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Six things to expect when you move to the Austrian mountains

Escaping to the mountains in Austria for a simple life of fresh air and frolicking in the snow is a dream for many people. But what is the reality?

A cross country skier walks through the snowy landscape near the village of Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria.
Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Here are six things to expect when you move to the Austrian Alps.

Cash is king and the cost of living is high

A top tip for living in the Austrian mountains is to always have cash in your purse/wallet and never expect to be able to pay by card.

This is even more crucial if hiking in the mountains and hoping for a well-earned schnitzel and beer at one of the huts. A lot of them will only take cash for payment.

For people that have lived in cities like London where carrying cash is a rare event, this can take some getting used to.

But after a few times of missing out by only having a card to pay with, you will soon get the hang of it.

READ MORE: Could coronavirus end Austria’s love affair with cash?

Then there is the high cost of living.

Clare Woolner, from Darwen in the UK, says people moving to the Austrian mountains should expect to pay more for basics like food and rent.

Clare, who lives in St Johann in Tirol, said: “The cost of living can be more expensive here so you might have to downsize your accommodation.

“Groceries are also often more expensive and you can’t always get the same products that you can find in the UK. But it balances out by spending less money on entertainment.”

The Steineres Meer mountains are seen in the background on a sunny day as sheep graze in a field in Leogang, near Salzburg, Austria. Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

Weekend shopping is not a thing

In the larger towns and provincial capitals, going shopping on a Saturday is the same as in most other places. The shops are open and they’re busy with people indulging in consumerism.

But in the smaller towns and villages, a lot of shops close at midday on a Saturday. And don’t open again until Monday (shops are closed on Sunday in Austria).

At first this can be confusing but the reality is that weekend shopping is not really a popular activity in the mountains.

Most people are more interested in exploring the surrounding nature (see ‘You will embrace an outdoor lifestyle’ below) or catching up with friends and family.

For the most part, it’s great. But if you do have the urge to spend some money on a Saturday then the best option is to visit one of the larger cities, like Innsbruck.

People stop work for lunch at midday – every day

Lunch runs to a strict timetable in the Austrian mountains.

Every day, in businesses and households, most people stop what they’re doing at 12pm and take a break for lunch.

Prefer taking lunch at 1pm? Or 2pm? Then you’ll be eating on your own.

READ MORE: What you need to know about opening a bank account in Austria

While this can seem restrictive at first – especially for people that prefer some spontaneity in their lives – there are benefits to this schedule.

First, people sit down and have lunch together – usually followed by coffee. It’s a sociable and friendly part of the day.

Second, lunch is a not just a hastily made cold sandwich. Typically it involves a cooked meal, which is nice and comforting.

Just don’t forget to say “Mahlzeit” (“enjoy the meal”), even if you’re not eating. It’s the standard greeting during lunch time.

A cable cabin travels over a valley connecting Wuerzhoehe and Pengelstein mountains in Austria’s most famous winter and summer resort of Kitzbuhel. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

You will embrace an outdoor lifestyle

Living in the Austrian mountains means being in close proximity to nature every day.

It also means your lifestyle will change to adapt to the new environment with outdoor activities replacing bar and café hopping.

Cost of living: Seven tips to save money in Austria

Emma Barr lives in St Johann in Tyrol with her husband but is originally from Reading in the UK. She loves the healthier lifestyle she has in Austria, in comparison to her former life as a HR Manager.

Emma said: “We moved here over 10 years ago, and it was the best decision we ever made. Spending time walking or skiing in the mountains on a regular basis is life enhancing.”

Adjusting to a change in pace of lifestyle and embracing the outdoors can be a challenge for former city types. But for most people, the benefits far outweigh the loss of Saturday shopping trips and crowded streets.

You won’t understand the local dialect

In the mountains, the locals speak dialect, which can change from village to village.

Combine this with German lessons being taught in Hochdeutsch (High German) and it’s a recipe for a slow learning process with daily confusion.

This is something that Clare from Darwen has experienced herself.

She said: “The language is a difficult thing for everyone that moves here. Not necessarily because of someone’s level of German but because of the different dialects.

“Even if someone has been learning German before, they should expect that the way people speak will sound different and it’s not a reflection of their German language abilities.”

The upside is that lots of people speak English – particularly the younger generation – which is helpful during the early days of living in the Austrian mountains.

However, bureaucracy and official communication is mostly conducted in High German, so German skills are still essential.

For this reason, Emma from Reading recommends getting professional advice when dealing with Austrian bureaucracy.

She said: “Unless your German is excellent I recommend getting an Austrian tax advisor or solicitor that speaks good English – it will really help.”

Ultimately, the key to surviving the language conundrum is to keep plugging away with learning German but also take time to listen to the locals when they speak.

Skiers glide in a snowy landscape near the village Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Eventually things will start to make sense.

If you don’t ski or snowboard then the winter is long

Skiing and snowboarding are a huge part of the lifestyle in the mountains. But if you’re not into winter sports then it’s a very long season to endure.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about paying tax in Austria

If speeding down the side of a mountain on pieces of metal is not your thing, then there are other sports to try, like cross country skiing (Langlaufen) or snow shoeing.

Both of which are easily accessible and usually free to enjoy (no ski pass needed).

Or you could just decide to embrace downhill skiing or snowboarding. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

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WEATHER

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.

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