5 lakes 5 days
– A haven for wild swimming (as well as cycling and bike touring)
Fly to Saltzburg or Vienna to discover the magic of lake swimming in Austria. The Salzkammergut region in Austria is a must-visit for anyone vaguely into wild swimming and who appreciates the beauty and magic of the mountains. Pitch a tent, beg borrow or steal a VW camper, rent a caravan, or stay in an air BnB and you will tick the box of budget travel; without compromising too much on comfort and still guaranteeing a holiday of a lifetime.
Annual Swim adventure
My annual swim trip with my adventurer endurance pal Emma always guarantees a lot of swimming and a lot of laughter; and not much else. As soon as we inched closer to the mountains of the Salzkammergut region after a 4am wake up and 7am flight, excitement filled the air, well, car. Having spent half my life working in the mountains I am used to exploring mountainous scenery, but this was truly breathtaking and out of this world beautiful.
NB : …’see’ – means lake in German
Attersee is the largest lake in the region and Austria’s third-largest lake. I must confess this time we did not swim the whole length, and frankly, that idea seems completely ridiculous – not sure what got into us swimming the two biggest lakes in France last year!
It is a beautiful lake for a dip and sneaking onto private pontoons (rules are sometimes there to be broken right?!) and basking in the late afternoon sunshine.
Waking up for Sunrise is always worth it
Attersee was closest to our air bnb making it the ideal location for sunrise swims. I go through phases but more often than not I am an early riser. Currently 5:15am seems to be the average. Turns out my friend Megan who had driven from the Tirol region and was staying the night was also a fellow insomniac and also obsessed with sunrise and seizing the day. So off we went in her van. We found a farm track, which led us down to an apple orchard adjacent to the lake. It was definitely private, but who was going to know at this time in the morning right?! Due to not actually planning to swim and not wanting to faff around in the room we were still in our pjs with no towel or swim stuff; just cameras to catch the sun rising.
Tell you what, these Austrians know how to live.
No swimsuit; no worries. There is nothing more fun than running down a dock and star jumping or bombing into a glassy lake. Apart from doing it totally starkers. I am not a frequent skinny dipper; but this was a magical experience. There are not many situations or friends I would feel comfortable getting naked in front of, but the feeling of diving into the water with my naked bare skin was truly freeing. The fisherman nearby probably quite enjoyed it too! The only problem was getting out again was midgey central. But what a wonderful way to start the day.
The beauty of the area is the tranquility. There are not many bars or restaurants, but keep your eyes peeled and you will notice there is an abundance of roadside food trucks. Mei Essu – Dei Zeit was one such truck and open daily from midday to 7pm (apart from Wednesdays) and offered Asian dishes cooked right in front of your eyes using fresh ingredients. Vegan and veggie options were available and the portion sizes huge – perfect for fueling long swims and hikes. There were also lakeside trucks with cold meats and smoked fish, catering for all taste buds! So grab yourself a dish and go find a spot on the lake – take away with a difference and definitely the best kind I have ever had! Grease and stodge free!
Austria’s answer to France’s Lake Annecy
Wolfgangsee was not my favourite lake but I can understand why the hundreds flock here – perhaps exactly the reason I didn’t fall in love with it. Unlike the other lakes, Wolfgangsee felt very busy. Obviously, there is a reason to that – as Austria’s version of Annecy it is surrounded by mountainous scenery and has multiple water activities including boat trips and paddleboard hire on offer making it a popular holiday attraction.
Triathalon training heaven
I’m not sure if it was the turquoise water tempting me in, whether it just looked so swimmer friendly, the trail around the circumference or just the dense forest and mountains surrounding it, but this lake was my favourite.
Having only just started running again after a two year recovery period post foot operation, I have been building up slowly running between 2 and 8km once or twice a week, so the challenge of a swim-run enticed me into my tri suit (nb I have never even done a triathlon!) With a 1km swim across the lake and back I felt invigorated and excited to explore around the perimeter of the lake and check out the distance for a longer swim the following day. The trail twists turns and rolls through forests and clearings giving a virgin runner a beautiful 12km loop. Then to top it off there is a little pub selling delicious draft and bottle beers, and freshly caught smoked fish served with a slice of fresh sourdough to feast on and replenish lost salts. YUM. I returned the following day and solo swam the length of the lake and can confirm it is wonderfully swimmer friendly and safe. Only electric boats (of which there aren’t many) and slow speeds are allowed but I would still advise making sure you are well visible.
Schwarzensee – the black lake
As with the other lakes we visited, Schwarzensee is also car accessible but we decided to park up in Wolgangsee and go for a hike to get there. We had no idea where we wanted to go so looked at a map and saw a tiny little lake with a footpath leading to it. Ideal. Well, it would have been ideal if we had managed to find the dam path. Instead, we attacked the forest, or rather the forest attacked us, with its spikey horizontal branches adorned with spider webs. Remind me never to go on swimming trips to the rainforest – bugs and spiders are just not my thing.
After two hours (the hike should have taken one) we found a clearing and a view of the black lake below us. What a sight. It wasn’t that tiny either. I felt like I was in Canada. The only problem was the sheer drop to reach it. Backtrack another 30 minutes and finally, we found a track (private – ah well, seems to be a theme here!) and made it to the lake, where conveniently there was a restaurant serving local beer too. Result.
Despite being called the black lake. The temperature is warm and it feels magical. Unlike the other turquoise lakes throughout the region, the water in Schwarzensee is dark so you can’t see much underneath you; but it wasn’t scary, it was mesmerizing. If you swim across the lake there are plenty of rocks to jump off and feel 10 years old again!
This lake always looked perfect, no matter what time of day. Maybe we struck lucky but it always seemed glassy flat, crystal clear, turquoise blue and emerald green. The perfect place for a little dip before heading off back to the airport. It is easy to pull in to any layby, park up and jump straight in. For some reason, I had a mini panic right in the middle of the lake – without my tow float. A gentle reminder to always remain calm, and swim to shore if in doubt or feeling a bit dodgey. The only company we had on Mondsee was a lone paddleboarder, an elderly couple going for a canoe, and two ducks. Enough said.
Thanks to Emma, queen organiser, this was a trip on a shoestring budget, maybe a longish shoestring, but for £350 including car hire, accommodation, flights (7am Luton – Vienna, ouchy), food, and fuel, I would say that is pretty good going!
Sweaty Betty Swimsuit
Zone 3 tri suit
Threo crop top
FatFace denim shorts
Salomon vest x 2
Ignite vest top
Salomon trail shoes
sunnies (random French petrol station)
Nalgene 1Litre waterbottle
sundress x 1
Zone 3 wetsuit
Zone 3 tow float
Waterproof phone cover
Sea to Summit dry bag
Lulu Lemon leggings
Chilli lunch pot
all packed into a Lowe Alpine 35Litre rucksack stolen off my Mum, thanks Mummy! 🙂
Sometimes all you need is a great friend and a thirst for adventure, getting lost, laughing out loud, and feeling comfortable in silence.
Thank you Emma, until next time, xx