The Achensee or Lake Achen is the largest Alpine lake in Tyrol. Nestled between the Karwendel and Rofan massifs, it is rightly called the “Fjord of the Alps”. The Achensee is 9 km long, 1,3 km at its widest point and 133 metres at its deepest. It’s water is so clean, you can drink it. If you are lucky, you will spot Alpine marmots, chamois (a goat-antelope) and Alpine ibexes (Steinbock) in the surrounding Karwendel Nature Park. Watch the video about our trip from Pertisau to the Gaisalm at the end of the article.
The villages of Pertisau, Maurach and Achenkirch are closest to the lake. Naturally, they all provide a wide choice of hotels, guesthouses, holiday apartments and restaurants.
In my opinion, this pretty lakeside village has more of a holiday feel to it than Maurach or Achenkirch. People have been coming here for centuries to relax and practice their hobbies. It was a favourite hunting ground of Emperor Maximillian I, also called the “last knight”. He even had a hunting lodge built here in the 1400s.
Pertisau is home to the oldest golf club in Tyrol, and is the starting point for many other sporting activities – both in and out of the water. It’s on the border of the Karwendel Nature Park, with easy access to three stunning valleys – the Falzthurntal, the Gerntal and the Tristenautal.
Achenkirch is a municipality on the northernmost shore of the lake, and is spread out over an area that stretches all the way to the German border. Its popularity among famous German writers such as Ludwig Steub and Peter Rosegger helped to establish the Achensee as a summer resort.
The brave can swim in the nippy water of the public bathing area, while golf enthusiasts can practice their swing on the 9-hole golf course. Interesting buildings include the old Scholastika customs station, dating to the time salt was transported across the lake.
Coming from the Inn Valley via Jenbach or Wiesing, Maurach is the first village on the eastern shore of the Achensee. This is also where you will find a big tourist information office. The town is filled with tourist accommodation, but is also home to many locals. As a result, there are enough shops, supermarkets, banks, and a post office.
The Achensee steam cog railway ends near Maurach, with its Buchau bathing beach popular among day visitors. The base station of the Rofan cable car is also in Maurach.
I believe the purpose of a swimming pool or lake is purely to cool down when it’s extremely hot. Of course, children and water sports enthusiasts would disagree. With temperatures ranging from 16 °C to 22°, the Achensee is sure to cool anyone down. In fact, you will need to be active in the water to not feel the bite of the fresh mountain water. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to do just that in the Achensee.
We spent a lovely day on the lawns of Strandbad Pertisau while Mattheus and his cousins enjoyed the water trampoline and climbing wall/slide. There is a restaurant serving light meals, drinks and ice-cream, but you can also pack your own. However, you must pay to use the toilets. The doors are fitted with locks that only open when you insert €0,50. If you time it right, you can catch a door open when someone else leaves. But beware, there are those who don’t want to share their €0,50 with others!
There are more public swimming areas in Achenkirch, Schwarzenau and Maurach.
- Note: In the summer information brochure for 2017, it says admission to Strandbad Pertisau is free with a valid AchenseeCard. Not sure what the entrance fee is otherwise. We were never asked to pay anything or show any card, and didn’t see any pay points or signs either.
Sailing, Rafting and Kite Surfing
The Achensee is ideal for sailing and kite surfing. However, you do need a permit. They cost €15 for a month or €35 per year and are available at the boat house in Pertisau or online at www.fischerei-achensee.at. Paddleboarding is also becoming increasingly popular. Most equipment can be rented around the lake.
Hiking and Cycling
There are more than 450 kms of marked hiking routes and 250 kms of cycling and mountain bike routes around the Achensee. They have one of the best interactive online cycling and hiking maps I’ve come across. Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll around the lake or venture into the mountains, there is a trail for everyone. The nice thing about staying close to the lake, is that you can take a boat back to where you started if your legs get tired or bad weather sets in.
If you stay in tourist accommodation near the lake and are in possession of an AchenseeCard, you can also join in free guided walks, including a sunrise hike. Your host or the tourist information centre will be able to give you more information.
The Gaisalm is the only alm (traditional mountain hut/restaurant) in Tyrol that can be reached by boat. The only other way to get there is on foot. I highly recommend walking at least one way. The hiking trail from Pertisau to the Gaisalm is just over 4 kms and an easy walk, affording you unique views across the lake. From there, you can either take the boat or carry on walking to Achenkirch. This part of the hiking trail has some steep parts with steps, but once again the views are incredible. Walk at least part of the way to take pictures of the Gaisalm in its beautiful setting.
The Gaisalm serves traditional Austrian food. The service is quick and friendly. Children won’t get bored while the adults sit and enjoy the view with a slow drink. Apart from swimming in the lake, there is more than enough room for them to run around on the big lawns or play on the swings and slides.
We love going down the Falzthurntal to the Gramai Alm. It’s perfect for families. Those who are energetic can hike or cycle the 7,1 km from Pertisau, while the “lazy” ones can drive. The starting point is at the parking area at the toll booth to the Karwendel valleys.
The trail to Gramai is wide and even, making it suitable for push chairs. The way there is slightly uphill, with a climb of about 300 metres from beginning to end. If you would rather skip the uphill part, you can also rely on Berna, the “nostalgiebus”, to take you to the alm. Or break your journey up with rest stops at the Falzthurnalm on the way. Total walking time is about 2 to 3 hours, depending on your level of fitness and how many breaks you take. Once at Gramai, the kids are entertained by an animal petting zoo, a pond with extremely cold water to walk through, and a big play area.
The Gramai Alm is not open all year round (have a look at the pictures inside of when it was almost covered by an avalanche some years back). The summer season is generally from May to the end of October, while the restaurant is also open for people arriving on foot from the end of December to March.
The boats or ferries from Achenseeschiffahrt stop at 6 different places around the lake, including the 3 villages. A round trip costs €20 per adult, with discounts for children and groups. It’s also possible to take the boat between two docking stations only. For example, if you choose to walk to the Gaisalm from Pertisau and take the boat back, the journey will cost €5,20 per adult during the peak season. Refer to the latest timetable for up-to-date information.
The Steam Cog Railway
A little steam locomotive has been hauling tourists up and down the mountain between Jenbach and the lake since 1889, making it the oldest of its kind in Europe. To add to the nostalgia of the journey, you can step right onto a boat when disembarking from the train at Seespitz. The timetables are coordinated.
The journey on the Achensee Steam Cog Railway isn’t cheap. However, I guess it’s worth the €29 per adult for the return trip if you really like trains and see it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can also check their website for special offers that give you more value for your money.
Two cable cars give you instant access to the mountains, from where you have spectacular views over the Achensee. The Rofan Seilbahn starts in Maurach, while the Karwendel Bergbahn leaves from Pertisau. Return journeys cost between €17 and €20,50 per adult.
Other Tourist Attractions
While there is no doubt that nature is the biggest attraction around the Achensee, there are a few other attractions to provide some variety. They include the Achensee Museumswelt in Maurach, where you will find from 400 handmade dolls to a selection of old tractors. In Pertisau, you can see how the healing Tyrolean shale oil is extracted from rocks in the area at the Tiroler Steinöl Vitalberg Erlebniszentrum.
Value for Money
If you are staying in the area and have a free AchenseeCard, you might consider buying the Achensee Holiday Card. For only €69 per week, it includes tickets for the cable cars, the boats, the steam cog railway, a few museums and Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens. If bought separately, this could cost you very near to €200. Pity it’s only available for staying guests!
Getting to the Achensee
- Coming from the Inn Valley, take the A12 highway and then the Wiesing/Achensee exit. Travel on the B181 for about 7km until you reach Maurach. Follow the directions to Pertisau and Achenkirch from there.
- Coming from the direction of Munich on the German side, find the B318 to Tegernsee. Follow the directions from there until you get to the Achenpass and eventually Achenkirch across the border.
By Train and Bus
- Jenbach is the closest railway station to the Achensee, with regular trains from Innsbruck, Munich, Salzburg and Vienna stopping here. See my tips to find the cheapest train tickets. From the station, regional buses (numbers 4080, 8332 or 8336) or taxis go to the Achensee. The best thing is that travel on the regional buses is free for everyone staying in tourist accommodation in Achenkirch, Maurach, Pertisau or Steinberg. You will get a guest card after your arrival to show to the bus drivers, but when you first arrive at the station in Jenbach you can simply show him or her the reservation confirmation.
- From the German side, you can also take a train to Tegernsee and bus 9550 via Kreuth to Achensee. Find more information about the bus connection here: www.rvo-bus.de
Things to Keep in Mind
- Unfortunately, some links are only available in German. Where possible, I provided the English link.
- Many attractions, restaurants and places to stay are not open year-round. Please check, especially in early spring and late autumn, before you plan a visit.