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Shiny Happy People – Zell am See, Austria

Uncover a secret that the Alpine country of Austria has been keeping from us all these years.

So, as it turns out, I swim almost as badly as I ski – and four-year-olds can ski better than me. But I love the water. Always have. Even as a kid, it didn’t matter if we’d driven through the night – the first thing I did when we got to Goa was hit the beach, often throwing my clothes off while running to the water.

Fortunately for all concerned, age has brought with it a certain sense of decorum. But, if there’s a water body anywhere in my vicinity, that’s where I need to be. And if it happens to be five-odd square kilometres of crystal-clear lake surrounded by mountains, keeping me away is nigh impossible.

The locals of Zell am See share my enthusiasm – enhanced, perhaps, by a day of glorious sunshine. But as it is, the entire – albeit meagre – population of Zell am See seems to be at the water. Such a splendid sight that is: the lake dotted with kayakers, paddle-boarders and swimmers; its banks with sun- worshippers. Kids gambolling in the shallows, leaping off floating platforms. Even the dogs seem to consent to wetting their toes. Me, I can barely contain myself. All Thomas, the unassuming, affable chap showing us around, needs to do is begin to ask: “Would you like…” before I’m running for the boat shed. Cruise boats MS Schmittenhöhe or Kaiserin Elisabeth occasionally whisper past, and the less experienced kayakers and boarders (like me) laugh nervously Kayaking is just one at each other, trying to keep our balance in their wake, of the fun things to do. If good spirits actually did avert disease, we’re probably on Zeller See (lake) the healthiest people in the world right now.zell-am-see-1

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First off, Zell am See? Where (and what) the heck is that?

As I’m discovering, it’s a super-popular Austrian ski destination, with three spectacular mountains – Schmittenhöhe, Kitzsteinhorn and Maiskogel – that offer a whopping 138km of ski slopes in all grades of difficulty. Come winter, this place is swarming with skiers, snowboarders, tobogganists, and all other snow-sport crazies. I’m not a big fan of crowds, and my skiing prowess only makes matters worse.

I’m thanking my stars that we’re here in June – even though Kitzsteinhorn has skiing nine months a year, it’s considerably curtailed in the summers, and most ski tourists are gone.

But – and this is a big but – close to half the visitors come to Zell am See-Kaprun (Kaprun is a small municipality less than 8km away, and the two are considered one entity) in the summer. Again, it’s June to the rescue. July, August and September is when there’s peak summer traffic, so I’m safe.

If you’re anything like me, the shoulder months are your best bet. Also, considering Zell am See is just 105km south of Salzburg, you can easily tick off the Salzburg box if that’s your thing.

But what can you do at a ski destination in summer? Well, as it turns out, a hell of a lot!zell-am-see-2

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