Although Heidi lived across the border in Switzerland, she would have felt right at home in the Austrian Tyrol. This part of Austria borders with Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and is a verdant kingdom of grasslands, forests and waterfalls. Tall church steeples watch over the bucolic towns and villages, balconies brim with flowers tended by apple-cheeked countrywomen in typical dirndl costumes with neat bodices, full skirts and bright aprons.
This is the perfect setting to encourage you to set aside town habits and enter into the natural flow, where the landscape is dominated by Alpine peaks. Until recently, the geography and climate of the Tyrol made access so difficult that the area has remained almost completely unspoiled even in comparison to the rest of Austria.
There are several options for holidays here, including renting a chalet on the mountainside, checking into one of the little rural hotels, or even staying on a real farm. This last option is perfect for a family holiday: after re-charging their energy levels with a breakfast of homemade bread, butter and jam, or speck – the local speciality juniper-flavoured ham – instead of the kids dashing off to their rooms to play on the computer, they can set off by bike, on foot or on horseback to explore a different mountain trail each day. They can learn to milk a cow or discover the multitude of herbs that grow on the mountain meadowlands, swim in natural lakes and streams, and even go skiing in the sunshine on the Stubai Glacier.
Even in the middle of August, accommodation for four people starts from as little as 350 € for the week. Easyjet flies direct from London Gatwick to Innsbruck, the nearest airport, and there are other options if you choose to fly to Munich which is only a couple of hours drive away.
Renting a car is the ideal way to enable you to get down to explore the small city of Innsbruck, capital of Tyrol, with all the Baroque domes, Renaissance facades and Gothic arches that 800 years of history have left dotted around its medieval centre. Or you can set off on excursions in the picture-postcard valleys of Zillertal, Pitzal, Kaunas or Otztaler; and, if you manage to find a baby-sitter for an afternoon, keep an eye out for one of the delicious local spas.
If you choose to stay in Innsbruck itself, or in one of the two dozen nearby villages, you'll be right on the spot to take advantage of the range of free summer activities that the Tourist Board offers for visitors. These include guided tours through the mountains on foot or by bike, as well as discounts on cable cars and on the typical Tyrolean evenings. The Innsbruck Card allows you to use public transport or the city's Sightseer tourist bus, and gives free or discount entry to Innsbruck's main museums and attractions, as well as other interesting family activities such as the Alpine zoo and Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, a truly scintillating experience.