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Hotel Alpenhof at MariasteinA 10-day budget-priced coach holiday by Consort Travel to the Tyrol opened up six days of sightseeing in Austria's most scenic region for Reg Butler.  

Our base was the 3-star family Hotel Alpenhof in a valley where every house was built to a cuckoo-clock design. The 50-bed guest-house - founded three generations ago in 1902 - was built in traditional style, but modernised.

Just big enough for a 48-passenger coach group, the hotel worked on house-party lines. The hostess Marga Schnellrieter served drinks and joined in the evening social life, while husband Alois looked after the kitchen. 

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The tour price includes local pickup by 'feeder' coach.

In winter, the Alpenhof Hotel switches to family-style all- inclusive holidays, with daily shuttles available to the major Brixental ski area around 15 minutes away. 

Drivers are not tour guides, so it's worth packing a guidebook for more in-depth information; and a good map for following the route. 

I used Michelin's superb Green Guide to Austria - which I bought online from Amazon. 

At a German motorway stop I bought  the "Tirol Vorarlberg" road-map published by Falk. 

Download a PDF version of the latest Consort Travel brochure or get one by post by telephoning 0844 844 0470.

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On our first morning, Marga walked us round the village to wooded hillside viewpoints that overlooked meadows and across to peaks of the Kaisergebirge mountain range.

Mariastein village originally lived off forestry and dairy business. History revolved around the 14th-century Mariastein Castle which doubled as a pilgrimage site, thanks to a medieval chapel with a revered Madonna and Child sculpture. Perched on a precipitous rock, the castle was worth the climb. 

The valley gave easy access to the regional highlights, but was enough off-trail to be totally free of mass tourism, souvenir stores, discos and taverns. 

The nearest town was Kufstein, with a massive fortress looming above the fast-flowing River Inn. It's one of the easiest gateways between Germany and Austria. 

An afternoon visit introduced us to the colourful Tyrolean town architecture. Numerous cafe-restaurants on the main square gave the chance of sampling gourmet grub like sausage with mustard and sauerkraut, or perhaps an apple strudel. 
In the main tourist street of Kitzbuehel
Two whole-day excursions were included, while three whole-day trips and the Kufstein afternoon were optional extras. 

In Austria the green valleys are the product of frequent rain, and Salzburg was a wash-out. Buskers sheltering under arches cheered us up with Mozart violin sonatas. I dodged some of the deluge by climbing up to Mozart's third-floor birthplace at no. 9 Getreidegasse, the main shopping street.

The only consolation was that anyway Salzburg is not in the Tyrol.

A journey to Innsbruck and over the Brenner Pass to Vipiteno in the Italian Tyrol gave us hot sunshine. In these towns, tourism was in full lively swing with every imaginable giftware store, pavement cafes and restaurants of all grades.

They were also a joy for owners of a digital camera. Just point and shoot in every direction without having to count the cost of film, and there's another historical or colourful scene on disk.

In the village of AlpbachBut for Tyrolean village pictures, top marks went to the mountain resort of Alpbach. At the car park, a stone-carved monument testified that Alpbach had been voted Austria's most beautiful village, and also Europe's best for floral decoration.

The parish church with a pointed green spire added to the scenic beauty, against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. The same day we visited Achensee, the highest lake in the Tyrol, and enjoyed a 45-minute boat cruise.

Even better for lake scenery was Zell am See, reached via glorious mountain scenery. A railway line protects the silent blue lake from the town shops and traffic. 

Visitors half-doze on sunny or shaded benches along the promenade, while ducks come waddling and quacking along, touting for crumbs.

The railway station was departure point of the nostalgic Gisela Train to Kitzbuehel, hauled by the oldest working electric engine in Austria today, built in 1928. Carriages date from the same period, including a Post Carriage from 1920. 

Kitzbuehel ranks among the most exclusive of Austria's winter resorts, and likewise has a flourishing summer season. It still keeps some of its appearance as a fortified medieval village, but the boutiques sell products at ultra-modern prices. I decided against a "must-have for the coming season" - a tailored safari jacket for 735.

For a half-day option we visited the well-preserved historic town of Hall in Tirol which had boomed in medieval times as the major salt town of the Inn Valley. The prosperous merchants handling the salt export trade built splendid houses and public buildings. 

Today the town still has a flourishing economic and cultural life, with picturesque streets radiating from the main town square. The tourist shops offer good ideas for last-minute memorabilia, ready to pack for the homeward journey.

The 3-star Alpenhof Hotel may lack the glitter of a 4-star, but compensated with its friendly family atmosphere. Most evening entertainment was included - from a one-man dance band to a quiz, a film show or a charming harp recital. 

An evening out for the standard Tyrolean folk show was good fun value and the ticket price included one drink and several dance interludes for the audience.

The three whole-day and one afternoon "optional" tours were reasonably priced, and most of the group bought the lot. 

Because of the long distances covered on the two days each end of the holiday, the tour operated with two drivers who took turns at the wheel. 
Beside the lake at Zell am See
The 'spare' driver could then serve drinks from the fridge, or from the on-board hot drinks machine. On this trip, all drinks cost 50p, including 25-cl bottles of Stella Artois beer brewed in Belgium. It's a long time since I last paid 50p for a beer!



SALZBURG - Celebrating Mozart's birthday

SALZKAMMERGUT - Sounds of Music with plenty of salt

VIENNA - Waltzing around the capital

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Michelin Green Guide: Austria - The best  pocket handbook available, with excellent coverage of even the smaller Tyrolean locations. Keep the book ready for your next visit to Austria.

Lonely Planet Austria - Another excellent production.

Salzburg Insight Compact Guide  - Well worth buying to get maximum enjoyment from your one-day excursion to the Birthplace of Mozart.

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