The pretty town of Lech may look like a traditional Alpine village – with its cute onion-domed church and cluster of cottages and cosy hotels along a fast-flowing stream.

But this princess of mountain resorts is among Europe’s most exclusive, catering to film stars and royals.

Princess Diana stayed here as did Princess Caroline of Monaco, King Hussein of Jordan, Queen Beatrix of Holland and fun loving blue-blooded types from around the world. Even Vladimir Putin is reported to have a soft spot for this unassuming spot, lost in the vast Vorarlberg.

Yet instead of gaudy boutiques selling flash watches and fur coats there are homely inns, bakeries and good honest mountain outfitters – backed by jagged mountains, topped with snow and ice, even in mid-summer.

And that’s why I was there.

While Lech already has a reputation for superlative skiing, with enthusiasts making the pilgrimage to complete its famous White Ring – a 22 km circuit with a total of 5,439 meters of altitude – I was heading out of, and above the town to do the same thing, more or less, but on foot.

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The Green Ring loops around Lech, taking in majestic mountain tops affording views over seemingly endless ridges of peaks. The hiking is among the best in the world – yet we were completely alone.

We started in the impossibly lovely village of Zug – a miniature Lech with church, stream, simple cafe and herd of Alpine cows. From there it was a steep climb up through forests to above the treeline.

Along the way, we spied wooden carvings of fairies and tree spirits, ogres and monsters: a surreal open air gallery of the woodcutter’s art.

With every turn fresh vistas opened up of distant peaks, until, at the top, we paused beside a wrought iron cross, emptied water bottles down our parched throats and gasped.

This must look lovely on skis, but in summer, with the mountains a vivid green, glimmers of glacial lakes and cloud shadows racing along the valley sides it was a near religious experience.

That playful Austrian sense of humour and love of the surreal was never far away, however. On one mountain top we came across a wooden door in a frame – with nothing else around. It led to nowhere, or everywhere, depending on your perspective. A sign on the door read ‘frei’ – free!

We broke our hike in a mountain hut. Not just any hut though. The Kriegeralpe (kriegeralpe.com/de/) is a sleek stripped pine longhouse housing an elegant restaurant serving traditional, and hearty mountain fare with a contemporary twist. The burgers were incredible – as was the crisp white Austrian wine – though made getting up to finish the walk back to town a bit of an effort.

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There was equally dramatic hiking to be done the next day, on the legendary Eagle’s Trail, out of the Vorarlberg, past Innsbruck and into the heart of the rugged Tirol.

Here we tackled the second stage of the 256-mile high Alpine walk which spans the Tirol. Like the Green Ring, the views are outstanding and the heights impressive, but only requires a stout pair of boots and a bit of willpower – no crampons or ropes.

The route, made up of 33 stages takes the shape of an eagle with its wings stretched out – hence its name. Though it also gives a bird-like perspective on the valleys and mountainsides.

Serious walkers can tackle the Eagle Trail in either one or two stretches: a 24-day walk through the North Tirol or a nine-day stroll between Austria’s highest mountains – the Grossglockner and the Grossvenediger. Or you could do both, of course.

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Basing ourself at the traditional Sporthotel in Ellmau, we set off in steady rain to tackle the section of the trail along the famous Wilder Kaiser mountains – which tower above the valley.

Sheltered from the rain in by by the dwarf pines and beech trees of the thick forest, we scrambled over rocks and emerged exhausted above the cloud, watching as the fog cleared to reveal views over lime-green pastures.

We rested in a mountain hut, feasting on cured meat, strong local cheese and, best of all, Kaiserschmarrn – a shredded pancake, served to share on a platter half the size of a table, coated in icing sugar and served with a sweet lingonberry sauce – all washed down with yet more of that great wine.

It was even harder to move after that than ever, but we weren’t going to get down without pulling on our boots and hitting the trail.

At least it was all downhill!

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Surprising Salzburg bursts with the Sound of Music

FEW cities have played such a pivotal role in world culture as beautiful Salzburg.

Backed by the ‘Stadtberge’ city hills, Salzburg seems to rise from the rocky landscape – almost a work of nature as man.

From afar, its skyline is a riot of spires and domes – each tower seemingly trying to outdo its neighbour. The mass of baroque and renaissance ecclesiastical architecture bears witness to its importance as a religious centre and capital of music.

Music comes from every pore – or at least street, courtyard and cloister.

We know it as the home of the Von Trapp family and the setting for movie The Sound of Music. Famously, the city is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . His old home can be visited, in a rather grand townhouse above, touchingly, a Spar shop.

Salzburgers are proud of Mozart and it’s impossible to avoid his ghost. Or his balls. The most popular – and tastiest – souvenir in town, the Mozart Ball or ‘Mozartkugel’ is a sphere of dark chocolate containing pistachio, marzipan and nougat. There are rivals to the title of best ball, but consensus has it that the finest are those perfected by Paul Fürst in 1890, and still sold at the Café Konditorei Fürst in Brodgasse.

The only way to discover this fairytale-like city is by foot. But be prepared to climb. The best views are from the Hohensalzburg Fortress above the city. And it pays to escape the crowds by wandering its lanes, taking in such unexpected sights as the grand Mirabellgarten and the spooky catacombs and cemetery of St. Peter’s Monastery – with its carved skulls.

Salzburg never ceases to surprise.

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The facts:

INFORMATION:

  • For more on travelling in Austria go to austria.info/uk
  • For info on hiking around Lech see lech-zuers.at
  • For the Tirol see visittirol.co.uk.

STAY:

  • Hittisau:

Hotel Gasthof Krone

Am Platz 185, 6952 Hittisau

T +43 5513 6201

krone-hittisau.at

  • Ellmau:

Sporthotel Ellmau

Dorf 50, 6352 Ellmau am Wilden Kaiser

sporthotel-ellmau.com/en/hotel.html

EAT:

  • Waldhof Resort

Schwarzach 3, 6351 Scheffau

waldhof-kulinarik.at/

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