Testing and tasting the Salzburg gravel scene

What makes the city of Salzburg the ideal jump-off for exploring the Austrian alps?

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Feature type Story

Read time 7 mins

Published Aug 11, 2023

Photographer David Robinson

Katherine Moore A wildlife-loving rider with a penchant for creating off-road routes, Katherine is a multi-discipline cycling writer, presenter and guide based on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, Devon.

With more than 60% of the country’s landmass belonging to the Eastern Alps, Austria’s stunning network of winding gravel roads, glacial rivers and high passes, could just be the ultimate Alpine destination for the adventure cyclist. To test the theory, gravel aficionado Katherine Moore teams up with Salzburg mensch-in-the-know Max Riese to discover what makes his home city of Salzburg the perfect one-stop-shop for a long weekend in the saddle.

Ebenau’s rolling green pastures lie beneath rugged alpine peaks.

I’d been hearing all about the riding in Salzburg for years after one of my best friends emigrated there, so when the chance arrived to explore it myself, naturally, I jumped at it. Surrounded by mountains and the gateway to the Austrian Alps, it’s become one of the definitive European adventure hubs where a savvy international crowd has flocked. With gravel also really taking off there, I wanted to see what could be possible within a long weekend or a week’s revitalising break.

To get a proper feel for the place, I tasked Salzburg local (and trusted friend of BASE) Max Riese with not only sharing some of his most-revered local gravel routes, but also introducing me to a few of the key characters at the heart of the Salzburg cycling community.

As a known ultra-cyclist himself, Max has been instrumental in nurturing the burgeoning gravel scene here. His knowledge and passion for the area shines through; pointing out each peak, path, valley and hidden waterfall with stories, having spent every free moment of the last 12 years exploring these mountains.

Max regularly rides with a crew of local pals, around half Austrian nationals and half international professionals, who have adopted Salzburg as their new mountain home. John Braynard is one such character. Hailing from the US, he now heads up global social media at Red Bull HQ and can certainly be credited with sharing the appeal of riding in Salzburg with a larger community.

When John arrived here 11 years ago, the scene was purely racing-focussed. With a keen eye for a killer image and a penchant for exploration over simply tackling passes as fast as legs and lungs would allow, he cultivated an alternative attitude to riding here, and has since taken many more along with him for the ride.

Tour guides don’t get much more local than Max Riese, a Salzburg native.

A pit-stop on the Sewaldsee route, fuelling up and cooling down

The municipality of Fuschl am See lies on the shores of a tranquil lake surrounded by pine clad hills

Hopping on the bike really is the best way to get to know the city. While the baroque plazas are breathtakingly beautiful to ride around, we hauled up the steep cobbled climb on the castle-topped city mountain, Mönchsberg, for the best views. From this vantage point at eye level with the bell towers, copper domes, spires and turrets, you look across the old city and the patchwork of terracotta, slate and metal roofs.

Besides the urban centre, Salzburg feels genuinely relaxed, lush and green. Locals sunbathe and dip next to Almkanal (the mountain water canal), gravel trails line the river and gorgeous estate parks are open to the public. There are plenty more quirky places to visit and where local riders love to hang out, from speciality coffee at Kaffee Alchemie to FUXN’s buzzing beer garden.

Max assures me that a rider’s tour of Salzburg wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Fanzy Bikes. Behind the bright mural frontage and racks of retro mountain bikes stands Jakob Deutschmann, all bouffant, moustache, unbuttoned overalls and a broad smile. Much like his character, the shop is anything but ordinary; kitted out only with salvaged old bikes given proper TLC and a new lease of life.

In the time it takes to sip an Almdudler (often considered the national drink of Austria) a dozen people have popped in for a drink or a quick hello. Besides offering something truly unique (and frankly a little barmy by modern standards) it’s clear that Jakob, alongside Dani Herlbauer (another cycling nut who runs local shop Bikepalast), is a much liked and respected player in Salzburg’s vibrant cycling scene.

Besides the urban centre, Salzburg feels genuinely relaxed, lush and green

‘Even my steed is Austrian; a carbon fibre, custom painted 1of1 gravel bike from Mondsee.’

Sticking with a theme, my base for the week is Hotel Jakob, a pioneering sports hotel on the edge of Lake Fuschl, just half an hour from Salzburg and also the site for Red Bull HQ. A passionate cyclist and triathlete himself, fifth generation hotelier Jakob Schmidlechner saw the opportunity to create a dedicated offering for cyclists here in the mountains.

Equipped with everything you might need from secure bike storage and hire to sports massage offerings, Jakob and his team have not only created a cyclist’s paradise in this mountainous adventure playground, but also fostered a community of like-minded souls.

And the riding? Well, while you can access plenty of excellent gravel trails directly from the city, the out-and-back can add significant mileage if you’re planning on exploring deeper into the mountains. Thankfully, Salzburg is super well connected with trains that offer regular services and free bike carriage, so you can save your legs for the long Alpine climbs and sublime balcony gravel roads instead. Even my steed is Austrian; a carbon fibre, custom painted 1of1 gravel bike from Mondsee.

Below, you’ll find four of Max’s local tried and tested favourites that you can use to form the backbone of a trip, whether that’s a long weekend or a full week of gravel riding in SalzburgerLand. 

You’ll find everything from an easier loop straight from the city to longer days climbing to high Alpine pastures, with refreshing lake dips and many traditional mountain huts to stop by for the authentic Austrian mountain experience.

Oh, and to help you along your way, here’s a little glossary of suffixes commonly used in Austrian place names and landscape features.


  • see: lake 
  • tal: valley
  • alm: pasture
  • weg: way
  • berg: mountain
  • ach: river
  • burg: castle
  • wald: forest

Route 1: The Haunsberg trail

  • 67 km, 650 m climbing, 4.5 hours
  • Intermediate
  • Places of interest: Haunsberg viewpoint

The perfect acclimatisation ride for your first day, the Haunsberg trail eases you into the vertiginous landscape with lush green hills rather than high mountain passes. Don’t think that you’ll be sacrificing scenery though; the views from the summit are arguably the best around Salzburg.

After the climb and a fantastic section of flowing singletrack trail, you reach a tiny chapel and crown-topped monument commemorating the visit of Emperor Joseph II in the late 1700s. To the east, there’s the iconic shark-fin mountain of the Schafberg, while the glacial peak of Dachstein can be seen beyond. Closer-by, the mound-like mountain of Gaisberg on the edge of the city is the go-to climb for local cyclists before or after work.

Looking north-east, there’s a gorgeous vista over Seenland, the Salzburg Lake District. Turn 180 for a more agricultural scene, Germany’s Bavaria clearly seen over the snaking River Salzach.

Insider tip: 

There’s a perfect reason that this is one of Max’s favourite rides to do before or after work. An early start is rewarded by a glorious sunrise over the mountains, while sunset is savoured over the German border before a delicious twilight descent back to the city.

Route 2: Strubklamm to Gaisberg Figure of Eight

  • 46.8 km, 900 metres climbing, 4 hours
  • Intermediate
  • Places of interest: Hintersee, Vordersee, Felsenbad and Strubklamm gorge

Starting from the Alchemie coffee shop on the banks of the Salzach River, this figure of eight loop gives you the option for a shorter loop totalling 27km, or the full double loop taking in two iconic lakes and an outstanding balcony road through the Strubklamm gorge.

Soon out of the city, serene forest gravel tracks lead you to Koppl, before riding beside charming old water mills and lush pastures. From Ebenau the second loop begins, with flowing tarmac interspersed with thrilling gravel sectors leading you through Faistenau to the edge of Hintersee. Pop off your socks for a refreshing paddle.

Insider tip:

For a more secluded swim spot, head to Felsenbad a little further along, with a spectacular series of natural pools carved into the rock bed of the river. 

A real treat is in store for you after you pass the Vordersee, as you continue onto the supreme tarmac road through the Strubklamm gorge. The road is pure bliss, though you’ll want to stop by the side of the quiet road to take in the magnitude of the sheer rock faces surrounding you.

Forested gravel tracks form the final climb with some testing gradients of up to 15%, though you’re mightily rewarded while descending on tarmac between wildflower meadows back towards the city.

The Strubklamm route includes plenty of spots to pop off your socks for a refreshing paddle

Route 3: Alte Postalmstrasse

  • 69.4 km, 1,620 metres climbing, 6.5 hours
  • Advanced
  • Places of interest: Old Postalmstrasse gravel climb, Huberhütte mountain hut, Postalm pastures

Featuring one of the most scenic old pass roads taking you up into Austria’s largest Alpine pasture, this route is truly worthy to be named the queen stage of any SalzburgerLand gravel riding holiday.

From Salzburg, you can take a 30-minute local train directly to Golling with your bike that delivers you straight into the heart of the mountains. The first climb of the day sticks to the pristine tarmac heading west.

The main event begins when you reach Pichl, where the old road up to Postalm starts. With the modern, tarmac toll road now on the other side of the Einberg, you can enjoy this 16-kilometre gravel track in peace, taking in the many waterfalls along on your ascent. 

The last push up to Huber Hütte gets pretty steep, but it’s certainly worth it. The gravel doubletrack snakes up through the pasture, Fleckvieh and Pinzgauer cattle nonchalantly grazing, cowbells tinkling.

Insider tip: 

There’s a generous menu of local specialties on offer at the hut, which is one of the oldest on the Postalm. Kaspressknödelsuppe, a sort of cheesy bread dumpling served in a broth-like soup, comes highly recommended.

After refuelling, it’s time to relish the incredible descent from 1,350 metres back down to the Lammer Valley, this time taking some sublime tarmac on the toll road, Postalmstrasse. The single carriageway descent twists and turns as you head down through the forest and through more farm pastures, weaving between traditional mountain chalets. You’ll struggle to keep your eyes on the road though, with the spectacular jagged silhouette of both the Tennen Mountains and the Gosaukamm range’s high peak of Bischofsmütze — the Bishop’s Hat — before you.

Route 4: Lake Seewaldsee

  • 39 km, 940 metres climbing, 3.5 hours
  • Intermediate
  • Places of interest: Aubachfall waterfall, Lake Seewaldsee, Auerhütte mountain hut

Glorious gravel, breathtaking mountain views, a serene lake, waterfalls and the traditional mountain hut experience; the Seewaldsee loop really does have it all.

From Golling train station, an easy journey out of the city, you take the gravelly bike path through the Lammer Valley to awaken the legs. After Volgau there’s a short detour to visit the impressive Aubachfall waterfall which you simply can’t miss.

Here the ascent begins in earnest, with some classic tarmac Alpine hairpins that gloriously crumble into a gravel track after the farms. Not only does this doubletrack offer marvellous mountain views as you climb, but the sheer rock face beside you is a mighty sight in itself.

Seven kilometres after the waterfall, you earn your first sweet glimpse of Lake Seewaldsee. Much unlike the expansive, bright aqua waters of Lake Fuschlsee, pretty Seewaldsee is modest in appearance. The lake’s edge laps over onto the pasture, creating a marshy margin flanked by pine forests. It truly is a hidden gem up here, and reaching it by pedal power makes that feel all the more special.

Auerhütte sits proudly just above the lake, offering its patrons — and wonderful menagerie of livestock — spectacular views over the water. Whether you’re in need of a hearty meal or something a little lighter, there’s plenty of traditional Austrian cuisine to savour here. I opted for the Topfenstrudel, best described as apple strudel meets egg custard tart. Divine.

Complete the loop back to Golling by descending through the enchanted forest on the smooth sliver of paved road. Pastures, chalets and farmsteads set the scene for your final descent; pure joy in the shadow of the Tennen Mountains.

To find out more about the many incredible biking trails in Austria, check out the Austria Info website.

You can view Katherine’s Salzburg Gravel collection here, or on the komoot app.

With thanks to Hotel Jakob for providing accommodation during this trip.

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