There is something about walking out of a mountain hut, with a belly full of warm food and drink, and the night sky sparkling above the snowy fields. Orion is pointing earthwards and the moon has a bright aureole.
Breathing in the fresh alpine air I congratulate myself on drinking just enough schnapse to warm my blood without impacting on my coordination. Because the accepted method of getting back to the taxi from the Jausenstation Grunegg Alm is by toboggan.
The lights of this lovely old alm send out a warm glow and there is an even warmer Austrian welcome inside. There has been a farmhouse on this hillside near the village of Dienten since 1506 and the Rainer family have been running the business since 1864.
Our cheerful host Heinrich has continued the family tradition since the late 70s. There are guest apartments upstairs and it is a popular stop on the hiking trails in summer, with the 1.5 kilometre groomed toboggan run the attraction in winter.
The pick of the starters is the Bauerntoast – a range of pork products from bacon to pepperoni all covered in melty cheese. I had a local traditional dish – Pinzgauer Kasnocken, a delicious cheesy gnocchi-type concoction. For dessert we were floored by the Kaiserschmarrn, a traditional dessert in Austria, made from thick pancakes torn into small pieces, dusted with icing sugar and served with plum preserve.
But the real choice has to be made when it comes to schnapse tasting time – there are 26 different flavours on the menu! I tried the apricot, the cherry and the award-winning apple schnapse.
Distilling schnapse is a bit of a speciality in the Hochkonig region of Austria (it is also a popular digestif after skiing here in the Ski Amade). There are 35 distilleries located on farms in the Hochkonig area.
I was amazed to learn that 30 kilograms of fruit are used in the distilling of one litre of schnapse! The Rainers grow a lot of the fruit they use here on the mountain and buy in what they can’t grow.
Which brings me back to the tobogganing. I had some technique difficulties initially but eventually mastered the slide and turn bringing me safely in a series of hair-pin turns to the bottom of the hill. What a special evening! And you can only buy the schnapse here in Austria so you will just have to come try it for yourself.
By Natasha von Geldern