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ZELL AM SEE

Imagine a postcard pretty, traditional Austrian town. Now place it by a crystal clear lake with a backdrop of inspiring mountains… is your image iced over like a Christmas cake or one of trees and lush green Alpine scenery? Either way, it will resemble the beauty spot of Zell am See, which means Zell by the lake and which attracts visitors year round.

With so much natural beauty, the former market village – that became capital of the region that shares its name in 1928 – has obvious charms and with its activities, festivities, exhibitions, fireworks, markets, concerts, sporting competitions and diverse events, the ‘what to do and see’ calendar for both the town and surrounding area is rarely blank.

Skiers can ski here year round, thanks to the ‘eternal ice’ of the nearby Kitzsteinhorn glacier, but you do not have to ski or even be sporty to enjoy much that is on offer – and that includes the peace and seclusion that can be found and abundant healthy air, with the place deemed a ‘climatic spa’ since 1961. Even the water in the lake is of drinkable purity!

Water, ice and snow provide dazzling opportunities, with sailing, fishing and boat excursions on the lake, swimming, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, forest trails, canyoning and rafting in the nearby rivers, to name a few. However, a gentle stroll along the lakeside path, drinking in those amazing views, is something everyone can enjoy at any time of year with the elegant, belle époque style Grand Hotel, an imposing feature.

Zell am See leisure centre offers a 25-metre sports swimming pool, waterslide and diving platforms, along with an ice rink that is also used by the city’s ice hockey team, should outside weather be too inclement for your liking. There are also lots of attractive restaurants, cafes and compact parades of shops, as well as a weekly market. The local church of St Hippolyte contains statues from the 15th century and a famous elevated walkway, built in 1514, which rests on carved marble columns.

Pull on a pair of hiking boots to take full advantage of the spectacular scenery and hike to Sigmund Thun Gorge (reopened May 2012 and offering a ‘mystical’ evening guided tour by torchlight during July and August). A pathway of wooden steps winds around this dramatic corridor, which was carved by a melting glacier 14,000 years ago. It’s just one of many places of interest close to Zell am See, including on its outskirts the 2,000 metre Schmittenhöhe, a renowned summer and winter playground with 77km of primed ski slopes and Nordic walking, hang-gliding and paragliding.

Lying at 2,500 feet altitude, Zell am See has approximately 10,000 inhabitants and is considered to be a jewel among Austria’s most attractive Alpine towns, hosting numerous cultural and a variety of sporting events.

It is just 8km from the Alpine Centre, with a regular bus service plying to and from, and you will certainly want to add it to your holiday itinerary.