The hills are very much alive in Austria
MY FAMILY and I flew to Austria armed with board games, Lego sets and storybooks - so that we could entertain my two young grandsons in case we get cooped up indoors.
The reason was the unusually wet weather besetting Europe in June, when we booked a short trip there.
Our destination was Zell am See, a lakeside resort among the Alpine Valleys.
Thankfully, the rain mostly stayed away, except for a few late-afternoon showers.
We were travelling as a group of six - with my husband, daughter and son-in-law, and their two children.
Our first stop, the Krimml Waterfall in the Pinzgau region, is the highest and largest waterfall in Europe, cascading in three tiers from a height of 380m.
The crisp air and refreshing water sprays from the waterfall made for a pleasant walk, which we punctuated with a pretzel-and-sausage snack.
It was the first time the boys, aged eight and five, had climbed so high. Still, they managed it well, except for a short stretch where we had to occasionally carry the younger boy.
The next day, we were off to the High Alpine route to reach the 2,500m-high Grosslockner mountain.
The peak sits within the Hohe Tavern National Park.
Stunning scenery greeted us during the drive along the route, with panoramic views providing plenty of photo-taking moments.
The boys were thrilled to see the snow-covered slopes, for it meant they could hurl a few snowballs around.
But a sombre moment overcame us at the Pasterze Glacier, where it was evident that global warming had taken its toll. The ice showed obvious signs of shrinkage.
A PRECARIOUS CLIMB
More climbing awaited us at the Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, which we visited the next day.
At over 40km long, they are the largest and highest ice caves in the world.
A note of caution, though - this outing is especially demanding on the legs.
It is advisable to set aside around four hours for the visit.
It started with a cable car ride up to an altitude of 1,586m. This was followed by a walk up to the cave entrance, where we began a treacherous climb on a wet and narrow ledge lined with pebbles.
While climbing, the younger boy kicked off his right boot by accident. It tumbled ominously down the slopes.
Thankfully, he did not run after the boot!
But this translated to hard work for his father, who had to carry him for the rest of the way.
Portable lamps and handrails helped us negotiate the many stairs and steps (1,000 or more, I was told) to take in the fascinating ice formations in the freezing caves.
Our leg muscles barely got any time to recover before we tackled our first hike up the Austrian Alps.
The route had a rather grand name: Schmidolin's Baptism Of Fire Trail.
Despite the name, this adventure trail is very suitable for families with young children.
Along the way, there were many activity stations, such as the "wheel of fire" and "bridge of flames", which helped to distract the kids from fatigue.
We also passed by the Plettsaukopf reservoir, where water activities were conducted while overlooking the valleys.
It was so unreal, to be surrounded by a magnificent view of the Alps while playing and enjoying ourselves.
The only blip, perhaps, was that we probably took a wrong turn on the way down.
As a result, the trek took longer than expected, and we had to carefully navigate loose pebbles and muddy puddles.
Another outdoor adventure was a trip to the gorge at St Johann, the highest in Austria.
It is also one of the most beautiful gorges, and one of the longest and deepest accessible ravines in the Alps.
Along some stretches, the gorge gets very narrow, allowing for only a glimpse of the sky.
But, on a fine day, you can catch the play of colours caused by the reflection of the sun rays off the mist from the roaring waterfalls.
However, the highlight of the day turned out to be the restaurant where we went to for lunch.
It was way out in the countryside, at the foothills of the Alps.
The place is actually a farm too, growing its own produce that is served to customers.
We could catch trout from its ponds for our meal, and my grandsons relished the experience, netting two fish.
Our catch came to the table served in many ways.
Home-brewed elderflower beer was available for the adults while the children could enjoy fresh dairy products.
The boys also got to play on a zipline at a playground and interacted with the farm's llamas.
WHIRLWIND CITY STOP
In between all the nature trails, we squeezed in a trip to Salzburg.
Due to time constraints, we visited only three places: the Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mirabell Palace - famed for its association with classic movie The Sound Of Music - and composer Mozart's house.
A funicular train ride up to the castle provided a bird's eye view of the city, complete with the Salzach river flowing through it.
The fortress, with its turrets, cannons and museums, gave the boys the opportunity to freely explore the premises.
At Mirabell, we saw the Pegasus fountain that was featured in the film, and the flight of steps where the song, Do Re Mi, was performed.
Later, there was the "compulsory" photoshoot at Mozart's house and shopping in the nearby Mozart Platz.
Of course, we had to end our adventurous trip with a hike.
This final mission was the High Altitude Promenade 68, another family-friendly trail.
The view of more than 30 peaks standing at 3,000m in height was magnificent against a backdrop of azure blue sky and flossy clouds.
Helicopters doing rescue training could be spotted while paragliders were also taking advantage of a beautiful day.
There are English-speaking instructors available for tourists keen on paragliding.
The trail had panels and wooden structures explaining the flora and fauna of the region, offering visitors a first-hand nature lesson.
To top it off, there is a playground with a zipline and a huge bowling pit. The scene was postcard perfect - children playing on slopes full of edelweiss blooms, thistles, alpine roses and berries.
While there are night activities like light shows and music festivals in Elisabeth Park, the boys were content to just cycle around the lake or go for a dip after a full day of activities.
Not to forget, there were plenty of live football matches on television to catch too, if you are a sports fan.
The trip was full of healthy, good fun. One thing for sure, I exceeded the recommended daily target of 10,000 steps for maintaining physical fitness.