In Search of Strudel around the Tiernsee, May 2016

Before you reach for your atlases, the Tiernsee doesn’t really exist.  

It was invented by Elinor Brent-Dyer at some point in the 1920s, and was one of the settings used in a series of books published over many years in the middle of the 20th Century.  The “Chalet School” books were partly set around the shores of a fictional lake, the Tiernsee, in the Austrian Tyrol. EBD (as, I gather, she is referred to by fans) didn’t rely entirely on her imagination to conjure up the Tiernsee, she based her stories around memories of a long visit she paid to the Achensee (which really is in the Tyrol) in 1925.

I’ve never read the Chalet School books although my other half has done so repeatedly - but when the opportunity to visit the Tiernsee/Achensee arose I wasn’t going to turn down the invitation to spend a few days wandering up Tyrollean mountains. And besides, I was promised Apfelstrudel.

The Achensee is in a valley above the Inn Valley in western Austria.  Pretty much everyone who wants to visit the Achensee will wind up coming through the little town of Jenbach in the Inn Valley.  Our route across Europe by train had involved going through St Pancras in London plus Brussels, Frankfurt and Salzburg before we pitched up in Jenbach.  We could have completed the journey to Pertisau on the lakeside using the a funicular railway and the same engine and carriages that EBD (and numerous fictional school-girls) had used and one of the rather more modern lake steamers - but our hotel sent a minibus to collect us.

In addition to the lakeside, the valleys and mountains around Pertisau provide lots walks of all sorts. Ranging from flat-and-surfaced stroll through to fairly extreme climbs - we stuck mostly to the softer end of the scale.  

One of hazards of walking in the Alps is the profusion of guest huts strategically placed around the valleys and tops. In the UK mountain walking inevitably seems to involve stops huddling behind dry-stone walls hoping that the wind will drop for long enough for you to peel the clingfilm from a battered sandwich.  In the Alps the challenge is deciding if you want beer with the schnitzel-of-the-day or coffee with the strudel-of-the-day.  While the strudel-fest is certainly welcome it does rather defeat the feeling of braving the elements, and one of the huts we stopped at even had a vintage bus service if the post-strudel stroll back down the valley looked too challenging.

If the valleys and the tops seem too much, there is a lovely walk along the lake edge that goes right around the lake, and better yet you don’t need to do it all at once.  The regular little steamers chug up and down the lake all day, picking up and dropping off at regular points around the lake.  There’s usually somewhere to buy coffee at each pier - and there’s certainly beer, coffee (and strudel) on offer on the boat too.

Which brings me back to subject of strudel.  I was lured onto the trip by the promise of Apfelstrudel and I can certainly bear witness to the quality of the local strudel. If you’re taking notes, the Gramai Alpe guest-house had the best Apfelstrudel.

However, I did discover that there is something better than Apfelstrudel on most menus - Topfenstrudel just like Apfelstrudel but filled with curd cheese and raisins.  If you're offered it, you should try it.

We spent a very pleasant week staying on the edge of the Achensee - and we certainly hadn’t run out of walks to do.  Next time I’ll want to go back for a bit longer, and it would be fun to go back in winter and to do some of the walks on cross-country skis.  

And I’m sure there are a few strudel-stops I missed on this visit. 

If you want to visit the Achensee (knowledge of the Chalet School is optional) - try InnTravel.

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