Located some 100km east of Innsbruck, the stunning Austrian town of Zell Am See stands at just 750 metres in the shadow of the Kitzbühel Alps. Lying right on the western shore of Lake Zell it is one of Austria’s most picturesque holiday destinations which attracts visitors all year round. It is particularly beautiful during the winter months when you can sometimes walk across the frozen lake staring in awe at the 3,203 metre Kitzsteinhorn mountain to the south. The medieval Old Town of Zell Am See is typically charming with the iconic church tower of St Hippolyte dominating the local skyline.
Winter in Zell am See
Standing at 1,965 metres the Schmittenhöhe Mountain has been the main ski area around Zell am See since 1927 when the first cable car was built here. The CityXpress Gondola is the best way to get up to the slopes as it leaves from the centre of town, alternatively you can go from the village of Schüttdorf which is about 3km to the south. There are some great blue and red runs up in the mountains with simply stunning views down to the lake but perhaps not enough to challenge advanced skiers.
Some winters you might find that due to Zell Am See’s low-altitude and mild temperatures there are a limited number of slopes open on the Schmittenhöhe. Not to worry, on such occasions skiers can simply head for the glacial ski area on the nearby Kitzsteinhorn which has snow cover for most of the year. This winter coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Kitzsteinhorn ski area there are new, high-tech lifts which allow skiers to access this top class Alpine ski area quicker than ever before. In total there is a skiable area of around 140km in these mountains, the ski pass covers all pistes and includes transport to the glacier ski area.
The Après Ski scene in town is lively enough with a good selection of bars, cafes and restaurants.
Summer in Zell am See
Around the world there are plenty ski resorts which reinvent themselves during the summer months to be centres of outdoor pursuits but few can be as attractive a destination as Zell am See. There’s enough going on in this Austrian wonderland to make it a popular summer holiday destination for many Austrian families and foreign visitors:
Take a Cruise on Lake Zell: Because the lake is freshwater the ferries from Zell Am See to Thumersbach are the only ones allowed to use fuel so electric powered boats are available for hire. This is a great way to explore this beautiful 4km long lake and admire the panoramic views all around. The water is usually cold but an afternoon swim on a sunny day is a delight. A number of scuba diving and water-ski schools operate out of town and around the lake.
Summer Bathing at a Lido: If you can’t cope with the thought of a cold water dip then head for one of the three solar-heated pools at Zell am See, Thumersbach or Seespitz. These areas have been well developed with various pools and slides available as well as other attractions such as mini-golf which make for a great day out.
Take a Cable Car up the Mountains: Once the skiers have left the cable cars are used to take visitors up the Schmittenhöhe from where you can see thirty mountain peaks above 3000 metres. There are many well marked hiking routes ranging from a 2km stroll to a major 25km hike. Drop into the very helpful tourist information office in the centre of Zell am See (Brucker Bundesstr. 1a) to find out which route is best suited to you. You can also take a cable car up to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier where it’s possible to ski or snowboard for most of the year or you can simply take a short hike and admire the breathtaking views.
Visit the Waterfalls in Krimml: Less than an hour’s drive from Zell am See are Europe’s highest waterfalls which are one of Austria’s most visited tourist attractions. Located in the spectacular Hohe Tauern National Park you can get to the top of the falls from the car park via a purpose built walking track. After seeing the waterfalls (especially if you’re travelling with children) you should visit the ‘Krimml Wonder World of Water’ which is a theme park dedicated to the wonders of water.
Wildlife Park Ferleiten: This wildlife park is located 20km south of Zell am See right next to the Großglockner Hochalpenstrasse toll booth station. It is home to more than 200 animals which are indigenous to the Alps including various deer, marmots, brown bears and wolves. The park is 15,000m² in size so the animals are living in their natural habitat. A well marked and accessible path through the park takes around an hour to get around without too much effort.
Play a Round of Golf: The Schmittenhöhe and Kitzsteinhornre are both 18 hole golf courses located in Zell am See which together with five more courses within a half hour drive make this the best places in the Alps to base yourself for a golfing holiday.
As well as offering all these outstanding activity options the town of Zell am See is also home to a number of major festivals during the summer months which helps ensure that there is a high demand for accommodation all year round. The Zell Summer Night Festival takes place on Wednesdays between July and August attracting a wide selection of talented artists and musicians whilst the Magic Lake Show on Thursday and Sunday nights between June and September is a spectacular water, light, music and laser show. It’s also hosts the Ironman World Championship which is a major triathlon event attracting athletes from around the world, this summer it takes place on August 30th.
Where to Stay
The main town of Zell am See and the surrounding areas have plenty hotels to choose from as well as a good selection of attractive guest houses. If you’d like to find somewhere special then look no further than the 5-star Hotel Salzburgerhof (Auerspergstraße 11) which is just a few minutes walk from the town centre. It offers beautiful mountain views, a wonderful spa and swimming pool as well as top notch dining in its restaurant. If you’d prefer views of the lake then you should consider the historic Grand Hotel Zell am See (Esplanade 4) which has stood on the lake shore since 1894. Another highly regarded option is the 4-star Hotel Berner (Nikolaus – Gassner – Promenade 1) which is also a short stroll from Zell am See’s old town but near the ski slope so you can ski in and out during the ski season.
The major international arrival point for visitors is Munich Airport which lies 210km to the north-west. It’s a pleasant 2½ drive along the A-8 motorway to get to Zell am See. Innsbruck Airport is nearer (150km west) and takes around 2¼ hours driving along the E-45 but there are far less flight options. The nearest airport of any size is Salzburg but this has the least international arrivals of the three airports. It lies just 75km to the north but the journey takes about 1¼ hours passing through a German border en route when taking the B-311. You can pre-arrange airport transfers from all these airports with specialist transfer company Shuttledirect. For an immediate quote take a look at their services and rates from Munich Airport.