This peppy town is the place to get high – a lofty 607m above sea level, to be precise.
Situated in the middle of the Leukental valley that stretches all the way from Jochberg to the Bavarian border, St Johann is one big playground. Whether you want to take a hike, cast yourself out of a plane or hit the slopes, it’s not the place to go to if you want to sit still, although breathing in the fresh mountain air is a thrill in itself. All you need to do is make up your mind about which activities tickle your fancy so you can visit at the right time of year.
With more than 8000 local residents and 4500 (often filled) guest beds, it’s the tourist centre of the St Johann in Tirol region (which includes four towns: St Johann, Oberndorf, Kirchdorf and Erpfendorf) and will be buzzing throughout the winter months with ski bunnies bobbing up and down the peaks like yo-yos.
If you’re looking for somewhere to learn, the slopes are relatively easy to navigate and free of ski-renegades. There are 17 cable cars and lifts, so it’s never too much of a crowded house. St Johann is also the start and finish point of the Koasalauf – Austria’s largest amateur cross-country skiing race held in February, which attracts some 2000 participants from 16 nations.
While you may not have heard much about St Johann in the Tirol region in the shadow of Vienna, Salzberg, and on a lesser scale Linz, it’s a great base destination from which to see these cities. Salzberg is only an hour away. Day trippers will also be pleased to know the German beer capital Munich is only 90 minutes away by bus (keep this in mind for Oktoberfest next year, as I learnt it’s nice to get away from the craziness at the end of a big day in the tents).
For all seasons
In the months when the region turns into a winter wonderland, there are things other than skiing and snowboarding to do, such as ice-skating, horse sleigh rides, tobogganing and snow-shoeing (walking along snow-covered paths with flipper-like snow shoes). There is also fun to be found in the summertime with activities such as hiking (keep an eye on where you’re going, though, because I ended up getting lost in a privately owned cornfield), cycling (there’s more than 200km of well-signed cycle paths, plus a collection of mountain bike trails) and horse trekking, or the more daredevil pursuits such as tandem paragliding and skydiving, river and white water rafting and canyoning on the river of the Tiroler Ache. See www.mountain-high.at for more details.
There are quite a few Aussies working in bars around St Johann and everyone knows how to kick up their heels and have a good time when the adventurous day is done. The famous Bunny’s Pub, which is owned and run by cheerful Australian couple Paul and Mandy, is often jumping, and regularly puts on live entertainment. While you’re there, ask for a ‘Red One’ (a vodka and raspberry cordial concoction), it seemed to be all the rage. If you get the chance, try making your way to some of the nearby beer halls in the Austrian Alps. Ask in pubs for some advice and direction. It’s no Munich, but the beer is still served in steins!
Take it easy
Take a few hours to stroll around the vibrant pedestrian zone in St Johann, which is brimming with clothing and souvenir shops and cafés and restaurants. The baroque parish church of Maria Himmelfahrt the Assumption, just off the main square, also rates a peep. The three other surrounding towns – Oberndorf, Kirchdorf and Erpfendorf – are worth checking out (on bike is the best way) and along many of the routes, you’ll find viewing platforms and picnic areas to chill out.
• Kim Smith travelled to St Johann with Bunny’s Pub on their Munich Beerfest and Austrian Alps Combo. Prices start from £149 and include return airport transfers, accommodation and transport to Munich. They also organise ski holidays. See www.bunnyspub.com.
Bonus points for: Fresh air
Loses marks for: Lack of cuisine options
Check out: www.stjohann.com