If you are a mountain enthusiast like me, then you’ll always be chasing peaks with specific attributes of size and challenge. In the case of visiting the Tirol Zugspitz Arena in western Austria, it means being able to summit Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze.
Perched on the borderline of both countries, you can access the mighty 2,962m Zugspitze Mountain from the Austrian side, see four countries from one panoramic viewpoint and combine all sorts of cultural and active adventures in a compact area.
I visited this region of Tirol in the autumn, but managed to catch a glimpse of the first fall of winter snow when I went up the mountain for a second time.
But whatever the season, the mountain provides nature-filled views and the Tirol Zugspitz Arena has plenty to keep you occupied at lower altitudes.
First Stop: Visit the Top of Germany – Zugspitze Mountain
Regardless of what activities you chose to undertake, the centrepiece of the area is undoubtedly the Zugspitze Mountain, which dominates the landscape and calls for everyone to take the 10 minute cable car ride up to its viewing platforms.
I was staying in the village of Leemoos – one of seven in the Tirol Zugspitz Arena – next to Ehrwald Obermoos, where you can access the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn to climb the western side of the peak.
While technically located in Germany, the highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountain range is essentially a natural border, and up on the mountain you can stand in both Tirol and Bavaria, with signs just a metre apart. You can even see the old passport control booths from the days when coming up one side of the mountain and going down the other meant having to officially leave and enter another country. It’s fascinating stuff if you are that kind of country border geek (I’m talking about myself here).
The 1,725 metre climb itself has great views, getting right up close to the mountain and it jagged edges, but the panoramic viewpoints at the top are even better. Here, you can be even more geographically geeky and lookout across four countries – Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. On a clear day you can even see the skyline of Munich, 130km away.
Considering the cost of the ticket, it’s good to make full use of your time up here. The interactive museum ‘Faszination Zugspitze’ shows the mountain through the ages, from the construction of the first cable car to how it looks today, while the Panorama Summit Restaurant means having your coffee and cake with the best view.
I’m set on hiking Zugspitze one day, on a route that takes 8-10 hours and ends with a short Via Ferrata to reach the highest point at the golden cross. The Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is also a haven for hiking on and off the mountain, with 150 marked trails with varying levels of difficulty. I was due to take on a short hike near Fernpass on the ways to Loisachquelien, exploring the forests and relaxing by the bathing lakes of Mittersee to Blindsee, yet the weather didn’t comply on this occasion.
Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car (Tiroler Zugspitzbahn)
Price: €45 round-trip, which includes entrance to the adventure museum, snow crystal world and access to the panoramic viewpoint areas. Alternatively one return trip is included in the cost of the all-inclusive region ‘Z Ticket’ (see ‘Things to Know’ below for more information).
Open: Open 8:40am – 16:40pm (Climbs 1,725 metres in 10 minutes)
Mountainroller / Mountain Scooter at Marienberg Biberwier
A trip to the mountains, if not via hiking, still means I need an adrenalin fix. Taking the cable lift up to the Sunnalm at 700 metres, my four kilometre route down was via a giant scooter roller. The light gravel paths are long and winding and not too steep, but enough that you can gather a little speed, which you can also control with the brakes on the roller. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to keep a steady speed and not feel the need to keep stopping.
A little extra challenge was that the cows were slowing moving down from the alpine heights as the summer was coming to an end. We would often encounter big groups of cows and have to carefully navigate our way through the crowd. It’s their patch of land during this time after all. Cyclists we passed were having the same issues, having to stop and assess how to share the path and not anger the alpine rulers.
During the summer there are also 100 marked mountain biking routes in the area, if you want to up the ante. Most of them only opened in Summer 2016 so are new and fairly unexplored.
Price: €20 per adult for the full route and or €26 for two hours (Mountain carts are €25). One session is included in the cost of the all-inclusive region ‘Z Ticket’ (see ‘Things to Know’ below for more information).
Open: The Marienbergbahnen is open from 8:30am – 17:00pm in the summer, and closes an hour or so earlier in winter. Specific times and dates can be found here.
Almabtrieb – When the Cows Come Home
From watching them make their journey downward, I was able to catch the annual ‘Almabtrieb’ in the village of Lermoos. This celebration, which occurs all over the Tyrol valleys at the end of August and the beginning of September, marks the time when the cows come home from the mountain pastures. Dressed in displays of flower garlands and proudly accompanied by the farmers, everyone comes out to welcome the cattle down from the alpine pastures where they spent the summer.
Of course, there’s a little village party afterwards with traditional Austrian food, drink and revelry. This is your chance to experience and enjoy true village life.
My Zugspitze Shortlist
I became a little enchanted with this mountain. I’m that girl who brought one of those vintage ski posters ready to frame so I could hang it and look at it and go, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” So of course I want to return some day, to try different things in different seasons. Apart from wanting to actually take on the long and challenging hike up the Zugspitze, here is what else I have on my list:
Ski, Ski, Ski. Winter on Zugspitze!
Of course, I would one day like to take to the slopes here. I saw the first bed of snow form as Zugspitze began slowly gearing up for the ski season. Being so high up, there’s snow for up to six months of the year, so to see it coated entirely and take an alternative trip down on some of the 20km of slopes is high on my list.
Winter images by local photographer, Peter Kluwick
Solstice Mountain Fires – Summer on Zugspitze!
In June, up to 10,000 fires light up the mountains all around the Tirol Zugspitz Arena, continuing an ancient ritual. A spectacular sight that puts some if the region’s best ranges in ochre glow.
Paragliding off Zugspitze Mountain
I’m a huge fan of paragliding, and in Austria there’s nothing more heart racing than running off a mountain and gliding over the valley bed below. Zugspitze is no exception to this offering, except you can say, “I ran off Germany’s highest mountain and landed in Austria”. Make your own adventure with the FlyTeam in Lermoos. This area is THE area, reserved for extreme paragliding, including the Red Bull X-Alps event.
SAAC Rock Climbing Camp
I got my first taste of proper rock climbing in Tirol, and I would love to take to the mountainous rocks here. There are 160 rock climbing trails on the south side of the mountain, accessible in the summer and the chance to join a two day SAAC rock climbing camp, that was held for the first time in summer 2017.
Things to Know:
The Tirol Zugspitz Arena is made up of seven villages: Erwald, Lermoos, Berwang, Bichlbach, Biberwier, Heiterwang am See, Lähn-Wengle and Namlos. The area is located between the Wetterstein Mountains, with the Zugspitze in the north and the Mieminger mountains in the south.
I stayed in the village of Lermoos at the family-run Hotel Bergland in the very centre.
For furthee information on planning your trip, visit the official tourism website.
The Z Ticket
Valid for up to 13 days, this all-in-one pass can be used on the Tirol Zugspitz cable car, five other cable car services in the region, for the mountain rollers and 1,300 metre toboggan, boat trips on the lakes, outdoor pools, sports facilities and local buses.
Prices start from €60 per adult for a three-day pass.
Active Programmes in the Tirol Zugspitz Arena
If you want a guided hike, whether it’s slow and easy or challenging, through the forests, hill, waterfalls, lakes and mountain trails, there are Active programmes you can join where you can be guided by trained coaches and guides. www.magnet-zugspitze.com
Getting to The Tirol Zugspitz Arena
By Train: I travelled by train to Imst / Pitztal and took a taxi transfer to Lemoos, which was around 50 Euros. However, the area is also accessible from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Garmisch being the neighbouring German town), and there are railway stations in Ehrwald, Lermoos, Bichlbach, Heiterwang am See and Lähn-Wengle.
By Car: The Tirol Zugspitz Arena is 75km from Innsbruck and 100km from Munich.
By Airplane: From Innsbruck (75km), Munich (110km) or Memmingen (100km)
My time in the Tirol Zugspitz Arena was a part of my ‘Year in Austria’ project, as the UK ambassador for the Austrian National Tourist Office. I have been visiting various destinations across the country (from my home base of Vienna) over the past 11 months and showcasing a variety of regions and activities. Follow #YearInAustria for all the stories through the seasons.