Arrival in Obergurgl

Dear Readers, after a one and a half hour delay on our outward bound flight to Innsbruck (the incoming flight was from Paris and as we know, France is having a few problems at the moment) it was such a delight to get through customs, bag retrieval and transfer to Obergurgl. Incidentally, if you are ever travelling by Easyjet avoid the middle seats if you fancy a snack (round about rows 17-19) – for the second time running, by the time the trollies get to the middle of the plane there is nothing left but Pringles. There are worst fates than Pringles, of course, and all the sensible people had bought food beforehand (including an ill-advised tuna and chickpea salad).

I was a bit worried about how getting through passport control would go, now that we’re no longer part of Europe, but on this trip at least there were plenty of border guards, and I now have the requisite stamp in my passport to make sure that I don’t stay for more than ninety days. And the baggage sailed into view, unlike our last but one visit when John’s luggage stayed firmly in Gatwick.

We are staying at the Hotel Olympia – we used to stay here until, in 2013, they decided that they would take the summers off and do some renovation, and who could blame them? However, there seems to be a concerted effort to turn Obergurgl back into a summer resort. We talked to Evie, one of the owners of the hotel, and were impressed by how much effort she was putting into making the place more climate-friendly. For one thing, she is trying to reduce plastic use at breakfast, so there are some very neat jam machines instead of the usual endless little plastic packages, and she is serving yoghurt in re-usable glass jars instead of plastic tubs.

It has been very hard for all the hotels here: first there was Covid, then in 2021 the whole village was cut off for the whole early part of the summer by a landslide, which meant that all the food and medications for the villagers had to be brought in by helicopter. And until Monday we are the only guests at the hotel. I do hope that some more people turn up soon, lovely as it is to be so spoiled. In all my years of travel, I have never had a hotel to myself.

Anyhow, what is wonderful is that there appears, finally, to be no major building work anywhere in the village, after years of cranes and pile-drivers and earth-movers and, on one stay, dynamite which was being used to create an underground car park for all the skiers. No one can say that the villagers of Obergurgl aren’t keen to maximise on their undoubted advantages – the place is renowned for family skiing (lots of gentle slopes for children and beginners) along with some very challenging runs for the more daring amongst us. Me, I just love walking in the mountains rather than zipping down them, but each to their own.

Much of the building work last time related to the demolition of the old ‘town hall’ and the creation of a new, much bigger one, that would be used to host conventions and conferences – Obergurgl is a centre for glaciation studies as you might expect, what with the glaciers visibly vanishing during the time that I’ve been visiting (my first visit was probably around 1994). The new place looks very modern, but we’ll visit tomorrow to see the presentation about Obergurgl through the seasons that we’ve been to see every year. It was always hosted by Michael, the village walking guide, and his Dad Albert, and we saw them both today, not looking a day older in spite of us not having been here since 2019. I wish we could say the same for us.

The Gurgl Carat, the new ‘town hall’

In front of it is the memorial to balloonists Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer, and their rescuer, Hans Falkner, who organised the retrieval of the scientists after the balloon  crash landed on the Gurgler Ferner glacier in 1931. The balloon had reached a height of 15,785 metres, the very edge of the stratosphere, an amazing accomplishment. and the rescue suddenly put Obergurgl ‘on the map’.

Photo Anton-kurt, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

I have to share this photo of Piccard and Kipfer before their historic flight, if only for their improvised crash helmets. They were both extremely brave, and Piccard went on to design the bathyscope for underwater exploration. He was clearly an innovative inventor.

Piccard and Kipfer beside the balloon which would take them to the edge of the stratosphere.

Last time we were here, the church spire had taken a knock from one of the cranes, but it looks nicely repaired now.

Anyhow, we headed up to the Hohe Mut via the cable car (no point in getting too ambitious on Day One) and spotted a pair of marmots grazing alongside one of the paths. It looks as if the plants are a few weeks behind where they usually are – the Alpenroses (a kind of azalea) are only just coming into bloom, and I suspect the marmots are just waking up from their hibernation and are hungry. I didn’t get a photo of them this time, but I will see what I can do later in the week.

It was cloudy at the Hohe Mut, but look at these fantastic golden retrievers.

And we bumped into two friends that we hadn’t seen since 2018, G and D – they both look well but have both suffered health challenges and the loss of people dear to them since we saw them, as have we of course. It was lovely to see them looking so well now, and we agreed that there is something about this little mountain village that seems to get under your skin – like us, they had visited other places in the Alps, but nowhere seems to tick all the boxes like Obergurgl.

A view along the Rotmoos Valley from the Hohe Mut.

It’s always a bit strange taking the first cable car of the holiday – they are so quiet, and there you are, dangling above a precipitous drop with lots of lovely hard rocks below. It’s even more fun if it’s windy. But once the first trip is out of the way, it seems to just come naturally.

Heading back down from the Hohe Mut

I was a little worried that the meadows, such a high point for me (no pun intended) would already have been mown, as they had been further down the valley, but they are currently splendid, so biodiverse and so full of bees, butterflies and various other pollinators. Here’s a small selection of photos.

Melancholy thistle

Hemp agrimony

Red and white clover

Yellow rattle (important for reducing the fertility of a meadow and so keeping the perennial ‘weeds’ such as dock and thistle under control)

Some kind of yellow compositae (possibly hawkbit/catsear)

Field scabious

Early Marsh Orchid (I think)

Meadow bistort (Bistorta officinalis)

Red campion

And of course, it wouldn’t be Obergurgl without some Tyrolean Grey Cattle. The older calves have been separated from their mothers, but are far from being newborns – I hope that they have a lot more time with their parent than calves in more intensive systems have.

And so, after an easy first day involving Radler (shandy to you and me) and some Tyrolean  spinach and cheese ravioli, it’s home for a rest. I can’t believe that we’re finally here, and yet it feels as if we’ve never been away.

2 thoughts on “Arrival in Obergurgl

  1. sllgatsby

    Exactly how I felt when we were able to visit England again this spring after not coming since 2019; it was like we’d never been away, but also like we’d missed so much! Truly, Covid will be remembered as The Lost Years.


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