Lake Achen – The Achensee

Last updated on April 13th, 2024 at 01:43 pm

Lake Achen is the largest lake in the Tyrol and definitely one of the most spectacular . The blue-green waters are up to 400 feet deep, while the steep mountainsides to the east and west remind many visitors of a Norwegian fjord.

The Achensee is within easy reach of the three main regional airports and the lakeside villages offer an excellent choice of accommodation. The walking in the Rofan and Karwendel mountains is stunning and the choice of winter sports is wide.

Yet, for some reason, the Achensee region has never achieved great attention on the English-speaking travel market.

The outdoors travel industry terms the active niche ‘lakes and mountains’ summer holidays. It seems strange, therefore, that the biggest Tyrolean lake – one of its recognised beauty spots – features way down the list when it comes to package holidays.

Lake Achen also has two historic attractions to attract visitors to the destination: the Achenseebahn steam cog railway and the Achensee ferry service around the lake. The Achenseebahn runs from the town of Jenbach in the Inn valley and chugs up to just outside the town of Maurach on the southern edge of the lake.

The Achenseebahn Railway

The Achensee steam train near the lake

The Achenseebahn train service between Jenbach to Seespitz serves as a major regional tourist attraction as well as part of the transport network.

Rail enthusiasts know it is the oldest steam cog railway in Europe and that Jenbach railway station is the only Austrian stop which uses three different rail gauges. (The main Inn valley service and the Zillertalbahn to Mayrhofen connect here.)

Other visitors to the lake will simply enjoy the sights and smells of the 7km ride, climbing 450m from the valley floor through woods and fields to the lakeside.

The planning and construction took place in the late 18th century. Residents of the lakeside villages were originally sceptical about the railway, but the Abbot of Fiecht monastery (the owner of the lake and the ferry service) pushed for the development to go ahead. In fact, a more extensive original project planned a service into Germany to link the Achensee and Tegernsee lakes.

The railway opened in 1889, 400m short of the Seespitz ferry station but extended to the current station building and ferry stop in 1929. In those days, the train transported goods as well as people.

The rail service remains steam-powered and is a mix of cog and traditional railway. The cog section climbs from the Inn valley, followed by usual train service from Eben.

The Achensee train runs in the summer months, with a restricted service in early May and late October and early November. The steam train is popular in high season, with bus groups reserving individual carriages.

The Achensee Ferry

The ferry service on Lake Achen

The commercial lake ferry service on the Achensee is one of Europe’s oldest. The monks of St Georgenberg-Fiecht Abbey started it as a way to profit from the increased visitor numbers attracted to the Tyrol by better rail connections. They ordered the original vessel, the St Josef, from a Linz shipyard. Horses helped transport the vessel parts to Pertisau before assembly. The ship started in 1887.

The monks’ ferries were far from the first boats used for pleasure or commerce on the Achensee. Horses had pulled rafts of heavy goods along the lakeside track between Achenkirch and Maurach. And in the Middle Ages the Tyrolean ruling family also built a fleet of ships for their own amusement, including a galley, a boat housing the wine cellar and competitive racing skiffs.

Two years after the first boat took to the lake, the railway opened (also backed by the monks) and the increased tourist traffic meant a second ship, the St Benedikt, was soon required.

Nowadays the Achenseeschiff fleet consists of five vessels, although with some only used for charters. The ferry service, now run by the Tyrolean hydroelectric power company TIWAG, runs in the summer months with a restricted service in early May and late October and early November. Evening cruises – with music, dancing and illuminations – take place every Friday.

The Villages Around Lake Achen


The village of Pertisau on the Achensee

Pertisau is a picturesque village on the shores of Lake Achen popular even in the Middle Ages. The Tyrolean counts used to head here with hunting parties and eventually built their own fleet of boats and a hunting lodge on the lakeshore.

The settlement, served by a road from Maurach, is at 950m altitude on the south-western lakeshore.

A permanent population of under 700 makes it by some way the smallest of the three settlements but visitors attracted by its lovely position at the end of three alpine valleys boost the numbers. (There is no direct car access on the western side of the lake between Pertisau and Achenkirch.)

The Karwendel Nature Park boasts three valleys leading into different parts of the nature reserve. Those who are looking for something a bit special can use the village as a starting point for a multi-day hiking trip to mountain huts in the park or even head all the way over to Scharnitz on the Seefeld plateau.

For winter visitors, Pertisau’s small ski area is on the Zwölferkopf peak to the south of the village centre. It is a limited area but with great views and some interesting runs to the valley and a few simple blue runs at the top.

Despite being the smallest of the lakeside settlements, Pertisau is the biggest ‘resort’ and has a lot of top-end hotel accommodation, starting with the former hunting residence of the Tyrolean ruling family on the lake shore.

Many of the established big four-star hotels are down near the lake. Other locations are on the road up from the lake past the tourist office or on the road from the shore up to the Karwendel lift. Some newer hotels are up on the other side of the golf course nearer the walking trails into the Karwendel Nature Park.

Map of Pertisau Accommodation

Check the accommodation availability for your dates on the map below . The map can be zoomed in and out using the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols and more information about the accommodation is available by clicking on the prices.


Maurach on the shores of Lake Achen

The village of Maurach is where most visitors first glimpse the blue waters of Lake Achen. Maurach is at the lake’s southern end reached by a road which runs from the nearby Inn valley to Achenkirch and Germany.

The village of Maurach belongs to the larger administrative district of Eben, which covers the southern end of the lake (including Pertisau and the Hinterriss valley in the Karwendel park).

Eben itself is a small village which is almost a suburb of Maurach, notable mainly for the museum dedicated to the popular local St. Notburga. It is the first settlement on the main road after the hairpin bends rising from the Inn valley.

Maurach itself is a sprawling village closer to the lake. The historic centre is a slight distance from the lake. The growing suburb of Buchau on the eastern shore has expanded with tourist facilities and hotels.

Maurach, at 960m altitude, is the most developed of the three resorts in the Achensee region. Even so, walkers can access several great hikes in the Rofan mountains towering above the hotels and guest houses.

The Rofan cable car leaves from the edge of the village and rises to open pastures in a bowl surrounded by limestone peaks and cliffs. The top station is at 1840m – the mountains rise another 500m above the cable car building.

The same cable car near the main road serves the small Maurach ski area high in the Rofan mountains in the winter season. It is another small area with a great panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The terrain is mainly intermediate standard and the AirRofan glider offers an interesting alternative to skiing.

The traditional centre of the village is located a little way down on the other side of the main road from the Rofan cable car. Another quiet and more residential area is situated across the fields at the base of the mountains in the Karwendel range.

A newer section has grown up along the road around to Buchau and Achenkirch where the main bathing area and a ferry landing stage are located. Compared to the other villages, Maurach has a less extensive range of top hotels although there are plenty of family-run guesthouses and self-catering apartments available.

Map of Maurach Accommodation

Check the accommodation availability for your dates on the map below . The map can be zoomed in and out using the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols and more information about the accommodation is available by clicking on the prices.


The settlement of Achenkirch on the northern shore of Lake Achen

Achenkirch is the most accessible lakeside resort for visitors arriving from the north. From the village, a road leads over the German border past the Tegernsee towards Munich.

The village sprawls over an open valley between the Karwendel mountains and the Rofan range. Achenkirch centre is around 2km from the northern end of the lake.

Perhaps tourism started with the ruling families of the Tyrol back in the Middle Ages who used the area as a hunting and fishing centre. This ‘tourism’ meant farming became more unpredictable as the numbers of bear and wolves in the region increased.

Once the connections improved, the beauty of the lake and the walking and climbing available in the surrounding landscape started to draw more visitors from the Inn valley and Bavaria.

Nowadays visitors come in the summer for the walking and the mountain biking routes not forgetting, of course, the water sport options offered by the lake.

Those looking for a winter holiday will see the main attraction is the ski area of the Christlum, although winter walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular.

Achenkirch’s surprisingly interesting ski area is on the western side of the valley between Achenkirch centre and the lake shore and is of most appeal to good intermediate skiers looking for a challenge. The base station at 930m in altitude has a decent-sized parking area and a four-seater chairlift offers the main access to the slopes. Interesting red and black runs back to the base are available from the top. There is also a small beginners’ area with a couple of short drag lifts.

The hotels in Achenkirch are divided into three distinct areas of the village: those nearer the lake; those at the bottom of the ski lifts; and those around the village centre near the tourist information office.

Map of Achenkirch Accommodation

Check the accommodation availability for your dates on the map below . The map can be zoomed in and out using the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols and more information about the accommodation is available by clicking on the prices.

Getting to the Achensee Lake

Those hiking the Tyrolean long-distance Eagle’s Trail may access the Achensee resorts from east or west.

Holidaymakers not travelling on foot will find north and south the only choices. The route of the road between the Inn valley and Bavaria dates back centuries. The original trail transported timber and trade goods between the regions. The road access is easier these days, although high season traffic can make the journey to Lake Achen a slow one.

Trains and the local bus service link the Achensee villages to the Inn valley with public transport, sometimes free with a reservation. Those arriving by air will often find the Inn valley the most convenient route to access the lake, whether arriving from Innsbruck airport or the slightly more distant options at Salzburg and Munich.