Van Life: Austria, Slovakia and Italy
Once we had finished in Slovenia, it was time to explore another new country for Tom, Betty and myself. We headed straight for Austria. It wasn’t that high on my list of places to see but I was fairly interested in seeing what Austrian van life had to offer before checking out Slovakia and Italy. We were a little worried about the van struggling to climb the inevitable mountains that would be scattered across the country. That night, we used our very handy park4night app to find the perfect little camp spot and had an afternoon snuggled up, listening to the rain on the roof and the river flowing gracefully next to us.
The next day we had a very slow morning, relaxing by the river. After way too long watching the clear water running through the river, I couldn’t bear the temptation any longer. I had to go in for a swim. We hadn’t seen anyone the whole time we were there, so we decided to go in naked and have a proper wash. Tom and I were busy frolicking around, laughing, dipping in and out of the cold water when all of a sudden a local lady with her two dogs walked around the corner and, much to her shock, found us butt ass naked. We both dove into the freezing water to cover ourselves up but she would have seen everything. Well, maybe not too much of Tom, it was very cold in there, making certain things a little harder to see from afar…
Van Life Austria: Weingutgrill Winery
Clean, fully clothed and with Tom’s body parts back to their usual size, we drove to our next stop, a farm in the wine region of eastern Austria.
We parked Betty up and enjoyed the afternoon relaxing at the Weingutgrill winery, tasting their homegrown wines with a cheese and meat platter. We then purchased 5 bottles (€9 each) and made dinner, half cut in the vineyard, watching an incredible sunset. This was another free camping spot we found on the park4night app and the women who run it were lovely. They allow you to stay there if you buy something from their restaurant. This is fairly common around Europe, you just have to know where to look and not be afraid to ask people if you can stay on their land, in the hope they’ll say yes.
Van Life Slovakia: Bratislava
When we woke the next morning, feeling a little seedy from our wine session, we replenished our wine stock at the winery and then all roads led to Slovakia, an unexpected destination on our van trip. We figured since we were so close, we might as well pop over to Bratislava, where we would treat ourselves to 2 nights in a hotel for Tom’s 28th birthday. After much deliberation swiping through photos on booking.com, looking for the nicest shower and comfiest bed, we booked The Loft Hotel Bratislava, which cost us €120 per night.
We were so excited to just park the van up, shower and go out for dinner, not looking filthy. Well, let me tell you, I’m glad we picked a comfy bed and nice toilet because we spent the next three nights confined to the room both tag teaming the toilet. We were so unwell. So, unfortunately we didn’t get to see everything Bratislava had to offer.
We did get to walk through the picturesque old town filled with busy restaurants and bars. We also went to visit the Presidential Gardens, which were directly next to our hotel.
Although we didn’t see much of Bratislava, I would absolutely love to go back. It was cheap and the town was lively and beautiful. It was such a shame we were so sick, but THANK GOD we didn’t get sick the night before, in the van. We were literally in the middle of Austria, with no toilet and we were both drunk so couldn’t drive anywhere. I honestly don’t know what we would have done. So, although poor Tom spent his birthday sick as a dog, at least we had a toilet at the hotel. Van life would not been pretty at all if we were sick with no toilet, shower or TV.
After 3 nights in Bratislava, we finally decided it was safe enough to leave the safety of our hotel. We drove straight to Vienna, where we enjoyed the day exploring the clean and decorative city streets. There’s an exceptional amount of beautiful architecture to see in Vienna. A few of the must-see sights we visited are Hofburg Palace, the gorgeous Belvedere Gardens and St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Once we worked up enough of an appetite, we decided to try and eat for the first time in days. No trip to Vienna is complete without a Weinerschnitzel and pork knuckle from a beer garden. The best one in Vienna is Schweizerhaus, located a 10 minute tram ride or 35 minute walk from the heart of the city. It was our first meal in days and bloody delicious. We weren’t quite feeling up to beers yet, but they looked like frothy, liquid gold begging to be drunk.
We finished our time in Vienna with a coffee at the oldest coffee house there, Cafe Central. Although it was on the expensive side, it was decorated wonderfully, with the best cakes and even a pianist playing classical music, just like the olden days. We had to line up to get in as it’s very popular but the line moved quickly and it was totally worth the wait. Later, we left Vienna to find somewhere out of the busy, loud and bright city streets to sleep the night.
Betty’s next stop was just the little town of Hallstatt. A picturesque and stunning town surrounded a lake and mountains. The town is absolutely gorgeous, with flowers weaving along all the buildings and all of them overlooking the glimmering lake. It got really busy around 10am, when all the tour buses started to arrive.
Early arrival is key to enjoying the town and making sure you get that all important Insta shot. Having your own car obviously allows you to arrive much earlier than any tours or public transport. Another benefit of van life travel!
Salzburg & Lake Wolfgang
The next day we drove to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart. We spent the day exploring the old town and multiple Christmas decor shops, which surely is every mum’s dream. Later that day, we went to Hangar 7, the Red Bull museum, which is free entry with free private parking. We spent the night parked up on a dead end road at Lake Wolfgang.
After a lovely sleep, with the rain falling onto the tin roof of our van, we woke up and started the morning with a skinny dip in clear and icy Lake Wolfgang, something that has weirdly become an obsession of ours in van life. We must be turning into full blown hippies or something. Thankfully we were unseen this time!
We then drove to the town of Innsbruck, where we spent the afternoon walking around the colourful streets of Innsbruck town and finished with a scrumptious Austrian meal at Stiftskeller. Online reviews were mixed but there was really homely food, fast service and reasonably cheap! Our bill came to €40 for a few beers, wines and two mains.
We spent that night parked in a residential area close to the city centre, which became very awkward when we had to find somewhere to wee before bed. It’s times like these, you really need a toilet in the van, especially as a girl.
The next day, we got on the road early and after 45 minutes of driving, we arrived at the Aqua Dome Wellness and Thermal Spa. We spent the day relaxing and swimming in the heated thermal baths. If you plan on going, it is fairly pricey, entry cost us €31.50 each, plus a €8 robe each. We also got lunch in there, which was €8 for a buffet style main meal.
I treated myself to a facial at their beauty spa, which cost €89 but was absolutely delightful. Van life has seriously interfered with my beauty regime, making it fairly non-existent. Even washing my face at night is an effort. So it was nice to be pampered. On the whole Aqua Dome was a little overrated. It was just like a public pool, which for me being a swim teacher, felt like being at work. But hey, at least we were clean and showered again for the week.
Zillertal Alps & the Olpererhütte Hike
That afternoon we drove 4 hours to the Zillertal Alps, a national park in southern Austria, where we spent a very chilly night up in the mountains of Austria. The next morning we reluctantly got out of bed, into the fresh morning air and started the Olpererhütte hike from Dornauberg car park up to Olpershutte hiking hut. We were meant to take the direct ascent route, taking 1.5 hours. After walking for 1 hour, we passed another hiker who said this trail was the longer route. It would take around 3 goddamn hours.
Now, people who know me know how much the thought of a hike sounds like hell to me, so agreeing to do even the 1.5 hour one was an achievement. But no, we’re bloody stuck smashing out this giant hike instead. I was not happy at all about this situation. However, after walking a whopping 2388 metres above the clouds and 3 hours later, we finally made it to the Olpererhütte hut for beers and the best pork schnitzel with cranberry sauce I’ve ever had. We then joined everyone else up the mountain to take some happy snaps on the suspension bridge, which dangles over a river bed nearby. I guess hiking isn’t so bed when it ends with such magnificent views and of course cold beers.
Van Life Italy: St Ulrich
The next morning, we woke up excited to start the day but dreading the drive down the steep hills we drove Betty up yesterday. We got into our girl and carefully crawled into the town of St Ulrich in Italy, where we swapped her wheels for a ride on the Seceda Gondola. It cost us €33 each, return. You can hike up the mountain, which takes around 3 hours, but it was slippery and raining so we went for the much easier chair lift option. Plus, one hike a year is enough for me.
Once we reached the top, we planted our feet 2300 metres up at Seceda, a ski field in winter but a beautiful hiking area in summer. The views alone were absolutely worth the money we paid for the gondola. We hiked around the steep hills, meeting the local cattle up there. Then, once we were sick of walking around in the 4 degree cold, we went for lunch at Sofia, a cosy Italian restaurant complete with its own fireplace. It was exactly what we needed to thaw out with a couple of glasses of wine. The food was to die for. We had the beef goulash and carbonara for lunch and a few drinks. This cost €65, so on the expensive side but definitely the nicest place on the mountain. This would be the perfect spot in winter when resting from a morning of skiing on the mountain.
Later, we made our way back into town. All we wanted was a hot shower. We asked at St Ulrich swimming pool and they allowed us to have a shower there for €5. This was totally worth the money after 5 days without a shower and a couple of hikes in between. We were more than overdue for a wash.
Milan & Lake Como
Feeling warm and clean, we jumped into Betty and made our way towards Milan, where we only spent a few hours as it didn’t feel super safe leaving the car alone there. We then finished our time in Italy in Lake Como, particularly in Bellagio which we loved. However, the roads around Lake Como were very thin and fairly worn. Not the most enjoyable of drives in a big van.
The time we spent in Austria was absolutely incredible. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, especially as it was never high on my list. There was so much to do, from hikes to thermal baths, remarkable scenery and delectable restaurants. All this making Austria probably my favourite spot of the whole trip.
As for Slovakia, I think another trip there has to be on the cards since we were so sick. From what we saw of it, I would be keen to go back and see what the rest of the country has to offer.
With only a few weeks of van life left, we left Italy and headed for Switzerland, somewhere I have always dreamt of visiting.
Until the next adventure…
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