We’re heading home again.

We usually stop for a picnic lunch when we’re about two thirds of the way from Tartu to Tallinn. There is a real shortage of nice stopping places along that road. The roadside cafés we’ve tried have all been dingy and unpleasant. Sometimes I’ve simply turned into a random small road off the highway and then stopped as soon as we get some distance away from the highway. Beats having a picnic in a parking lot, but not by much…

The one nice place I’ve found is the churchyard of Anna church. There’s a small meadow in front of the church and a larger one behind the churchyard. They’re grassy and shady, and we have the pretty church and the wooded little graveyard to look at.

There is an old school cool water pump in the meadow behind the churchyard. Not made for Adrian-sized users.

Together with our Estonian friends, we went for a walk along the trail in Meenikunno bog and forest. It was abominably hot and at times during the bog section I almost regretted ever getting out of the house today. I was quite glad to get into the shade of the forest. Not cool, exactly, but definitely less hot. Plus there is that cool viewing tower there.

For a while there I could enjoy both the walking and the talking. And the blueberries. Unfortunately the last third or so of the trail was full of ants. Anthills everywhere in the forest and ants everywhere on the path, so instead of a leisurely walk we marched straight on, barely talking and rarely stopping, and were relieved to reach the end.

In the afternoon we drove to Värska for lunch and swimming/bathing. I don’t think I’ve ever been there, even though it’s very well known for its mineral waters and healthy mud and whatnot. The café at the sanatorium was so-so; the beach was small and grassy and not at all crowded even on a Saturday.

The water at Kiidjärv the other day was really warm; even I went in without wincing and took a long swim. Pühajärv yesterday was much larger and much chillier. Today’s swim was in a small bay of Estonia’s largest lake, and felt almost as warm as a bathtub.

We continue to visit our favourite places in Estonia. Today: Otepää adventure park.

Adrian, having grown in both height and weight since last year, could join us on the ziplines for the first time. Bot Adrian and I were almost (but not 100%) sure that he would love them. He voiced his hesitation; I kept quiet about mine and told him that of course he would love it. Luckily, he did.

We feel quite at home here by now, having visited the park several times in the past. It’s almost becoming a bit boring, for me at least – the kids are more fond of traditions whereas I want more novelty. Perhaps we can find other such parks somewhere in Europe.

On our way by ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn.

Time to go home after a week of hiking in Zillertal.

Zillertal was a great place for family hiking, and Mayrhofen was a great place to stay.

On our way to the airport I was already thinking that if I could retire today, this could be a good place for it.

There are endless options for hiking, of all levels of difficulty, all of them very scenic. Many are easily accessible by bus. The paths are well maintained and clearly marked. Everything is super clean; there is no garbage anywhere.

The town of Mayrhofen likewise is clean, tidy, pretty and friendly. The entire town looks like this photo: flowers and blindingly white walls everywhere. I keep wondering whether the guesthouse owners get fined if they don’t plant flowers on their balconies.

The lack of vegetarian food was the only noticeable minus here.

The flip side of this convenience is that it lacks adventure, I guess. You won’t come here and go home a changed person, or see the world with new eyes. But that has never been what hiking is about for me.

For our last day here, we took a trip to the Hintertux glacier.

From Hintertux village, a chain of gondolas can take you all the way up to the top, above the clouds. There is enough snow there for year-round skiing. It felt pretty bizarre to arrive in sandals and t-shirt (although we quickly added fleeces and jackets) and meet skiers and snowboarders.

We had no plans to do any skiing, but there were some snowy attractions for kids. They had fun sledding on inflated rubber tubes, but the snow kept getting into Adrian’s sandals.

Gondolas took us partway down, and all of a sudden we were back in summer. Then we walked the last bit down, from Sommerbergalm to Hintertux village.

This was a very picturesque walk, like most of them here – steep rocky mountains, winding paths with wide views, meadows dotted with fir and pine, lovely little brooks and waterfalls.

We do have mountains in Sweden and there are plenty of hiking paths among them, so one might wonder what the point is of travelling so far to hike in yet more mountains. But the Swedish mountains are very different from the Alps. The Scandes are old and worn-down. While they can look quite mountainous from afar, when you get closer, they usually aren’t that impressive. Whereas here in the Alps, it’s all steep, bare rocky walls and narrow valleys. The Alps are also much lusher.

For today, we chose a flat walk. From Bärenau a local bus took us to the Zillergrund dam, and from there we walked along the reservoir lake to Hohenaualm and back.

Hohenaualm has a Tibetan theme, with prayer wheels and flags. It’s a small and rustic hut, very cosy and pretty but unfortunately not at all familiar with vegetarianism. Which I guess is kind of in keeping with the whole Tibetan theme. They served sausages and cheeses of various kinds, and that was that.

We tried a cheese platter with a local “gray cheese”. It had a potent smell and didn’t taste particularly good. At least it came with some bread and pickled cucumbers.

Adrian ordered “sausages and bread” which we all expected to look vaguely like a hot dog, but it was truly sausages and bread – two wiener sausages and two slices of white bread.

We thought that perhaps the bigger huts near the start of the hike would have more choice for us, so we hiked back. They had more choice, but were no more prepared for vegetarians than the cottage at the end of the road. The two options on the menu for us were French fries, or pancakes, so that’s what we had for lunch.

The locals are very, very fond of pancakes. Their version is called Kaiserschmarrn, and it’s to pancakes like scrambled eggs is to an omelette: it’s a scrambled pancake. Quite sweet to begin with, then covered with mounds of icing sugar and served with a large bowl of jam on the side (preferably apple sauce). Tastes quite good when you first try it but when you have to eat a whole large platter of it or go hungry then it’s not quite so appealing any more…

We made a second attempt at an easier, “rest” day and went to see the waterfalls at Krimml. There was plenty of uphill walking today again, and all-in we walked over 6 km, but the path was even and smooth, even accessible to pushchairs, so our legs got some rest.

The Krimml waterfalls lie well outside the Zillertal valley covered by our maps, and we probably wouldn’t have found out about them if it hadn’t been for a couple of friendly hikers that we struck up a conversation with during an earlier walk. Now I realize that they’re one of the top 10 sights in Austria and marketed as the largest in Europe (according to some unclear measure).

Largest or not, the waterfalls are beautiful and impressive. They are actually a series of waterfalls, one after another, quite close together. A path winds up the mountain right next to the waterfalls, with plenty of viewing platforms along the way. Of course there is a Hütte partway up for lunch. And at the bottom, where the waterfalls land in a rocky expanse, there’s plenty of opportunity to scramble up close and get drenched by the spray.

After yesterday’s demanding walk, we thought we’d rest the “uphill walking muscles” and do something different today: rent bikes, take the Penkenbahn gondola up to the top of the mountain right next to Mayrhofen, and then bike down back to the village.

Renting bikes took a fair bit of time, because it wasn’t easy to find a bike with back-pedal brakes for Adrian. But we found them in the end.

The gondola ride to the top was fast and smooth and we had nice views of Mayrhofen. The gondola was very spacious and we had no trouble at all fitting the bikes in there.

At the top, the bicycle path first went uphill for a while, to the ever-present huts at the top. The slope was quite gentle but on gravel roads it was too much for the kids, so we ended up walking the bikes up.

After lunch at one of the huts we were finally ready to start cycling down. Unfortunately Adrian took a bad fall already at the first descent, bloodying half his face and breaking off half of his new front tooth. So that was the end of that. After cleaning and bandaging his face, we walked the bikes back up and came down by gondola again.

All in all, not a great day.

Yesterday was warm-up day; today we were ready for a bigger hike. We picked one of the suggested walks from the Wanderkarte we got from the tourist information: a circular walk (the Neumarkter Runde) from the Schlegeis dam up to the Olperer Hütte and back again. 8.8 km and 675 metres of ascent.

The weather report promised clearer skies, and down in the valley it looked like the weather might actually clear up, but higher up in the mountains it was almost as foggy and cloudy as yesterday. We weren’t constantly wrapped in clouds, but the views were generally quite limited, except for the occasional moment when the clouds shifted away and we suddenly got a wide open view.

This was a beautiful walk despite the clouds. Or perhaps it was beautiful in part thanks to the clouds: because of the moisture, the mountains were lush and green. The lower slopes were thickly covered in pine and juniper. Rhododendrons flowered abundantly between the junipers as well as higher up above the tree line. There were plenty of little streams and waterfalls.

Higher up it got colder and we got some rain and wind. In places we even crossed some small patches of snow. We were quite glad to have packed fleece jackets and woolly hats (and in Adrian’s case, his beloved fingerless gloves).

The first half of the walk was basically all uphill, and by the end of it we were getting a bit fed up with the monotony of always going up. At the highest point we celebrated with a chilly lunch, perched on and between rocks, in the lee of yet more rocks. Another hour or so of walking got us to the Olperer Hütte for a late and well-deserved hot meal.

The path was very well marked, with red-white-red paint, and easy to walk. Well, the path was all uphill, but it was well built and stable. The steepest parts were almost staircases of large slabs of stone, no scrambling required. I had many occasions to wonder who had built these, and how – given the size of the stairs, it must have required a lot of lifting.

The kids enjoyed the stone cairns dotted along the path.

The way down was quite similar to the way up, but condensed and less varied. Downhill, gently at first and then more steeply, ziggy-zaggying alongside the same little stream almost all the way. Had we started out on this side (which I’m glad we didn’t, because of the steepness) then I would probably have found it beautiful, but after the first half of the walk the second didn’t impress quite so much. Our tiredness probably also played a part.