Family Fun in the Mountains?
Text: Christian Thiele, Photos: Verena Kathrein
Lesson 1: Play is serious business
"Come on Stella. The hut is just up there. Let's get up and going again …" These are words that my daughter has become used to hearing every few minutes when we are in the mountains. Today, for a change, I promised myself things would be different: I would not utter those words even once. You see, today's walk is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. It's not about getting to a certain place at a certain time, but instead about spending time together, having fun and playing, playing, playing.
When out and about in the mountains with children, it is they who guide us and not us who guide them.
Today's crew is made up of Christiane (28), me (not 28), Stella (9) and Maxi (8). Maxi lives next door to us. He is Christiane's godchild and for us a little bit like another son – our own son felt too old and far too cool to come on a holiday like this. We are based near the Hintersteiner See, a mountain lake perched above the village of Scheffau at the foot of the Wilder Kaiser Mountains. The weather forecast for today is mixed: sun in the morning, storms in the afternoon – perfect for a family hike organised by the local tourism board and led by our friendly guide Sabrina.
Fun in the mountains means playing as well as walking.
Today's hike also contains a challenge. We – the 15 children plus parents taking part in the guided walk – have to find Rudi Rucksack. Throughout the day we will be playing games where both adults and kids win points – and these points can later be used to guess where Rudi Rucksack is hiding. We spend most of the day in the same area of the forest, but there are so many activities that the hours seem to pass like minutes. I guess time really does fly when you're enjoying yourself!
Time flies when you're enjoying yourself!
The weather forecast was right – in the afternoon storm clouds gather on the horizon and we have just enough time to pack everything away and hurry into the local café in Scheffau before the heavens open. The kids are grinning from ear to ear. "We played all day and climbed the Wilder Kaiser Mountains," beams Maxi. Climbed the mountains? Maybe not, but he is certainly right about the other thing!
Lesson 2: Sometimes, less is more
"We should never forget that walking in the mountains with kids is very different from walking with adults," explains Sabrina, who is a qualified hiking guide and herself a mother to two boys. She's right. I am sure we can all remember at least one occasion when we adults wanted to get to the top of this or that mountain or have lunch at a certain hut. Children, on the other hand, don't care much about those kinds of things. That is something we find out ourselves on day two of our holiday. Today we are joined by another guide, Elfie, on a walk taking us from the lake in Going via the Aschinger Kapelle chapel to Hüttlmoos.
It's the kids not the parents who dictate the tempo.
We are one of twelve families taking part in the walk. Some of them come from the south of Bavaria and are therefore used to the mountains – albeit different ones. Others are from the state of Lower Saxony in the far north of Germany, where the landscape is pancake-flat. They normally spend their holidays by the North Sea, but this year they have decided to try something different and have come to the Alps. And then there is one family from the city of Leipzig who simply love the long-running TV series "Der Bergdoktor", filmed on location here in the Wilder Kaiser Mountains, and are keen to see the spectacular landscape for themselves. Stella and Maxi are the oldest children in the group – and today they are also the slowest. Every few metres they find a new distraction such as wild strawberries, blackberries and blueberries that simply simply have to be eaten straight away. We may be the slowest, but nobody has a chance of beating us in the who-has-the-best-blue-tongue contest!
Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries - Stella and Maxi were the clear winners of the who-has-the-bluest-tongue competition!
Lesson 3: Take time to appreciate nature
"Look over here kids," says guide Elfie. "These plants are puzzlegrass – I suppose they were a bit like the Mars bars of their day for dinosaurs." As we make our way through the landscape, Elfie shares with us her knowledge about the flora and fauna native to Tirol. Not only her expertise but also her patience and ability to explain things in a fun, vivid way show that Elfie is certainly not out and about with youngsters for the first time. Stella is suitably impressed: "Dad, Stella knows everything. I want to be a guide when I grow up."
Guide Elfie tells the children about local plants such as puzzlegrass, field scabious and butterburs.
When we get to the lake Elfie sets her rucksack down, digs deep inside and pulls out a magnifying glass, a skimming net, little "nature passports" and, of course, of course, a few books to help work out what exactly they have found. We watch dragonflies dancing, marvel at a colony of tadpoles and learn about the lives of wood beetles. Stella and Maxi are proud as they tell Elfie that they already know how to tell a fir tree from a pine tree. At the end of the day we all – children and adults alike – learned a lot about plants and animals in the Alps. It gets me thinking. All too often we rush through life on a mission to get somewhere fast, but sometimes it's good to simply take your time to appreciate the wonders of Mother Nature.
Maxi is amazed how much nature has to offer.
"I liked the fact that we stopped so many times to sit down in the shade and rest," says Maxi in the evening. "My favourite bit was going on the zipwire again and again and again," says Stella.
Lesson 4: Discover your inner child
Heads, shoulders, hips and knees? Or was it head, hips, shoulders and knees? Local mascot Ritter Rüdiger is up on stage and has invited the children and adults in the audience to take part in a special dance. While the kids seem to have no problems whatsoever learning the moves, anyone over the age of 16 inevitably ends up looking like a badly coordinated hand puppet.
We are in the village of Going at a concert by the local band Bluatschink. Named after a legendary monster said to live in the Lech river, this group made its name in the 1990s with songs criticising the lederhosen-and-beer clichés that persist in Tirol until today. These days their repertoire is more family-oriented, with lots of songs inviting children and their parents to get up and dance along. Style and lyrics may have changed over the years, but one thing that has remained the same is their insistence on singing in local dialect.
Tired but happy faces at the concert by local band Bluatschink.
As the concert reaches its climax the sun slowly sets behind the Wilder Kaiser Mountains. Things don't get much more romantic – but the kids, of course, have no time for any of that. "Head, hips, shoulders, knees," they scream at the top of their lungs as they perform the moves in time with the music. A few fathers in the audience are brave enough to join – I guess the beer is starting to work. At the end of the evening we are all up on our feet chanting "En-core, en-core!". After the band have given us what we want, it's finally time for bed. Or is it? Who could sleep after a concert like that! Time to grab an ice cream...
Lesson 5: On hot days, head for the water
Trousers? Wet. Rucksack? Wet. T-shirt? Wet. Who cares? Not me! Today we are blessed with hot summer sunshine, so we have decided to make the most of it with a visit to the Hexenwasser water-themed adventure park in the mountains above Söll. This open-air plac area is home to all manner of games and activites based around water. Almost all of the infrastructure has been crafted from natural materials – mainly wood and stone – while the views of the Wilder Kaiser Mountains are just fabulous. There are so many things to choose from that kids don't know where to start – so they end up running from one activity to the next, wet from head to toe but as happy as can be.
The Hexenwasser water adventure world near Söll.
Water, we soon discover, is an element that can be experienced with all the senses. If you delve deep into the internet you may find academic papers by psychologists explaining that our love of water can be traced back to our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors and their fight for survival. All I know is that kids simply love getting wet on days like today, when the sun is baking down and everyone is grateful for a little refreshment. After all that action and adventure we (the parents) sit down in the shade for a few minutes of rest and relaxation. The kids, on the other hand, can't sit still for more than ten seconds and are soon off to the next activity, making bread. After mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and wrapping it around a stick, each child gets to hold it in the fire for just the right amount of time to bake the perfect "stick bread". "This is the best bread I have ever eaten," says Maxi. "Can I have this in my lunchbox at school too?" Hmm, let's see ...
Baking homemade bread over an open fire.
The kids have been great all holiday. Not once have they never moaned about the early starts or the long days in the mountains. I promised my daughter Stella I wouldn't say anything about the swimming lake in Going, but before I sign off I simply have to. Amazing scenery, clean water, chips to die for and a cool super-wide slide perfect for fathers who want to race their daughters. Thank you Wilder Kaiser, it was a blast. We'll be back...
Water lot of fun! Stella and Christian enjoy the super-wide slide.
Activities in the Wilder Kaiser Mountains
Moorland walks, outdoor adventure areas, treasure hunts, pony-riding, guided hikes, etc. The six outdoor adventure worlds in the Wilder Kaiser Mountains offer fun for all ages and interests. For more information visit www.wilderkaiser.info