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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

Still Waters, Steep Walls: Family Holidays at Plansee Lake

Updated on 10.07.2020 in Family


Tirol has more to offer than "just" mountains. The region is home to many gorgeous lakes, including the turquoise Plansee. This body of water, the second-largest in Tirol, is ideal for family adventures together in a canoe – no experience required.

Experienced hikers know that when in the mountains you have to be ready for anything: sudden storms, freezing temperatures, gentle trails which suddenly turn into exposed ridges. That may well be true, but holidays in Tirol don’t always have to be about pushing the limits.

For example, they can be about trying out something new. That is the case for me on my holiday at the beautiful Plansee, the second-largest lake in Tirol. Mountain storms and sudden snowfalls feel about a million miles away as I push our canoe out onto the water in the early morning and gently paddle away from the Caribbean-like turquoise shore into the deeper blue. The mountains are still there, of course, but they seem more like a painting by Monet or Caspar David Friedrich – the opposite of moody and dangerous.


Caribbean or Tirol? Family holiday on the Plansee lake near Reutte.Caribbean or Tirol? Family holiday on the Plansee lake near Reutte.

We are setting off on a family adventure. Over the next three days we plan to cross the Plansee lake using a canoe, searching out quiet bays along the way and enjoying the landscape at a more sedate pace. On board we have everything we need, including a gas cooker, a tent, salami, cheese and plenty of red wine. And, of course, my two daughters.

That moment of shock, a feeling you only experience in the mountains.

They are sitting in front of me on two wooden benches in the middle of the boat. One is four, the other is six. Both are good swimmers. We are paddling along and enjoying the silence when, all of a sudden, I experience a brief moment of shock, a feeling you only experience in the mountains. Vertigo. On the water.

„It’s pretty deep here,“ I say to my partner sitting at the front of the boat. „Yeah, the water is so clear,“ says Lyn and plunges her paddle back in. I gaze down and can see the bottom of the lake, probably at least 20 metres below, dotted with rocks and plants. Maybe we should stop and check the life jackets one more time. Just to be sure. After a quick pause to make sure everything is done up tight, we see a fish swim alongside our boat. It looks too big to be a vendace or a brown trout, the two most common species of fish here.

The kids rush to the edge of the canoe and point excitedly to the water. The boat lurches to the side but thankfully remains the right way up – capsizing wouldn’t be much fun, especially at this time of year in early summer when the water is a cool 15°C. In the height of summer it can reach 20°C. Nevertheless, having a solid, stable boat is definitely a must on this kind of holiday.

No hiking boots, no mountain bikes, no touring skis. This holiday is all about the water.No hiking boots, no mountain bikes, no touring skis. This holiday is all about the water.

To be honest, I’m not much of an expert on boats. I know there’s a difference between a kayak and a canoe, but right now I can’t realy remember what it is. I reassure myself that I’m not the only one. My previous experience of the mountains has been more conventional: walking, hiking, skiing and biking. Mountain huts and hearty meals.

But that’s the great thing about family holidays: it gives you the chance to try out something new. Instead of forcing your kids to do exactly what you had to when you were young, why not let them show you a new side to Tirol?

For many Tiroleans this summer seems perfect to discover the beauty of our home region.

As we carried our boat from the Campingplatz Seespitze campsite a few metres down to the lake, we met two gravel bikers from Innsbruck. They were a friendly couple who had also decided to try out something new this year: riding around the Plansee lake together. We used the opportunity to ask about the best spots to stop. „No idea,“ they laughed. „It’s our first time here. People from Innsbruck don’t tend to come to this part of Tirol. We spend more of our time in the Stubai Alps.“ This summer seems for many Tiroleans to be the perfect opportunity to discover the beauty of our home region. Whoever you meet, everyone seems to be enjoying the feeling of being out and about, breathing in the fresh air and embracing their new-found freedom.

The Plansee is Tirol’s second-largest lake after the Achensee.The Plansee is Tirol’s second-largest lake after the Achensee.

Tirol’s second-largest lake covers an area the equivalent of 480 football pitches. That makes it big but still small enough to ride around in one day – or explore by boat for several days. Our base camp is the Campingplatz Seespitze, a campsite on the shore of the lake with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains in the southern Ammergau Alps. It is easily accessible from both the nearby town of Reutte and the twisting mountain road from Oberammergau over the border in Germany.

We leave the campsite behind, heading east into the morning sun – and towards the spectacular rock faces which tower high above the deep blue water. It feels like we are exploring one of Canada’s Great Lakes or a mighty fjord on the wild and rugged western coast of Norway.

Gym, dining room, diving board: a canoe serves many purposes on holiday.Gym, dining room, diving board: a canoe serves many purposes on holiday.

A canoe offers a number of benefits for family holidays. First and foremost: there’s no danger of losing anyone. We are all here together on a few square feet of inflatable rubber, transformed from a limp red shell to a lake-ready vessel in just three minutes thanks to a special pump. Despite appearances, the boat is surprisingly roomy and comfortable. Our „Adventure SL“ serves us not only as a means of transport but also as a mobile dining room and, of course, a floating diving board for the kids. We have everything we need, including four padles, a pump, waterproof bags for our clothes and food, plenty of picnic goodies and even a coffee machine for a quick espresso. The canoe can hold up to 500 kilos. We are travelling light, so that means plenty of leg room for everyone.

Sometimes it’s good to do nothing.Sometimes it’s good to do nothing.

As we round the first wooded peninsula jutting into the water, we adults are surprised by how steep the rock faces at the foot of the Plattberg mountain are. The kids have spotted a branch floating on the water. „Is that a crocodile?“ asks the younger of the two. „Maybe,“ I murmur. The next few hours are spent spotting all manner of weird and wonderful animals in the water as we progress towards our destination. A friendly family of wild ducks even pays us a visit, much to the delight of the girls.

Time for a break. We are only allowed to leave again once the ducks have waddled off into the grass on the edge of the lake. For my partner and me, it’s all about the peace and quiet. For our daughters, it’s one huge adventure. Whatever floats your boat.

For my partner and me, it’s all about the peace and quiet. For our daughters, it’s one huge adventure.For my partner and me, it’s all about the peace and quiet. For our daughters, it’s one huge adventure.

As midday arrives, the wind becomes stronger. This is a common phenomenon on the Plansee lake: as temperatures rise in the valley, air is forced up towards the mountains and through the narrow gap in the peaks towards the lake. Soon, small waves lap against the side of our boat. It is little wonder that windsurfers and sailing enthusiasts come here from early afternoon to make the most of the conditions. I, on the other hand, am a little nervous considering the fact I am out here with the family and not exactly what you would call an experienced seafarer.

The alpine microclimate found at mountain lakes is ideal for families.

Howver, my worries soon disapper as we make good progress back towards the campsite, despite a strong headwind. A good canoe, it turns out, glides surprisingly quickly over the water even in choppy conditions – especially if the kids get stuck in with their paddles. As we glide back towards our base camp, I realise that the alpine microclimate found at lakes is ideal for families.

When it comes to family holidays the most important thing is patience – a mantra which applies to life with kids in general. In the morning, when the children are up far too early again (in our case at about 5:30, just after sunrise), there is plenty of time for breakfast and an early start on the water. Around lunchtime, as the wind gets stronger, we stop at a quiet bay protected from the breeze and make ourselves a picnic with fried eggs and fresh coffee before heading out into the surrounding meadows to search for flowers – until the wind dies down, the waves disappear and we can paddle back to the campsite with the sun in our faces.

Picnic by the lake.Picnic by the lake.

Pretty much the perfect holiday.

When, in the evenings, the kids have finally gone to bed, we sit down together and watch the final rays of sunshine disappear behind the mountains as the electric-powered fishing boats silently glide back to the shore. Silence reigns supreme. An alpine still-life, but different from those we are used to. We both gently massage our upper arms, tired from a day of paddling, as we lie back in our camping chairs and enjoy the flickering candle on the table between us. It is, we agree, pretty much the perfect holiday.

Early the next morning we head off towards another lake, the Hinteranger See. It is connected to the Plansee by a small canal. With ten kilometres of paddling ahead of us, we make a brisk start as we pass under an old wooden bridge. Instead of stopping, we decide this time to eat in the boat and use the wooden seats normally occupied by the kids as a makeshift table. As we reach the Hinteranger See we see a huge swathe of stone and rock stretching from the mountain slopes down into the lake, showing the power of nature when in spring the snow melts and water rushes down into the lake. Now, in early summer, all is calm. It is the perfect spot to stop for a well-deserved break while the girls head out and explore.

Spending a holiday crammed together on a canoe doubles up as relationship therapy.

„Are you even paddling,“ asks Lyn. „Sure I am, but you’re paddling too fast,“ I reply. „If you keep paddling like that then we will end up going round in circles,“ she shoots back. „Well then start paddling in rhythm with me!“ This is a conversation we seem to have every 20 minutes on board. Spending a holiday crammed together on a canoe, I soon realise, doubles up as relationship therapy.

The adventure comes to an end.The adventure comes to an end.

A good alternative is to outsource the work to your kids and get them to count slowly and steadily out loud: one, two, three. All Mum and Dad then need do is stay on beat. On our final day we decide to leave the boat on the shore and simply spend a classic day by the lake. We had originally planned to paddle all the way to the north-eastern part, but that’s not so important now. As the holiday draws to a close, we are in agreement that there is much more to Tirol than just mountains. How refreshing.

Jan Kirsten Biener was on skis and snowboard as a juvenile, and really anything ski related always came naturally to him. Today, he is a passionate and ambitious backcountry skier and road cyclist. He is working as a freelance journalist in Munich, Germany.

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8 min reading time
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