High times

Stephen Hollis and daughters journey into Europe to hone their German language skills – and test their heads for heights

Illustration by Louise Turpin

Touring with teenagers can prove tricky, the stress involved in trying to keep everyone happy often nullifying any relaxing experiences you manage to create. So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to take my 16-year-old daughter, Megan, across Europe in a motorhome with the specific goal of improving her German before she takes an A Level in the subject.

Mix in an often surly 13-year-old in the form of my younger offspring, Beth, along with the fact I was the sole responsible adult, and it meant that, as we waited to catch the early-morning ferry from Dover, I was uncertain how the next 12 days would go.

Happily, I need not have worried. It may not have all been plain sailing, but we enjoyed an amazing experience together, making memories that I – and hopefully my daughters – will cherish for ever.

Our first base from which to hone Megan’s German skills was Camping Kleinenzhof in the Black Forest. It is a long drive from Calais to this pleasant site nestled in a wooded valley west of Stuttgart – over 700km – but overnight stops in Belgium and Luxembourg helped break up the journey, while a carefully curated music playlist kept the girls entertained – or at least restricted the bickering and queries about whether we were nearly there yet.

Kleinenzhof is a fairly basic site although it does have both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a restaurant and a small shop. The man at reception spoke pretty good English, but Megan was able to translate that there was a blueberry festival in a neighbouring village that we might like to check out.

Walk on the wild side

The Natterer See campsite

However, we already had plans, and headed for the nearby town of Bad Wildbad to sample two of the Black Forest’s most popular tourist attractions. The WildLine suspension bridge and Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald – the Black Forest tree-top path – are handily situated within walking distance of each other at the top of the Sommerberg mountain.

For the fittest and most determined it is possible to walk to the summit from Bad Wildbad, but we took the easy option and caught the funicular railway, with Megan once again stepping up to the plate to sort out the tickets. She felt justifiably proud of herself as we cruised up the mountain (which, at its steepest point, has a gradient of 53%).

A pleasant walk along forest paths brings you to the suspension bridge. It stretches 380m across the Bärenklinge valley, supported by just two pylons and held by steel cables only 75mm thick! Those uncomfortable with heights should probably give this one a miss as you can see straight through the metal mesh walkway to the 60m drop below. The bridge also tends to sway when you are in the middle – although not enough, according to Beth – but the rewards for those brave enough are spectacular views across the Black Forest. 

After a brief explore on the other side of the bridge – there is a huge network of walking routes if you are up for a hike – and an ice cream after our return crossing (Black Forest gateau flavour for me, obviously!) we headed to the treetop path.

This 1.2km-long raised wooden walkway features various activity stations, while the 40m-tall observation tower at the end offers even more dramatic vistas. The added bonus of a slide back down to the bottom was another hit with the junior Hollises.

The journey from Germany to Austria the following day was both sensational and a little  stressful as it involved navigating a 7m-long motorhome along twisty roads through the Black Forest and then the Alps. 

It brought us to our second site – Natterer See, set in a stunning location near the city of Innsbruck. We had a premium pitch right on the banks of a swimming lake – perfect for launching our paddleboard – while towering, snow-covered mountains surrounded us on all sides.

After a swim and some messing around on the inflatable obstacle course on the lake, we had dinner in the restaurant, where we tucked into traditional Austrian fare of Wiener schnitzel followed by Kaiserschmarrn (a kind of scrambled pancake).

Early the next morning we set off to Area 47, which describes itself as the largest outdoor adventure park in Austria and is the stuff of dreams for adrenaline seekers. You can do virtually every kind of activity here, from white-water rafting to canyoning, and mountain biking to bungee jumping – it was the opportunity to visit that convinced Beth to join us on the trip in the first place.

We opted for the Mega Swing and Flying Fox combination ticket. When I booked it at home I felt it would be within my comfort zone, but up close it suddenly felt very daunting. After Beth had launched herself off the tiny platform 27m up, attached to just a couple of ropes, I felt I couldn’t chicken out and, following a few false starts, did manage the leap of faith!

Area 47 also has an amazing water park which was largely deserted due to heavy rain. Despite being a little chilly, the weather meant we were able to go on the many slides – including one which launches you into the air at a speed of 50kph! – without needing to queue.

Sport star

Cable car to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. ©Zell am See-Kaprun Tourismus

Innsbruck itself looks like a beautiful city, but unfortunately we did not have time to explore it or the mountains around Natterer See. We needed to head further east across Austria to our final stop at Sportcamp Woferlgut near the resort town of Zell am See (itself a 90-minute drive south of Salzburg). Woferlgut is an award-winning site boasting excellent facilities and views of the mighty Kitzsteinhorn mountain, which we planned to conquer to end our holiday on a high – literally. 

A series of cable cars takes you to the top of the mountain, with the views becoming increasingly breathtaking at each station stop. Near the top is an ice arena where we tried sledging – in June! – and chatted to two girls from Oman who were enthralled to be seeing snow for the first time.

From there it is a short funicular railway ride to the very summit at 3,029m above sea level where there are amazing viewing platforms protruding over sheer drops. There’s also a small cinema showing films about the mountain and a 360m-long tunnel which takes you from one side of the mountain to the other.

On our return to the small town of Kaprun at the foot of the mountain, we rode the alpine roller coaster – the Maisi Flitzer – which proved another huge hit with the girls and provided the perfect end to a brilliant trip. The fact it also had an educational element for Megan was a great bonus.

  • If Stephen has inspired you to visit this region, please visit camc.com/overseas to book the featured campsites. 

Duty free deals

Stephen travelled with DFDS and used the opportunity to buy gifts for loved ones back home.

DFDS passengers can save up to 50% on UK high street prices at dedicated Duty Free shops in Calais and Dunkerque. With parking and loading lanes available right outside the stores, you can do your shopping while waiting for your ferry – there are great deals on alcohol, confectionery, cosmetics and more. You can even browse online before arrival to find the best deals and reserve items. Find out more at dfds.com. Remember members save 10% on DFDS Economy fares when booking with the Club.

See camc.com/overseas-holidays/book-a-crossing/dfds.

Campsites in Austria

Snap away at Alpine scenery and turn a waltz or two as you discover Austria.

View campsites in Austria