The Alpine Idyll

Real life at your place of longing

A summit-lined horizon, unlimited freedom and unspoilt coziness: That is what Alpine hiking enthusiasts dream of. The hut tenants at Ötztal's Alpine pastures cope with a 12-hour working day in all weathers - as farmers, cooks, innkeepers, cattle farmers or shepherds concurrently. What keeps them up on the mountains despite all efforts? I tried to find out this and much more in interesting discussions with six Alpine farmers from Ötztal.

Family-friendly pasture and forestry: Wurzbergalm

"We can just do it in a joint effort," Erich Holzknecht explains, "while others can't do it anymore. A few quit every year." It is a fairly lonely life here at Wurzbergalm above Längenfeld in the middle of August. Is it just because it's a working day? Erich Holzknecht shrugs his shoulders. "Everything has changed. Until the 1980s, guests and especially families stayed here with us for 14 days in summer. There was even a skilift on the doorstep during the winter months." The Holzknecht family has been living on the mountain pasture for several generations. In 1960, the original building gave way to today's home but it is still the base for cultivating the surrounding mountain meadows and pastures.

"It's only possible if you have a really strong family," says Holzknecht. The five to six cows, the farm, the haymaking, the hard manual work - everything must work smoothly even if many guests visit us on weekends. Erich's wife and three daughters help wherever they can. Despite all the effort, it is also a life that makes you happy and satisfied at the end of the day. Also the many regular guests can feel it and reward the family with long-term loyalty. The Holzknechts keep their farm in good condition and also want to ensure sustainability by using modern technology. Erich wants to get away from diesel and install a photovoltaic system - a truly huge investment. But they will succeed at the end. If you trudge up here in winter - as well as in summer, you are certainly not alone on the groomed toboggan run. The toboggan run followed by a refreshment stop ranks among the leisure-time highlights for both guests and locals.

A fabulous stomping ground: Feldringalm

"If these Alpine pastures disappear on our mountains, then something is missing and how much missing," says Alois Neurauter of Feldringalm emphatically. His mountain hut and pasture is a real summer & winter hotspot where everything is just perfect. There is a large car park at Sattele area above Haiming, the hiking trail is also suitable for prams, and once arrived at the hut you will find the explanation for the rush: Panoramic views at almost 1900 m altitude, play areas for children and - the menu. Hannes is an expert chef and has specialized in dumplings. His dad Alois, a retired but not really retired pensioner, is visibly proud of his clan and lists how everyone in the extended family looks after the hotel in Haiming Ochsengarten and the mountain hut. "It gets harder and harder every year. As soon as you have a mountain snack station, EU guidelines and state regulations apply. You don't always have to understand them, but you strictly have to adhere to them."

Scenic Feldringalm belongs to the Haiminger Berg Alpine community and has been leased to the Neurauter family since 2007. The Alpine pasture covers about 580 hectares, 220 of which are pasturelands. Located at altitudes between almost 2000 m and 2500 m above sea level, they are not suitable for dairy farming. Horses and cows are grazing on the mountain pasture. It looks nice but hardly pays off. "There is no factory farming in Ötztal," explains Alois who is the highly appreciated chairman of varied agricultural committees and associations related to Ötztal's Alpine pastures. Down in the village, the Neurauters own a large hotel and benefit from their professionalism also on the mountain pasture. Without this important know-how, self-exploitation is almost preprogrammed. What's more, there is the constant struggle for a small piece of private life: 85% of Alpine farmers only work part-time in the agricultural sector and pursue their main profession outside of the season. 70% of Alpine farms are family-run businesses. In summer, twelve hours of work a day are not uncommon." It's difficult to find a woman who is interested in such a hard life," Alois states with a smile.

Insider tip for ascending and descending hikers: Acherbergalm

Contrast program Acherbergalm: Absolute peace and quiet at 1888 m altitude, towering high above Ötztal. The view from the terrace resembles the edge of an eagle's nest. A couple of mountain bikers are just coming up sweaty from Oetz while I reach the hut with a hiking group after descending from Bielefelder Hütte. There is a new hut tenant: A year ago, the two domestic goats "Sun" and "Moon" gave us a welcome, today Maximilian Falkner says hello and a heartfelt "Griaß Enk". In mid-June 2018, he ran the pasture hut for just two weeks but gives the impression that he has never done anything else. Together with the shepherd David Streiter he takes care of the pasture's cultivation. In 2013 the building was completely renovated, now the municipality of Oetz, which owns the mountain pasture, is investing in the ecological future by building a biological sewage treatment plant.

The hut attracts many families and hikers because of the stunning vistas of the Oberland region but also because of the authentic cuisine. "He comes from Zwieselstein, I'm from Niederthai - we are all authentic Ötztal 'primary rock'. And this is how the menu should look like: Excellent home cooking with regional products from local farmers, staying overnight in the guesthouse which was completely renovated in 2012, and enjoying everything with an incomparable view," hut tenant "Falke" confidently states. He had already passed the first test in mid-June, when folk music and dance attracted masses of guests to the mountains like every year. The highlight is scheduled on the third Sunday in August with a mountain mass at Rotes Wandl and live music on the hut. Beautiful Acherberg Alm remains closed in winter. The avalanche risk is too high for winter operation.

Alpine pasture jewel above Längenfeld: Brandalm

Winter is also a challenge for the family of Siegfried Jordan from Brandalm nestling above Längenfeld. Hikers can reach the snack station in about one hour on the cart road. The popular toboggan run often suffers during mild winters, but if it's cold and if there is enough snow it makes a real highlight. Summer dairy farming is no longer available at Brandalm. Jordan now has goats and looks back on almost 30 years of mountain pasture life together with his wife. He was busy with the new and upcoming generation for a long time. In the meantime, the son together with his fiancé give a helping hand. You can perfectly see that because there is still much manual work at Brandalm - the small petting zoo, the Alpine meadows and the chapel shine in splendor. Everything is spick and span. Enjoying truly excellent home cooking against the scenic backdrop of the glacier-topped peaks - it soothes your soul.

Hideaway for sportspeople: Stabele Alm

When I got to Stabele Alm, Marisa Gstrein and her daughter Elena served two very fit female mountain bikers from Längenfeld. Bicycle check: No battery, respect! But if you rent an e-bike down on the valley floor or bring your own, scenic Stabele Alm is a worthwhile destination due to the really varied route. On foot it takes you up to two and a half hours. A kind of sorting out the hikers. Marisa’s parents were already on the mountain pasture - therefore it is almost an obligation. "You don't just give it up even if the business suffers for weeks due to bad weather. And of course we also have brave regular guests,” says the hut tenant. Talking about the legendary Gampe Thaya above Sölden, she states: "Nobody can compare to Jakob. He works very hard. However, his mountain hut is also located right on the ski slope and in summer you reach it within only 20 walking minutes."

Unforgettable Alpine experience: Gampe Thaya

I saved this special place for the crowning conclusion of my Alpine pasture exploration. A mountain hut at the very top of Ötztal's restaurant ratings on TripAdvisor - first you almost can't believe it. Jakob Prantl is up and about since shortly after four o'clock in the morning. He has taken care of his beloved Tirolean gray cattle and worked in the self-designed dairy next to the pasture hut. As far as he knows, it is the only traditional mountain pasture that meets all the official standards of a professional dairy in the high Alpine region. Not a single drop of the precious milk gets down to the valley. In the fresh mountain air, Jakob processes 22,000 liters of milk per year into award-winning cheese and wonderfully intense Alpine butter. "We could produce double the amount but that would be the completely wrong direction, towards mass production," says the Alpine farmer and cattle breeder - a stubborn Tirolean guy in the best sense of the word. Prantl likes to experiment, he has worked with Dr. Maria Hauser, the founder of the "Holidays on a Farm" initiative, looked at other model farms - and in the endy mostly returns to his dad's insights. "Once I put manure on the Alpine pasture meadows as many do. The grass was very different, the butter was different as well. I never did it again. My dad was right again with his saying: Milk is a sensitive lady!"

Today, fabulous Gampe Thaya is known far beyond Ötztal as a prime example of future-oriented hut concept, because both internal and external circumstances go hand in hand symbiotically: A modernly run gourmet mountain hut where old rural traditions are very much alive. The real, the authentic still touches us. We feel the ingenuity and passion, but also the hard work outside and inside the four walls. This is exactly the soul of these splendid Ötztal mountain pastures and huts, the unique spirit that connects them all - from Feldringalm at the entrance to the valley to Gampe Thaya high above Sölden.

Info

Holidays, weather conditions and construction work on huts or supply routes have an impact on the opening times of the mountain huts. When the hut tenant changes, also the telephone numbers and reservation contacts change. Here you will find current and reliable information.

All Alpine pastures & huts

You can find virtual Wurzbergalm at www.wurzbergalm-oetztal.at
Get to know Feldringalm on the Facebook page
Find out more about Acherbergalm HERE in the Alpine pasture & hut directory
More details about Brandalm are available HERE on the official website
First impressions of Stabele Alm can be found at www.gstreinshof.com
The official website informs you about Gampe Thaya HERE

Guest Author Lutz Bormann

Lutz Bormann (born in 1956) started hiking at the age of ten. Since 1991, he has combined his greatest passion with his profession of journalist: he wrote for the BERGE Magazine, then for DAV Panorama (German Alpine Club) and varied other outdoor magazines as he also runs his own editorial office. After settling down to family life the mountains seemed even steeper while the routes became shorter and the texts longer. I am glad to work for the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE and Tirol's Mountain Rescue as it takes me closer to the Alpine passion again.

Guest Author Lutz Bormann
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