 410 to 860 AS ($32-$67), doubles 820 to 1720 AS ($64-$134)
Contact: Familie Roscher, Hotel Strass, Hauptstrasse 470, A-6290 Mayrhofen, tel +43 5285/6705-0, fax 63477
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 12/20
Wirtshaus zum Griena
For Ziller Valley cuisine, Wirtshaus zum Griena is the place to dine. Here, Anneliese Steinlechner serves local specialties in a 400 year-old farm house located near Mayrhofens second gondola, the Ahorn-Seilbahn.
The restaurant consists of four rustic dining rooms of varying size. We ate in one that years ago served as the children's bedroom. Behind us, bunk beds were built into the wall and our server pointed out a small hole in the ceiling which allowed heat to rise from the children's room to the parents room on the floor above. In all rooms, exposed wood-beamed ceilings are low, walls are dark, and the light dim and cozy.
We sat at a well-worn, thick wooden table in a corner, and ordered green salads to start, followed by entrées of Blutwuchtreaschtl blood sausage and diced potatoes pan fried and then baked in a heavy iron skillet until the top is crusty (105 AS /$8.27) and Kaasschpazlang, sinfully rich noodles baked with cheese and topped with bread crumbs (120 AS /$9.50). For dessert, we shared an order of Apfelreaschl, sliced apples baked and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and topped with whipped cream for 95 AS ($7.50).
The menu is written in the local dialect, so even if you know the German words for certain dishes, you might not recognize them here. Thankfully, the servers are happy to help guests make their selections.
The overall effect of the Griena is to create something of a time warp. By the time we finished eating, it was a shock to walk back outside and see a parking lot full of cars. In fact, for the full effect, many guests opt to arrive at the restaurant in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Wirtshaus zum Griena, Dorf Haus 768, tel +43 5285/62 778 (reservations advised).
Rating: Quality: 16/20, Value: 16/20
Kaiserbründl, run by the Gredler family, is a good standby for a broad range of local and international dishes and a lively crowd. The restaurant sits centrally at street level in the Marktplatz. Around 6pm, skiers start to trickle in for a bite to eat after an hour or two of après ski cocktails. During our visit, a group of locals and a few Americans hovered around the bar getting refills of Kaiser beer while "Pretty Woman" and other oldies played in the background. In the summertime, guests can dine on a patio outdoors.
Two beers appeared on the table almost immediately after we took our seats and began to browse a menu that started with salads, soups, and appetizers which range in price from 40 to 105 AS ($3.15-$8.26). Grilled entrées, including venison, range from 110-190 AS ($8.66-$15). Some Italian and even Indian dishes are also featured.
We ordered hearty meat dishes. First, a gratinéed fillet of pork with a heavy sauce, served with broccoli and potato croquettes (deep fried potatoes loaded with butter) and artistically garnished with slices of peach and pear. Then, a skillet of pan-fried beef tips with mushrooms and sweet peppers served in a creamy, stroganoff-like sauce. The portions were extra large and the food was rich in butter and cream, so needless to say we filled up well before our plates were clean.
Kaiserbründl, Marktplatz 206, tel. 5285/62552
Rating: Quality: 12/20, Value: 14/20
- Population: 3000 residents; 8900 guest beds
- Altitude: 650 meters, 2,133 feet
- Munich airport 2.5 hours by car
- Salzburg 2.5 hours by car
- 2 hours by train
- Innsbruck 1 hour by car
- 50 minutes by train
Rail Connections: Jenbach, at the entrance to the Ziller Valley, is on the main line from Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Munich. Change there for the Zillertalbahn which terminates at Mayrhofen.
Information current as of March 1998.