While most people picture majestic, glacier-clad crags when they think of the Alps, the great European mountain range has a softer side at its far eastern edge, where the mountains gradually taper off toward the Danube Valley, just west of Vienna. The temperate climate in these foothills is perfect for apple and pear trees, growing so prolifically that there’s and entire district dedicated to the production of tasty cider. And in the famed Wienerwald (Vienna Woods), thick silver-barked beech trees dominate the forests. Just a bit farther south and west, the first high peaks of the Alps rise up to the summit of the Ötscher, a landmark peak surrounded by deeply carved valleys where crystal-clear aquamarine streams flow through protected landscapes like the Ötscher-Tormäuer Nature Park
. In the last few weeks, the soft greens of spring burst forth in abundance in these landscapes near Austria’s first city, and we’re looking forward to more explorations this summer.
Out and about …
Trees abloom in Lower Austria.
The Erlauf River.
Nothing says Easter like a visit to the country to check out trees bursting into bloom and other signs of nature’s spring resurgence. It’s a good reminder that when you strip away the bizarre Christian mythology surrounding this holiday, what you have left is a good old-fashioned pagan celebration of life. And nothing could be more glorious than that because it’s the life-force of nature that’s at the basis of our reality, not some musty legends handed down over generations by a secretive theocractic organization.
South of France …
Gorge du Verdon overlook.
Massif de la Sainte-Baume.
Vertical view of the Verdon River.
A few vintage shots out of the Summit Voice archives, from a 2014 trek through southern France. Pano sweeps are useful when you’re trying to capture a landscape as grand as the Gorge du Verdon, the Grand Canyon of France, or the broad beaches on the Porquerolles Island, a car-free enclave where cyclists rule. Just inland a bit in the Provence is the Massif de la Sainte-Baume, a rugged range where wild thyme covers the ground. Check out more Summit Voice photography in our Morning Photo archives
and visit our online gallery
for landscape and nature prints.
St. Tropez lighthouse.
Stand-up paddlng, Frejus.
St. Tropez fishing fleet.
Ripples at Varazze.
Sunrise in the harbor of Varazze.
At the end of a long winter, it’s fun to daydream about hot summer days by the sea in the pleasing coastal towns of the Mediterranean. We especially enjoyed Varazze last July. The Italian harbor town isn’t particularly well known internationally, but it’s a favored getaway for residents of bustling Genoa and for yachties looking for a calmer alternative to Nice or Cannes. It is also, apparently, a surf hotspot in the winter season, as you can see in this YouTube video. We also saw some fine waves at Frejus during a summer tempest, and the paddler in the photo was enjoying the shorebreak. Check out more Summit Voice travel, nature and landscape photography in our Sunday Set archive, and visit our online gallery to buy prints and more — a great way to support our independent environmental journalism.
An Alm outpost along the Grossglockner Strasse.
These goats seems to be well-trained. Even without a herder persent, they knew which way to go.
High mountain pastures are part of Austria’a agricultural tradition.
With snow in the forecast, sheepherders prepare to move their animals down to the valley.
This past summer, we spent several weeks exploring the world of Austrian Alms, high mountain pastures that are only grazed for a few months each summer. While we in the U.S. generally tend to prefer undisturbed mountain landscapes for their aesthetic and environmental values, these Austrian pastures have been grazed for centuries and even millennia. In the earliest days, as humans colonized the Alps after the last ice age, they had to use the higher slopes as forage areas because the valleys were still choked with glacial debris, wetlands and thick vegetation. That means the open meadows higher up were actually available for animal husbandry earlier than the lower elevations. In any case, the Alms now form an important part of the Alps’ ecological fabric, providing habitat for many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that wouldn’t thrive in a dark forest environment. Alms are also important to culture and recreation, as gathering points for hikers, and help ensure local food supplies. The first three in a series of grant-funded stories on this topic have been published at Pacific Standard, links below. Help support independent environmental journalism by visiting the stories and sharing them on your social media networks.
Seeking knowledge …
The Gjaidalm, at a Bronze Age grazing site in the Austrian Alps, now serves mainly as an outpost for hikers and also offers yoga classes and wellness retreats.
Global warming is radically changing the chemistry of mountain soils and some plants that rely on a specific combination of nutrients are unlikely to survive.
Wilderness as its understood in the U.S. is a relatively new concept in Austria, but resource manageres are determined to recreate wilderness in the remote mountain forests around the Dürrenstein.
Mountain pastures in Austria help ensure local food security.
Global sea ice has been at a record low extent for several months. This aerial shot of Greenland, taken from a commercial flight, shows a receding glacier along the east coast of Greenland.
I’ve been reporting on the environment for 21 years, so it’s not surprising that, even when I’m traveling on vacation, I tend to see nearly everything through a certain prism. That may be a blessing and a curse at the same time. It might be nice, every now and then, to completely tune out from the world’s problems and just live hedonistically. On the other hand, I feel like I can really connect with the people and places I’m seeing by understanding them in an environmental context. And in reality, I don’t really separate work and play all that much anymore. This past summer’s trek through the Austrian Alps to learn about climate change and sustainable mountain agriculture was a wonderful experience. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to exercise my curiosity. You can read about the environment and culture of the Austrian Alms here
, and learn more about melting Arctic ice may affect you in this story