Life in a Quiet Valley

Time stands still in the Wildschönau – a tranquil high valley in the Kitzbüheler Alps. As in so many other places, the pause button has been placed on normal life. Better to be safe than to be sorry.

The trail to the cheese

Looking after the cheese at the Schönangeralm in the Wildschönau valley
Caring for the cheese at the Schönangeralm
© Wildschönau Tourismus

It is quiet on the main road that leads through the villages of Niederau, Oberau and Auffach.

One of the few who still uses it is Johann Schönauer, the head cheesemaker of the Schönangeralm, who looks after the cheese every week. For him cheese is part of an essential rhythm.

“Cheese knows no lockdown. And no corona,” he says and is happy to accept the almost hour’s drive from his home near Kössen to the farthest, but perhaps most idyllic, corner of the Wildschönau.

He has to turn and brush about 300 rounds of Tilsiter and Emmental. The whole procedure can take seven hours.

Sometimes his nephew helps him. But there is no talking in the cheese cellar.

And thinking? Not even that.

“You’re just with the cheese. When you’re brooding, you can’t feel your way fully into the cheese. Love and heart, you have to give it your all.” Only then will the cheese be really good. The numerous gold medals that Johann Schönauer regularly brings home from the Cheese Olympics in Galtür are proof of just how much affection there is in his cheese.

Once Johann has finished working with the cheese, he goes for a walk with Bergmann, his dog.

They spend every summer together on the mountain pasture below the Lämpersberg and Breiteggspitze and enjoy the seclusion of the mountain world as well as the visits of locals and tourists who buy cheese and have a look at the show dairy.

While Bergmann sniffs for doggy secrets between the bushes, Johann has time for a few thoughts: “In the last few years I have been afraid that the cheese is not enough for me in the summer. I wonder what will happen this year.”

Still, he will be happy when the mountain pastures open again in early summer, he sees the cows once more and hopefully he can look after his cheese around the clock again.

One side to the standstill: “I’ve never had so much time.” His winter job as a masseur in a four-star hotel is also done with. Enough deceleration, then, to realize what really counts, that you can get by with less and that it is simply important to stay healthy.

And, speaking of health, Johann naturally swears by cheese, to be taken in the morning and in the evening. Now and then along with a glass of schnapps.

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Enough to be getting on with at the Prädastenhof

Farm products from the Prädastenhof in the Wildschönau valley
Making the farm products at the Prädastenhof
© Wildschönau Tourismus | Georg Loinger

Georg Loinger has as much idea as anyone else what will happen in the future. “Right now, you just read the tea leaves and wait.”

But actually, he doesn’t have time for that at all. He has to take the food he produces on his farm to the supermarket in the valley that he has been working with for two years: Graukäse, buttermilk, butter, eggs, noodles, fresh milk, various types of yoghurt as well as salami and bacon.

“Sales are really going really well, the demand is great – despite the crisis, despite the lack of tourists. The locals are at home and have time to cook. Many of them remember to shop regionally and they are regaining a feeling for the value of a product.”

“Our farm is situated in a totally quiet and secluded location at the end of the valley at an altitude of 1100 meters. This is not wonderful for farm sales, thus the cooperation in the valley. But to live it is simply a dream.”

And the dream is available for those who want to stay there on holiday. He hopes that he will soon be able to rent out his large holiday apartment on the farm, the nearby alpine hut and chalet to guests again.

“If you want to gain peace and quiet and distance after Corona, this is the right place for you,” promises Georg Loinger.

Around the Prädastenhof there are also many hiking trails, where the only soul you meet will be your own one. For Georg, one thing is certain: keep going and try to see some opportunities in the crisis. “If it’s enough to change people’s minds and get back to the basics, then it’s a start.”

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An empty distillery at the Zwecklhof

Schnapps at the Zwecklhof in the Wildschönau valley
Sigi Kistl inspects his spirits
© Wildschönau Tourismus

While Georg Loinger looks to the future, Sigi Kistl looks into the empty distillery on his rustic purpose-built farm. In normal times, he specialises in the production of fine brandies, liqueurs and gin. It is his second mainstay after farming.

Although his main production period is in the autumn, his popular schnapps tastings are all cancelled at the moment,

But the alcohol is there, as is the World Health Organization’s recipe for disinfectants, and the demand and necessity is beyond question. So from now on Sigi will roll up his sleeves and produce an external disinfectant against viruses.

For occasional internal cleansing, however, an apricot or rowanberry, or even a “SiGin” from the Wildschönau is recommended.

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