Mariazell is best known as a pilgrimage site, but the small idyllic town and surrounding region also offers plenty of activities and is a great vacation destination for the whole family.
In a mountain valley far north in the state of Styria you find the holiday resort Mariazell, that is particularly suitable for families. Whether you want a holiday to relax or participate in a range outdoor activities, you never travel far to have fun. Furthermore, there is also a small lake nearby where you can swim and do water sports. Nonetheless, let’s start by getting to know Mariazell itself.
Famous pilgrimage village
We arrived at lunchtime and found ourselves a restaurant with a terrace facing the main square, where we also had a great view of the basilica. Over a delicious Wienerschnitzel we discussed what to do next and where to get the best impressions of Mariazell. The most obvious first thing to do, was to visit the Mariazell Basilica. The church spires and tower of the Gothic basilica from the 15th century, tower high above the rest of Mariazell. The basilica has firmly set the small town on the map as an important pilgrimage site. Having made the compulsory visit to the huge basilica, which is richly decorated inside, we went for a stroll in the town. A good starting point is the main square (Hauptplatz), as the main streets radiate from here. In the street above the Basilica, also called Hauptplatz, you can find some of the oldest houses in Mariazell. Although it is pleasant to stroll in Mariazell an hour or two, we also wanted a ride up the hill and to Bürgeralpe.
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Activities on the mountain
The so-called “house mountain” how they often call it in Austria, the 1287-meter-high “mountain” Bürgeralpe, is located directly above Mariazell. You can get there either by the gondola lift (which unfortunately is closed this summer due to new construction) from the town centre, a chair lift, on two wheels or on foot. We opted for the chair lift from St. Sebastian, only a 15-minute walk from the Mariazell itself. There is also a shuttle bus from the town centre to the lift. Once we arrived at the top, there is no entrance fee for those who just want to enjoy the view or have a bite to eat (2 different dining options).
At 1200 m above sea level in Austria we are still well below the tree line. Consequently, a viewing tower was built in 1906 at the peak in order to unobstructed enjoy the beautiful view. Erzherzog-Johann-Aussichtswarte is free to visit and after 100 steps we were at the top and could enjoy a wonderful view in all directions. There is also a one hour’s easy hike on the top of the hill which takes you to a couple of small lakes and other viewpoints. Nevertheless, if you still want more activities head for the adventure park.
Bürgeralpe Adventure Park
Families should visit the adventure park Holzknechtland (Timber Loggers Camp) & Biberwasser (Beaver Creek), where the kids can learn a little about forestry through very lifelike exhibits, and by even taking part in timber floating. At the Beaver Creek there are plenty of activities, including water of course, and they can have a go at gold panning. Furthermore, a small train runs around the two artificial lakes allowing everyone to go on a sightseeing trip around the lakes. The only pity is that all the information boards are in German only. Those who want to try the Wake Board or water ball should head over to the Kristallsee. On summer evenings, various musical performances are also arranged on the stage that float on the small lake. By the way, both lakes function as a water reservoirs for the snow cannons in winter. For more info: Adventure Park.
On two wheels, two legs or with the ski lift
There are several ways to get down from the mountain. For those who enjoy steep terrain on two wheels, there is a mountain bike path down to Mariazell. Bicycle enthusiasts can choose from three different routes of varying difficulty. Those who take a little better time and thrive on two legs find several hiking trails down the valley from Bürgeralpe. Longer, shorter, flatter or steeper, here too you will find different varieties. You can of course also take the ski lift down again, and we did so so we also had time to visit the small lake we saw from the top.
Bathing, boating or diving fun at Erlaufsee
On good summer days, just walk or cycle the 4.5 kilometres from Mariazell to Erlaufsee. If you arrive by car there is paid parking available. The small gorgeous lake has a great free beach, bathing jetty, restaurant and boat rental. We must admit that 11 °C at the beginning of June was not very tempting to go for a swim. It was, however, a good day for delicious fish lunch. In late summer, the water temperature should usually reach far more comfortable 20-22 °C. For those who do not care about the water temperature and have a scuba diving certificate, the fish life in the lake is good and you can find two diving centres by the lake.
We were unable to take the narrow-gauge Mariazellerbahn which takes you northwards through the idyllic Pielach valley and to St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria. The 85 km long journey goes over 19 viaducts and through 21 tunnels, in a beautiful forested landscape. Furthermore, the trainline runs with everything from modern electric trains to old nostalgia trains with steam locomotives. On some departures there are also panoramic carriages available, that provide extra good views. We are looking forward to our next trip to Mariazell, when we absolutely will go on a train ride.
For more info, check out the website of: Mariazell Tourism
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