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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Austria to end valley's isolation
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Kaisertal, Austria

Digger working on road into tunnel
The tunnel is due for completion next spring
One of the last inhabited valleys in the Austrian Alps to lack a road link to the outside world is emerging from isolation.

An 800-metre (2,640ft) tunnel is being built through a mountain to make the Kaisertal in Tyrol more accessible.

At the moment, getting there can be difficult.

Twice a week, a rickety cable car gets loaded with crates of beer and sausages, destined for Kaisertal.

Goods-only lifeline

The ropeway, which transports supplies up the mountain, is a lifeline for the valley's 30-odd inhabitants.

But it is strictly for goods only. People have to walk. For generations, practically the only way of getting to Kaisertal has been on foot.

View of chalet in Kaisertal valley
The valley is noted for its hiking trails and beauty
The trek can be tough if you are old, sick or out of shape.

On the path I met Luisa Feger, who was on her way to down to hospital because she had hurt her hand.

"I was operated on last week and you just have to go down - whether you like it or not," she said. "And you aren't safe, because you mustn't fall down. But you have to go down."

An hour or so's hiking leads to a pristine landscape of alpine meadows and high mountain peaks.

Map of Austria
But the road tunnel will end Kaisertal's isolation.

Most of the residents, who make their living running farms or small guesthouses for hikers, are pleased. They say it will stop people abandoning the valley.

Silvia Huber, who runs the Hans Berger Haus climbing school, says it will make daily life easier.

"If we get sick we have a better chance to go down to the doctor and if we need some stuff for the cottages, some beer or some meat, we can bring it up easier with the tunnel than now with the cable car," she said.

A few cars have already made it to Kaisertal - winched uphill by rope. Construction of the tunnel was held up for years because of environmentalist fears that the valley would be overrun by tourist traffic.

But the provincial authorities agreed to restrict the tunnel to the locals.

Hikers relax near chapel
Visitors will still have to use their feet to get into the valley

Josef Ritzer, the mayor of Ebbs, which includes Kaisertal, insists the rule will not be relaxed over time.

"It must be maintained," he said.

"We will be judged on whether we can stick to these restrictions, to ensure that Kaisertal isn't accessible to all the tourists and hikers who want to drive here. They'll still have to walk up as usual," he said.

Future challenge

From his chalet, 77-year-old Pepi Anker can see right across the valley. He is philosophical about the change.

"In the past it was very simple in Kaisertal, very primitive," he said. "We had to carry all our food up on our own backs or on horses.

"Now we are getting a link to the valley below, and we hope that it will be an improvement, but also that Kaisertal will stay peaceful and beautiful."

People here are proud of their valley's special character, with its high peaks and mountain streams. But it will be a challenge to keep out the world once the tunnel opens next spring.

Country profile: Austria
27 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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