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Travel

Music in the mountains

Be it walking, cycling or riding a zipline, there's plenty to do in the Austrian resort of Schladming, as Clive Nicholls discovered

The air is filled with a wondrous sound as the orchestra fires up in the townsquare. Nearby a pop group bells out the best of Abba from another stage and in the distance I can hear a brass band wringing out every ounce of emotion form its saxophone line up.

This is he Long Night of Music in Schladming, nestling in the Austrian Alps and it's rather wonderful. Children dancing in the streets, an outdoor fashion show, dining al fresco and a feeling of warmth as locals and visitors alike come together to make the most of this unique experience.

In the winter Schladming is an international ski resort,iin the summer it's a great base for an activiy holiday and just a great place to be.

In the morning it's walking shoes on. I'm off to the Solktaler nature Park. The walking trails are clearly marked, generally easy and spectacularly beautiful. even on a slightly grey day the mountains, lakes and streams create a backdrop that's hard to beat.

The sound of running water and the soft clanging of cowbells add to, rather than invade the tranquillity and stopping off at a mountain lodge for coffee and buns completes my feeling of well being. In the Park there's an opportunity to try your hand at traditional skills and earn the Ennstal Hill Farm Diploma. 

This is light-hearted, good fun and not to be taken too seriously.

Skills include baking doughnuts, milking a cow (not a real one), sawing logs, identifying flora and fauna and cooking your own lunch with Styrian cheese. I mucked up on the lunch but others made a better fist of it. I think that the food that we created went to feed the animals and we were fed some that had been 'prepared earlier'.

My cow milking skills must have been good because despite my horrendous performance preparing lunch I still got my diploma- I think everyone does really.

On the way back to Schlamading I stop off at the Steiner 1888 Woolmill. The mill at the foot of the Dachstein Massif produces a wonderful soft material from the wool of the Tyrolean mountain sheep. The garments thta they make (and sell at the mil and in town) are of exceptional quality and definitely 'high-end' in terms of feel and price.

Next day I've got a treat in store- the largest zipline in Europe. More than a mile and a half long (in two sections) over 500ft above ground and dropping almost 2000ft, it is truly spectacular.

I collect my backpack from the base station, weighed and measured, I  join the shuttle bus to the top station at a it over 5000ft above sea level. Following instructions my back pack converts into a harness and a seat- yes, this must be the most comfortable sipline ever. the instructor checks me over and I'm readyfor hook-up. this is an amazing ride, you don't have to do anything, jsut sit there and the machinery will start you automatically and stop you at the bottom- enjoy the ride!

The acceleration is rapid as you drop off the edge of a cliff; it's very fast at 75mph but there's plenty of time to appreciate the experience without having to worry about hanging on and braking. This is ziplining made easy; it's adrenaline-pumping fast and furious yet somehow relaxing at the same time.

In the afternoon I'm cycling in the mountains. I go for the e-bike option (with a small electric motor to help on the hills); it makes a dramatic difference. Younger, fitter riders were struggling on the sloped yet I cruised past with a smile on my face.

Did I feel guilty? Yes. Did I switch off the power? No. I'm on holiday, not training for the Olympics, and for me the ride was for pleasure not pain and I really enjoyed myself/ The scenery was magnificent and around every bend there was another breathtaking view. Summer weather in the mountains can be unpredictable. i had one day when the weather was disappointing.

Using my Sommercard I took the cable car (the Dachstein Panorama) up to the Dachstein Glacier at about 9000ft. Unfortunately the mountain summit was shrouded in cloud. At the top, Austria's highest suspension bridge and the glass viewing platform would normally provide unrivalled views over dozens of miles and if you look down there's 1300ft of clear air to the face of the Dachstein Massif.

For me the mist was so dense I could hardly see my feet. It turns out that the days before and after my trip to the top were bright and sunny and the views were magnificent- some you win, some you lose.

The Ice Palace deep inside the glacier wasn't affected by the weather. The ice sculptures symbolise a journey though the region of Styria and, with the help of dramatic lighting, make an impressive show.

i didn't know if it was best to wait at the top to see if the weather cleared but it looked like it was set in for the day and it was a bit chilly so i took the gondola back down, braved the weather and set out on the 'Wild Waters' alpine walking trail up to the Riesach waterfall.

The weather took a turn for the worse but it didn't mater one bit; you can't let a touch of rain spoil your holiday.

By the time I reached the falls it was belting down, the spray form the waterfall added to my soaking but you know what, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

The thunderous roar from the falls, the spray, the rain, it was magnificent, nature at its best. My little waterproof camera recorded the scene. I was soaked but happy- I didn't leave until it was time to catch the last bus back to Schladming.

A shower, then time for more apple strudel and Austrian red. A perfect way to end my short break in Austria. I've loved mu time here, everyone is welcoming, the scenery is second to none, the town is beautiful, what more can you ask for?

I've never really got into winter sports, though I do tune into Ski Sunday, but after my visit I may just give it a try.

Schladming is wonderful in the summer, but a return tip in the winter- now wouldn't that be something!

What do you think to this? Have you visited Schladming? 

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