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Grüner See (Green lake, I’ll let you guess why) is a karst lake in Styria, Austria. No one knew it even existed until Ashton Kutcher posted about it on Facebook a few years back. After that, the council had to impose a swimming and diving ban to protect the environment due to the tourist masses.
To be fair, they are nowhere to be seen in September but that might be because the lake shrinks back after it reaches its peak in early summer. At its highest, the water measures 10 meters deep. When we visited, it wasn’t even 2 anymore but it was still a spectacular sight. The water in the lake comes from melting snow from the surrounding mountains. Due to this and the fact that Grüner See is situated in a relatively wind-protected valley and most of its ground is not mud but limestone, the water is so clean that red light fractions are absorbed, hence the blue-green colour.
We were so fascinated by it that we forgot the time and spent parts of the 5KM way back to our campsite running, but stopping whenever people looked so we didn’t look like idiots, to make it to Spar before closing time for some beers. Countryside life is hard.
Upon our campsite return, there’s still no one at the reception, only an old dude who walks over, takes my ID, mumbles something about knowing the boss and that there’s a party in the village tomorrow, and walks off. A party with cows. They dress cows up and bring them down from the mountain. While getting drunk. No questions asked, but where do I get a goddamn ticket.
Tonight is the night we try our gas cooker for the first time, Aydin was sceptical because he had the shitest campsite cooker on a previous trip and ended up chucking away half cooked noodles because the cooker wouldn’t stay lit too many times. Well, pasta and pesto has never tasted so good – the cooker worked a treat, bringing Aydin much joy. We drink our beers until our hands almost freeze off, then retreat to the tent only to realise it’s still ice cold. Long story short, we knew since the very first night that Aydin’s sleeping bag (MY sleeping bag but somehow I ended up with his nice, cosy, warm one, god knows why) was useless. Spoiler alert: Took us a month to fix that problem. Slowly but steadily, the turtle wins the race, right.
The weird cow party the next day turns out to be Almabtrieb which we miss since we can’t figure out where it is and when it starts and the campsite management is adamant it’s not happening today despite what the other dude told us. Almabtrieb: homecoming but for cows. Once a year, cattle is brought down from alpine pastures where it spends its summer munching away on the very best grass for the winter. Since this is their big day, the cows get flower crowns cause everyone deserves to feel like a princess every once in awhile. We miss the party but manage to see the cows, not before we meet two little polecats poking their heads out from behind a tree (probably in Aydin’s top 3 best days ever now) and black cute little squirrels. After all this excitement we’re exhausted but determined to start our first hike of the trip up to the top of the Meßnerin for areal views of Grüner See.
Well, what was meant to be an easy warm up hike for the rest of the trip turns out to be a gruelling steep climb, up to the point where our legs get wobbly and our water slowly runs out. The view of Grüner See was absolutely worth it though! At least that’s what we thought before we realised we had to walk all the way back down as well…
When we finally get down, we decide we deserve a drink and set out to find the village pub. There’s always one and it’s Saturday night. Well, we were left in despair after seeing all THREE pubs in darkness. How can this even be? What the hell are these people doing in this village???? Everybody loves to drink in Austria, especially in the villages! But even in the hardest times, there’s always a little light. In the case of this Saturday evening, it was very little.
Kitty follows us as we walk around the village for two hours. Kitty likes to play with cows and us and has no intention of ever going home again. It gets late, we return to the campsite (with kitty obviously) and go to bed thinking she will definitely find her way home. I mean, come on, there are like 5 houses here, how hard can it be. VERY HARD, as we find out the next morning when kitty is hanging out in front of the campsite cafe trying to get inside. We assume she must belong to the campsite, wrong, the owner has no idea where kitty is from. Our hearts are breaking and the next hour is spent getting kitty back to her home which proves to be a tough job since kitty follows us every time we drop her off at her house. Third time lucky, she seems to have accepted that this is where she lives and we return to the campsite where we discover a common room for campers. With plug sockets. Hallelujah!
It’s warm inside and I can’t believe we didn’t notice it until the last day. We make great use of it spending the whole rainy Sunday inside to work on, well, this here. Draining all the electricity for payback. Then, the door opens and these two grungy dudes with long blonde hair enter. The Kings of Leon are here, oh wait, no, the biker brothers from Germany. These guys started their tour around the world in a bus but switched to motorbikes after it broke down. They also have beer. Mmmmmm. Beer. We tell them the story about how we tried to get beer so bad and the more chatty of the two declared he can’t not share a beer with us now. We initially insist that we can do without, but this guy is a true saint with a heart of gold. He waltzes over and proclaims he can’t enjoy himself until we join him sipping the sweet nectar. Sure, if we must, we’ll drink your beer. A special place is forged in our hearts for the biker brothers from Germany.
Before we go to sleep, they spontaneously unpack a guitar and keyboard and bust out into song for us. Our last night at Grüner See ends with a private concert with enough decibels to wake the neighbouring town. One brother sings with a soulful voice and aggressively attacks his guitar. The other whisks some sweet melodies on an old 80s synthesiser, a unique but mesmerising duo. Our emotions are a blend of awkwardness, overwhelming happiness and worry that some authority is going to come in and cry because the campsite has a policy to keep quiet after 10PM.
The night is cold.
Things we’ve learnt so far: Don’t put your tent up next to a lake.
We stayed at Camping Freizeitsee Zenz. Low season price is EUR 20,–/night for two people + 1 tent. It’s a pretty campsite and you can swim in the lake when it’s warm enough (as opposed to the green lake). If you prefer sleeping indoors, you can find accommodation here.
It’s a pleasant one-hour walk from the campsite to the lake, past some forests and farms. We recommend the blue route as the other one leads you on a road.
Swimming and diving at Grüner See is prohibited. The lake is biggest in spring when the snow in the mountains is melting, although we went there in September and still found it stunningly beautiful!
We hiked from Tragöß village to Meßnerin. It’s only about 9km round trip but it goes about 1000m up and then back down! The trail starts behind the Post restaurant. The first bit is on a small concrete road, then you pass a parking lot where you keep left and cross the stream. Follow the trail signs for “Meßnerin”. Much of the hike is through a forest, the cool views of Grüner See come towards the end! More information and a map of the trail here.
If you’re staying at the campsite in Pichl-Großdorf, be prepared that there might not be any open restaurant/pub in the evening. Stock up on food and drinks from the local Spar supermarket. Before noon on Saturdays mind you, after that it’s closed until Monday morning!