If the hills are alive with the sound of music then the mountains positively reverberated with our yodels. It was not the most tuneful of choruses, we must admit. But we were on a learning curve as steep as the Zillertal Alps of Austria as our voices quivered and quavered to echo across the Tirolean valley. In the mists of time yodelling was the way to communicate good news or dire warnings, pre-dating texting and tweeting by a few centuries. It was how farmers and villagers would pass on messages between the pastures and the valley: my cow is sick, your wife is having her baby, the bullock has trampled me – help! Or sometimes the message was simply: ‘It’s spring and how wonderful and warm is the sunshine, how rich the grass, how colourful the flowers. It’s a joy to be alive.’ That’s how we felt on our learn-to-yodel course on Austria’s first yodel hiking trail. Our teacher was golden-haired Christian Eder, his muscular legs encased in manly lederhosen and sporting a green gingham shirt under fitted black velvet jacket. Not to be sartorially outsmarted we’d dressed the part in traditional dirndls, those girly, lacy cleavage-displaying dresses with flouncy full skirts. Our waists were cinched tightly with a bow on the right to signify marriage, on the left to signal single and happy to mingle. Keen to keep alive the custom of yodelling hotelier Christian, 35, who runs the welcoming Castello Hotel, takes summer tourists on five hour hiking and yodelling courses. This is pure Heidi countryside: rolling green pastures dotted with ancient timber chalets, contented cattle with bells playing an incessant melody, glittering lakes, gurgling streams, gushing waterfalls, soaring birdsong and droning bees laden with pollen from a profusion of wild flowers. Infused with the joys of spring, we dirndl damsels, resembling the cast of The Sound of Music, performed warm-up exercises, waving our arms in front crawl swimming style and scrumping imaginary apples in the orchard. The key to yodelling is to ditch inhibitions. Don’t be shy as you holler and scream rather than sing, hitting the high notes with ‘i’ and ‘u’ sounds, the low notes with ‘a,’ ‘e’ and ‘o’ sounds. ‘It’s using your chest and head voice and alternating between the two,’ explains Christian, rather mysteriously. ‘It’s very physical. ‘And when you gain expertise you can crack your voice in the same way your voice would break if you screamed in terror or anger.’ To lubricate our vocal chords and banish British reserve he dispensed generous measures of pine-flavoured schnapps from his hip flask. That did the trick. Even docile cows pricked up their tan and cream coloured velvety ears as we gave vent, hiking from one yodelling station to another _ there are eight in all, each with a push-button interactive demonstration of how your yodel-ay-ee-oooo should sound. Christian, who proposed to his wife Eva on a mountain top – in speech rather than yodel – dreamt up the idea of yodelling courses as he mowed his lawn one summer’s day a few years back. He wanted to share the joyful heritage of his homeland and enhance visitors’ hiking experience. It worked. We were happy to hike through a brief hail storm – at 2000 metres it can get pretty cold even after the snows have melted – yodelling our way to lunch at Lamarch Alm. At this mountain restaurant we made short work of platters of local cheese and meats as our host Franz played the accordion. We enjoyed an impromptu dance lesson with Christian as he grabbed partners in a frenzied wedding gallop. Style note: no bride should perform this dance in hefty hiking boots. Mountain types like Christian are a breed apart, none more so than Roman Erler, 52, (www.natursport.at) a grizzled bearded bear of a man happy to share his extensive knowledge of geology and botany. On a 600m. descent we learned what not to eat and touch among the array of alpine roses and gentian violets, and what roots could cure warts and liver damage – info gleaned from his herbalist granny who lived to 96. Roman’s claim to fame is his discovery of a unique system of caves within the Hintertux Glacier. It’s rather misleadingly called an Ice Palace. It’s more an Ice Adventure as to access its frozen depths 25meters below a ski run means slithering along narrow passages hung with weird and wonderful ice sculptures, clinging to ropes and negotiating steel ladders. Not an undertaking for the faint-hearted but worth every scary moment to reach an enchanted kingdom with a lake so deep it remains unfrozen. It is open 365 days of the year. Summer visitors need to bring warm clothing, waterproof footwear and gloves. We needed them as we ran the gauntlet of Gatling gun-type volley of hailstones in a spectacular storm that lit up the skies over Mayrhofen. Never was a hot chocolate with rum and a Kaiserschmarrn, Emperor’s pancake, more welcome and warming at our Sporthotel Mannis . Mayrhofen is also a magnet for winter sports fans, as is Bad Kleinkirchheim in the adjoining region of Salzburg. Here I encountered another two impressive Austrian mountain men: the legendary ski champion Franz Klammer and my veteran ski instructor Wolfram. You can book to ski with Klammer on a World Cup run that bears the name of the daring down hiller. He had a dodgy knee when I last met him. But he shared his secret of speed, telling me: ‘My average speed was 111.1 k, with a top speed of 150k. My speciality was going down straight. I was so scared I wanted it to be over sooner. I could never teach. I don’t know how to turn!’ Wolfram, 66, fortunately did know. And he was such a good teacher he gave me the confidence to tackle the black World Cup run. Unlike Klammer we executed many turns to rub off speed. We also followed his lead to ski us up a snowy roof and safely down the other side. Now we understood how ski jumpers – apart from Eddie the Eagle – start their careers. BKK, as the locals call this ski and spa resort, boasts two thermal spas to soothe aching muscles, more than 100k of groomed pistes for all grades of skiers and boarders, plus cleared walking paths, ice-skating, tobogganing and snow-shoeing Austrian mountain resorts are big on food too, from rustic mountain huts serving modest goulash soup and jam dumplings to high-end hotels and restaurants offering gourmet fare. My favourite: Restaurant Einkehr where we enjoyed a feast, each course perfectly paired with wines from the owner’s Viennese vineyard. We arrived in style aboard a horse drawn sleigh to toast our toes around a crackling log fire and toast a great day’s skiing with sparkling rose. Salmon trout mousse with horse radish and caviar, spinach and garlic cream soup, monkfish with bacon crisps and cider sauce, guinea fowl with orange couscous and baby carrots, chocolate cigars with strawberry sauce twinned with a sweet vintage Riesling – Austrian mountain men know how to feed their skiers – and their yodelling hikers.
Mayrhofen This summer Inghams introduced a range of new experiences, including learning to yodel in Mayrhofen in the Austrian Tirol. Inghams (01483 791114) has 7 nights at the 4* Sporthotel Manni’s in Mayrhofen, with prices starting from £699 per person on half board, including return flights to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Regional flights available from Bristol (+£69), Birmingham (+£49), Manchester (+£49), Leeds-Bradford (+£59) and Edinburgh (+£59). For more information about Tirol www.visittirol.co.uk or on Zillertal region www.zillertal.at. How To Get To Bad Kleinkirchheim Inghams (01483 791 114) features 29 resorts in Austria, including the new resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim. Inghams offers 7 nights at: 4* Hotel Trattlerhof on a half board basis from £794; 4* Hotel Eschenhof on a half board basis from £854 including flights from Gatwick to Ljubljana and resort transfers, including flights from Gatwick to Ljubljana and resort transfers. Also flights from Edinburgh (+£49), Manchester (+£39) and Luton (+£19). Ski pack items can be pre-booked: Lift passes • 6 days BKK & St Oswald lift pass from £189 (adult) £95 (child) Ski Hire • 6 days standard ski & boot hire from £110 (adult) £70 (child) • 6 days standard boot hire from £30 (adult & child) • 6 day helmet for children and adults £25