Tuesday 14 June 2016

Ambling across Austria: Zell am See to Graz

Austria, 7th – 12th June 2016

Lake Zell
The main reason behind choosing to stay at Brock am der Grossglockner was because it was fairly close to Zell am See, but for the main town of Zell am See we didn’t have any parking listed other than a couple of campsites a few km away around the lake.  We decided we’d wing it and set Daisy the Satnav to lead us to a fairly central open parking area with the hope there were no height barriers.  It looked promising when we arrived and found there were indeed no height barriers, but less promising were the signs banning motorhomes and lorries.  We left the main town and drove around the lake, looking for parking in the various nearby villages and finding all were either private parking or had anti-motorhome signs; it seems we’re not so welcome here.  After doing a full lap of the lake we came back to Zell am See and in a last ditch attempt tracked down the bus parking, which was quiet and out of the way, free, and best of all had no signs banning us.  We assumed it wouldn’t be a problem for a few hours at this time of year, so gave it a chance.

In the winter Zell am See is a big ski resort, but out of season there are still plenty of reasons to visit.  It’s got a great location, with the town looking out over the lake and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  There are plenty of hiking trails and cycle routes for all abilities, and you can pick up free comprehensive booklets for both, complete with a map from the tourist office.  The food menus all looked cheap; Austria is one of the richer countries in Europe, and yet we were often seeing pizzas and similar at €6-7 a head, which comes as sweet relief after Switzerland.  We got the bikes out and went on a lakeside cycle, which is around 8 miles making a loop around and mostly on cycle paths.  The lake was very calm and peaceful with very little activity going on, but on a windy day would be a great base for windsurfing.  I imagine if we were looking for a place for a week’s holiday of activity in the future, we could quite easily check into one of the campsites here and enjoy the area.

With just a month of travel left and still with Vienna and Prague on our to-do list, we made progress east to the town of Altenmarkt im Pongall, where we checked into Stellplatz Kellerbauer (GPS: 47.37059 13.43036, €10/night inc. serv. pt., €2 electric, Free WiFi).  It’s a private stellplatz at a farm with views out over the fields and feels more like a campsite than an aire, making it a great little spot to get away from it all, and very good value. There’s a room provided with a toilet, washing machines, and info leaflets on the surrounding areas.

It’s strange how sometimes we can go for over a month without getting to properly chat to anyone, but sometimes we find multiple English speakers in a short stretch of time.  After we’d had a great time in the company of Kiwis Stephen and Gayle a couple of days ago, at Altenmarkt we met Steve and Diane, fellow British vanners for 30 years who were currently Slovenia and Croatia bound on a 10 week tour.  After we took advantage of the great weather and location to cook some sausages on the Cadac, we joined them for a drink to swap recommendations of places to go and ended up chatting until gone 11 (again!).

As it was such a nice location we decided to spend a second night here, both to relax and to get some internet jobs out of the way utilising the free WiFi which we’ve not had for months.  Matt tracked down his last CV in old emails to start getting that up to date, as we’ll have to start making job applications before too long, and did some research into where to go in Austria. I made some headway in updating several months’ worth of stopovers on our journey route map (and yet after hours of updating we are still over a month behind!).  We also finally bought the CamperContact app and downloaded the points for the relevant country's after using the website version for so long, so that we’ve got a backup resource in case we can’t get mobile internet so easily after Austria.  Our initial impressions are that it’s a poorly executed app that’s more awkward to use than it should be, but we’ll post our thoughts on whether we think it’s a worthwhile purchase after we’ve had a few weeks to play with it.

As a country Austria has a great network for cycling, and we’ve got more use out of our bikes in the brief time we’ve been here and in Germany than we’ve had in months.  This trend continued at Altenmarkt as it is a point on the R7 cycle route, a 263km long path starting in the Salzburg region and heading east.  As a town Altenmarkt and the nearby Radstadt didn’t have much to see of note, but the area did make good biking territory.  We got an hour’s worth of cycling in before the skies threatened us with rain.  I can only hope that perhaps all this exercise might cancel out the gelato we’ve been gorging on recently.

We’d toyed with the idea of going to Salzburg on Thursday, but it was dull and drizzling in the morning and the forecast looked no better for the coming week, which isn’t ideal for traipsing around a big city.  The campsites aren’t too cheap at about €35/night and we’d have been paying for buses on top as it was too rainy for cycling and too far for walking, so we decided we’d leave it as under the current conditions we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as we should, and we still had two other cities to see in Austria.

Motorhome parking at Bad Ischl
We drove north towards Bad Ischl with a brief call at Hallstatt, a lakeside village which the Rough Guide website had listed as among the top 10 things to see in the country.  To visit Hallstatt in a camper you have two options: you can either pay to stay at the campsite (which at €28+ has mediocre reviews), or you can park at the bus parking a couple of km outside of town for €15 (unknown whether overnight parking is allowed).  Annoyingly there was an open car park in town that had lots of space and allowed you to pay by the hour, but it had height restrictors in place.  If it had been clear we could stay overnight, and like Salzburg if the weather had been better we might have paid up, but the rain and gloom just wasn’t doing it justice, and €15 for the day is excessive.  We carried on to Bad Ischl where we parked up in one of the designated motorhome bays at the far end of a paying car park next to the river (GPS: 47.71485 13.62285, €2/hr up to max €8/day 7am-7pm, Free at night).  It’s quite a nice little town with the centre located within the bend of the river where the rivers Ischl and Traun meet.  It’s not a big place but there are plenty of cheap snack bars and restaurants at reasonable prices, making it a good place to spend the night.

Lake Hallstattersee
Stellplatz at Liezen

We had an early start in the morning and paid for our parking just before 7am, before it started charging us for another day.  Pulling into a layby overlooking Lake Hallstattersee, we ate our breakfasts with views of the low clouds over the water and pondered where to go next.  After all but one day of paid stopovers we were going to be passing through the town Liezen which had the first free stellplatz we’ve found in Austria, so decided to go there (GPS: 47.56506 14.23348).  Officially the space is for three vans, but a fourth van arrived in the evening and seemed to slot in fairly comfortably.

As a town, Liezen was the least interesting place we’ve seen in Austria so far.  There’s nothing wrong with the place, but it was definitely a working town.  On the positive side, it did have the first Lidl we’ve seen since Zell am See.  There were walking trails nearby and it was also another point on the R7 cycle route, which was right on our doorstep from the stellplatz, so after exhausting the few sights in  town and carrying a food haul from Lidl home, out came the bikes for a 22km ride, mainly along dirt and gravel tracks through fields on what turned into a nice warm sunny day.

Our next main point of call was in Graz, some 160-odd kilometres south.  In Austria, there are three different kinds of toll: the first is vignette roads, which is needed for all motorways and expressway dual-carriageways (“A” and “S” roads) across the country and requires a windscreen sticker purchased at most fuel stations.  In addition to this, there are some sections on the vignette roads, mainly tunnels, which incur an additional charge via toll booths when you get to them.  The third type is toll charges on some of the alpine mountain passes, such as the Grossglockner.  The vignette sections are marked by a special vignette sign at the entrances to the roads, and the other toll sections are marked with a “Peage” notice on road signs.  As the eastern side of the country we were going into has a much bigger network of motorways and it would shave considerable time driving and avoid small twisty roads, we decided the vignette was a worthwhile expense.  We called at a fuel station before leaving Liezen, where it was simply a case of asking for a vignette inside (€8.80 for 10 days) and then sticking it to the windscreen. For vehicles over 3.5T there’s a different system with an electronic GO-Box required.

On the vignette roads it was smooth, economical cruising across the country, ideal for listening to podcasts and audiobooks (our latest: The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris) as we made progress over to Graz and then passed through to another free stellplatz a bit further south at the village Sankt Stefan im Rosenthal (GPS: 46.90535 15.71570, Water €0.50/60L, Electric available).  I went to investigate the leaflets provided by the tourist office and returned full of optimism for more walk and cycle opportunities nearby with one of them having a useful large fold-out map, but the weather had other ideas. We decided to stay put until the grey clouds resolved themselves, which turned out for the best as huge drops of water started pelting down on us as the next lashing of rain we’d been promised arrived.  After an investigation of the village during a break in the weather, which was mostly closed up other than an ice cream café that still seemed to be doing business in the rain, we retreated to the dry safety of the van.

We resolved that we weren’t going to let the skies deter our plans for Graz, so on Sunday morning it was off to the big city.  If you want to stay overnight in Graz, there is a nice-sounding commercial stellplatz on the outskirts for €21, or if you want to be a bit closer to the city centre there is also a €12 stellplatz at a motorhome dealership.  The former was a bit far away from the centre and the latter is closed at weekends, so we decided to try our luck at day parking.  Parking in Graz is divided into a blue zone and a green zone, with the blue zone closer to the city centre having a 3hr time limit and being a bit pricier than the green zone, but these restrictions only apply during working hours (Monday to Friday daytime and Saturday mornings).  As it was a Sunday we investigated the blue zone and struck lucky finding a parking spot a few minutes’ walk from the main centre that had been closed all weekend for an event the day before but the restriction ended within a few minutes of our arrival.

Graz is the second biggest city in Austria, with a big university population and a large network of trams.  It was perhaps a bit quieter than usual being a Sunday, although it’s debateable whether that’s necessarily a bad thing.  We got a map from the tourist office and had a few hours wandering around the main areas.  There’s a hilled castle area with views out over the city, which is reachable by a 260 step ascent known as the Kriegssteig (war steps), built by Russian prisoners during World War I.  In terms of attractiveness Innsbruck was perhaps a little bit prettier, but Graz is still a very nice place to visit with lots of tall impressive old buildings and more of a big city feel.

The Landhaus Courtyard
The main city square
The Clock Tower
The War Steps, leading up to the Clock Tower

A search for nearby places to stay the night brought us to a mixed parking area (GPS: 46.89409 15.26799) in Stainz, which we’ll investigate in the morning to find out whether it has more to offer than its unfortunate name.  After that, the plan is to go up towards the Danube valley, and then onwards to Vienna.

- Jo

P.S. We've now added pictures of the upside down house to the last post which you can see here, we forgot before as they were on Matt's phone instead of the camera!

1 comment :