Peak Perfection: East Tyrol, Austria

Stressed with everyday life? Then follow the Austrian locals to the Virgental valley for some healthy, exhilarating, and relaxing hiking.

While cross-country skiers head for Virgental in winter, summer brings walkers of all ages, who trek between alpine hütten (huts)—the mountain lodges that ring the valley.

This dramatic, unspoiled gem nestling between the Lasörling and Venediger mountains certainly filled hiker Hans Schneider with amazement: “The valley was bathed in bright sunshine, yet a menacingly dark cloud with flashes of lightning hung over a nearby peak. It was quite surreal.”

Where to go: Use the village of Virgen as a starting point and try to complete the Lasörling Höhenweg trail, a four-day, well-marked hike with spectacular views of patchwork fields, tree-clad mountain slopes, and snow-capped peaks. The trail may be described as “strenuous” but it’s not difficult, with a dozen huts along the way.

In-the-know info: Rather than trek for three hours up 6,500 feet (1,980 meters), many locals drive up to the Wetterkreuzhütte lodge, where they join the trail. You can arrange for a mountain taxi at the Virgen tourist office.

“Hut” doesn’t do justice to the hiking shelters. The octagonal Lasörlinghütte in the shadow of Lasörling mountain can house 65 hikers, who will enjoy a rustic dinner, such as dumpling soup with rye bread, followed by apfelstrudel (apple strudel), all washed down with cool Austrian beer.

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When to go: Between June and September. Don’t miss early summer, when you can feast your eyes on the carpets of red alpenroses, white oxeye daisies, and other wildflowers on the high alpine meadows.

This article first appeared in the National Geographic book Where the Locals Go.

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