“Come and stay with us for a couple of days if you want?” the message from my friend read.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when an invite to stay in the Austrian Alps comes up, you change your plans quickly in order to go!
The idea to go to Hungary cropped up fairly early in 2016, I had originally been going to remain there for a full week; spending some time in Budapest and visiting friends. I was also planning on hunting wild boar while I was there. (I’ve written about my time in Budapest separately here).
However, during stag season we had had a few groups of Austrian guests hunting with us on the estate. Once I saw their photos of the mountains in Austria, I knew I had to go. The plan changed. Fewer days in Budapest. A train ride to Vienna, and then on to Innsbruck, and home after that? Perfect.
I had kept in touch with a couple of Austrian hunters and sent them a message asking if they could recommend anything to do or see while I was in their country. A day later I received a message back suggesting I head across to the Vorarlberg region and spend a few days with them. Quick check of trains, cancelling accommodation in Vienna, and I was ready to go. I’m sure Vienna is stunning, and I’d love to visit properly one day. However, I’ve never been a city girl and the mountains were calling.
I caught the train from Budapest on Friday, arriving in Vienna and catching my next train west at what seemed to be rush hour. Finally getting off the train after over 11 hours constant travelling was a relief, I was met at the station with the offer of a beer, which I gratefully accepted!
Day one, I was given a quick tour of the valley, before heading over to my friend’s hunting area. We spent the morning topping up deer feeding areas (for both roe and red, very different to how we manage deer in Scotland, on our estate we don’t feed deer at all), and roaring about on the skidoo…cue obligatory snow mobile photo. After thorough trialing, I can say with certainty, that they’re great fun, and I want one for Christmas.
Lunch consisted of a cheesy spätzle dish. Spätzle is a type of egg noodle dumpling (used in cooking in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary) which, when combined with heaps of cheese and caramelized onions, is basically heaven on a plate.
After lunch we headed to the ski slopes and spent a few hours there, finishing the afternoon with apfelstrudel and schnapps. Over dinner that evening, my friend’s wife told me another hunter had phoned and we had been asked to help with some hunting the next day, in a region about an hour or so away.
Day two, with an initial search to find me some boots and gloves (I hadn’t packed for a hunting trip) we set off. After an hour and a half leisurely drive through the mountains, we began to wend our way up a snow covered single track (the exciting kind, with steep drops and no guard rails), past iconic alpine timber houses, until we reached another friend’s house. A dram before lunch – more cheesy spätzle – and we headed out to meet with the other hunters.
Shoot days have a similar feel regardless of country, I might not speak German, but could tell the banter was exactly the same! We had been tasked with helping clear a wood of three deer. This particular area of forest served an important role, preventing avalanches, and as such deer presence was kept at zero to prevent tree damage. My friend and I were allocated a high seat, and we headed there while the other hunters and beaters got into position around the wood.
We did spot some of beaters moving through the wood, but the deer never came our way in the end and, after hearing rifle shots over the hill, we got a call to say the hunt was over. We made our way down the hill and drove back to the hamlet, meeting up with everyone at the pub. The customary handshaking and congratulatory “waidmannsheil” to the successful hunter was followed by a warming bowl of goulash soup, fresh bread rolls, coffee and wine, which were very welcome after sitting still for a few hours in -15C.
Monday rolled round, all good things must come to an end, and I had to catch my train back east to Innsbruck.
(Which is in itself an lovely town, I can recommend Strudelcafe Kröll if you have time to spare for strudel…and, let’s face it, there is always time for strudel).