By Christopher Ludgate
There is this great symbiotic connection that happens when we combine wellness and nature. We inherit its holistic restorative effect, whether on a hike or just sitting by the water. Now, imagine being immersed in an environment that nurtures that balance as a way of life.
I am a true believer in travel as therapy, so when at last I landed on the prospect of a visit to Austria, I was pleasantly surprised to discover its abundance of wellness spas.
But what would prove more intriguing was my discovery of Austrian culture’s innate reverence for nature and wellbeing.
Vienna is often touted as the world’s most livable city and, interestingly, it is comprised of fifty-percent natural land (lots of it vineyards). So, after settling in at the city’s stylish Leo Grand, I wandered the green Leopoldstadt District and meandered museums, including the fascinating Sigmund Freud house.
Later, I spent an evening at the city’s Therme Wien spa complex to decompress, leaving the swimsuit behind, a la Austria style.
In the morning, I’d embark on a four-hour train ride high into the pastoral Alps to St. Johann in Salzburg for a real immersion.
I was ready for it.
The feeling of becoming increasingly remote set in, and the crisp fresh air reawakened my senses after shuttling through the lush Alpine hills.
I rolled into the pleasant nook of a town, noting specialty shops and the parks that revealed signs of idyllic autumn.
Soon, I arrived in a cluster of charmingly nestled chalet-type resort lodges. Upon checking in at Aktivhotel Alpendorf, reception briefed our small group of friends about its multilevel spa facilities.
This was no uptight bougie spa; Aktivhotel is designed to facilitate an immersive, comfortable wellness experience in Austria with services daily.
Aktivhotel came complete with a panoramic ‘sky-sauna’ and lounge perched high, serving up tea with views of pastures and sky for days. This same dreamy view was in direct view from the platform bed in my room that featured all-natural materials.
I stood there on my balcony with a deep breath and long stretch – awestruck, contented, and excited.
Bountiful baskets waited for us in the lobby, each filled with fresh local fare, naturally, along with a blanket. The local tourism board arranged a few activities for us, including this light picnic hike.
A map with a path was provided, but true to hard-core explorers, we somehow went rogue, carving our own adventurous path until claiming our remote territory, collapsing, satisfied, and speechless with the beauty before us.
Another morning in Austria began with a light wellness hike to a nearby traditional European healer, Viktoria Obinger. Our tribe gathered in the dewy air, touring the herb gardens, foraging, and sampling on a delightful immersion into local naturalist philosophies.
The Power of Water
A mist was already in the air upon arrival at Liechtensteinklamm Gorge.
We convened for lunch at the on-site eatery, Gasthaus, where we went family-style, fueling up on traditional dishes, including impressive vegetarian.
I could feel the deep thunder of the forceful ravine as I approached, descending to the cavernous paths from the floating helix staircase.
One of the deepest gorges in the Alps at 1000 feet, its moderate-level footpaths initiated by Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein long ago created a game of hide-and-seek with the rumbling, mesmerizing beauty.
It was tempting to try to capture the magic with a camera, but I conceded. This force of nature is something you surrender to, like in meditation. It’s a phenomenon that speaks to something primal in us.
I eventually came upon a bench by a perch just before the reveal of the falls and welcomed the opportunity to surrender and just listen.
Hike to the Hochgründeck, the Healer
In the thick of it, the atmosphere is ethereal. A dance of shadows and light revealed endlessly enchanting scenes as I climbed into the clouds upon Hochgründeck.
I leveraged myself upon the roots of the soaring trees along vague trails. Footbridges above streams informed us we were headed the right way. Further up, ritualistic-looking wooden musical instruments lured me to play.
Is it much further? Don’t ask. Were there woodland creatures? There might have been.
Several yards still from the peak destination six miles up, like a mirage for journeymen and women, was Heinrich-Kiener-Haus; a homey respite for food and refreshment.
It welcomed us beside a warm fire while serving up Austrian Polsterzipf family-style, relaxing further with a round of shtorm (an Austrian schnapps-like drink) before the last leg of our journey.
This climb up Hochgründeck, one of the highest and most wooded peaks in Europe, was once part of The Summit Games, a blend of ritual and mythology connecting a series of mountain peaks. Here on this peak: ‘The Healer.’
A book of visitors’ intimate thoughts sat by the entrance of the Chapel of Peace or St. Vincentz. I lit a candle and stood in the silence before strolling along the grassy summit.
I was awed by the hundreds of mountains peeking above the clouds. There was a compelling sense of tranquillity.
I had every intention of doing my daily meditation up here. But close my eyes to this magnificence? No way. On this day, the journey was my meditation.
Onward west, I was off on my quest into immersive wellness in the extensive spa facilities of the impeccable Alpin Resort Sacher, located in the enchanting storybook town of Seefeld, Austria, and recently named on the Leading Hotels of the World’s list.
A new favourite, indeed.
Chris is a New York-based Travel & Culture Writer with multiple outlets and a decade of experience sharing inspiring travel stories that go beyond the typical.
Niches are versatile but tend towards sophisticated-bohemian, coastal, cultural, wellness, historical, nature, architecture, and hotels.