Little Tibet in Zillergrund

One would assume that Austria's landscape is unique. But there is an area reminiscent of the highlands of Tibet in the Zillertal Valley: Klein-Tibet - or Little Tibet - in Zillertal. We are going to check out this magical place in Zillergrund for ourselves, the easternmost tributary valley in Tyrol.


Little Tibet in Zillergrund on the roof of the world in Zillertal

@ Elisabeth Kröll

By bus to Bärenbad

Our journey to Zillergrund begins in Mayrhofen, from where buses shuttle regularly to Bärenbadalm at 1,450 metres above sea level. This tributary valley is known for the Zillertal Alps Nature Park, its reservoir and the magical place of “Little Tibet”, which we would like to explore today.

After only a few minutes, we arrive comfortably at Bärenbadalm, where we are going to stop on our way home. Even though the bus would take us to the reservoir, we decide to go on foot for the last section of the journey.

Tip: From a bus fare of Euro 2 you receive an environmental bonus ticket - a voucher for Euro 1.50 that you can redeem in one of the guesthouses in Zillergrund. 

© Elisabeth Kröll
© Elisabeth Kröll
© Elisabeth Kröll

Attractions: Reservoir in Zillergrund

Even from afar, the imposing grey dam wall in the middle of the mountains of Zillergrund grabs your attention. Excited, I follow the new path to the gigantic dam. For a brief moment, I imagine what would happen if the dam bursts. These thoughts disappear quickly, however, as I see the beautiful reservoir emerge after the darkness of the tunnel. Nestled between mighty mountains and huge waterfalls lies the lake, whose waters reflect colours ranging from turquoise, to blue and green.

Tip: Take a torch or headlamp along with you so you can see in the dark tunnels.

The path to Little Tibet

After enjoying the view of the reservoir, we continue on our way towards Little Tibet. After just under 20 minutes, it suddenly dawns on me why it has been given this name.  The reservoir, surrounded by mighty mountains with steep rocks and the path that leads along the shoreline of these turquoise-green waters - is just how I imagine Tibet to be. As well as small stones that lie on the meadows and places to take a break every hundred metres. Not just somewhere to stop, but small wooden benches adorned with sayings that encourage you to keep going. And I haven’t even arrived at the “centre” of Zillergrund yet.

In the centre of Little Tibet

The closer I get to the "city", the more intensely the landscape reminds me of Tibet. I am accompanied for a short while by a goat, before it scuttles back towards the mountain after around 10 minutes. From a distance, I recognize Tibetan flags. Red, blue and yellow pieces of fabric flutter in the wind, small wooden huts stand at the foot of the mountains and wooden letters remind me of where I am right now. After passing a water wheel and several prayer wheels, I arrive at the rather unassuming “Hohenaualm”.

© Elisabeth Kröll
© Elisabeth Kröll
© Elisabeth Kröll

Ploughman’s lunch at the Hohenaualm

The timber alpine farm is adorned with historic paintings, antlers and milk churns. The Tibetan flags are of course also ever-present. A few metres on, I discover an outhouse. This old-fashioned outdoor latrine transports you back in time, but stunning views of Zillergrund through its heart-shaped window more than compensate for its “primitiveness”. Whilst enjoying a snack and drink of shandy, I savour the view and quietness, while watching the horses and cows graze. I come to the conclusion that this will not be the last time I visit Little Tibet. In any case, it is well worth the walk.
Facts & figures on the hike to Little Tibet/Zillergrund: 

Hiking time: approx. 1 hour 15 min from the reservoir
Route length: 3.5 kilometres
Conditions: not particularly well lit tunnel, well maintained forest trail – lovely route for families with children
Bus connection: scheduled bus services runs from Mayrhofen to the Zillergrund dam.
Hohenaualm opening times: Early/mid-June to mid-October (provided there is no snow)
Highlights: Reservoir, dam and a landscape that is reminiscent of Tibet  
Tip: The snack with bacon, cheese and buttermilk at Hohenaualm comes highly recommended.