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Lunch at an Alm and Carry On

It was one of those moments on a hike that lives long in the memory. The morning had dawned grey and wet. The mountains across the valley from our hotel in Austria's Salzburgerland were obscured by a low fringe of thick cloud. We donned waterproofs - jackets and over trousers - in anticipation of a losing battle to keep out the rain. But after perhaps an hour slogging uphill there came a sense, barely perceptible, that the weather was changing. Beads of water on the ferns and overhanging pines began to glisten. We could hear the cattle long before we could see them, the melodic bells, the champing of grass. Then, suddenly, the cloud evaporated. The Alpine landscape was bathed in a soft, diffused light, brightening to sharp sunlight. Ahead of us stretched the imposing grey rampart of the Mandelwand and its highest summit, the Hochkonig.

We walked on for lunch at the Arthurhaus, a restaurant where German officers had sought refuge as the Seconnd World War drew to its conclusion and where, while skiing some decades earlier, I had heard the resident dog hold its daily conversation with an echo from the mountains above. The Arthurhaus is one of the largest of a string of Almen, usually small eateries along the trail, mostly run by farmers whose cows, for example, provide milk for the cheese. There you may sit at an outside table and recharge the batteries with Gulaschsuppe or perhaps a Brettlejause - cold cuts, cheese and gherkin,served on a wooden board - and a beer.

There are so many of these huts that is easy to plan a walk around them. Star hike that week was from the Dientner Sattel (saddle) back to our hotel above the resort of Muhlbach in Austria's Salzburg province. We caught the bus to the start of the route, climbing first to an Alm, the Erichhutte, lingering over coffee on a sunny terrace overlooking the valley.

A little later than anticipated after that indulgence we struck out on a path which followed the contour at the foot of the mountain wall, crossing an occasional chaos of scree and always with superb views to our right, until it was time to troop down over grassy meadows for lunch at yet another Alm. There was more of the same terrain in the afternoon - until it was time to turn off and head down a narrow and traffic free road towards our hotel, the lovely, family run Bregheimat, a short drive or bus ride up the mountain from the ski resort of Mühlbach am Hochkönig.

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