by Richard Jones

THERE are two things that have made me fall in love with Austria over the years – the jaw-dropping scenery and the friendly people.

One thing leads to the other; how can you not have a happy disposition when you wake up everyday in a land of towering mountains, rolling hills and tranquil streams to the sounds of birds singing and cow bells ringing?

Austria is known for being a holiday destination split by the seasons - perfect for older walkers and hikers in the warmer months, and tailor-made for younger skiers and boarders during the snowy season. But is this summer/winter divide about to be turned on its head?

My wife Rachel and I, along with our daughters Isla, 10, and Evelyn, six, have never been the type of family to sit on a beach or by the pool. We like to cram as much adventure as we can into our holidays, and during this summer’s trip to Schladming in Austria, we found the ideal setting.

Although it will perhaps always be primarily a winter resort, the Styrian town, nestled in the Enns Valley about an hour from Salzburg, is becoming increasingly popular with summer holidaymakers, in particular thrill-seeking younger travellers and families. And thanks to the Sommercard, standing in line at the ticket office and opening your wallet or purse time and again is now thing of the past.

Every guest in the town gets one of these cards for free during their stay from May to October, allowing them to access a whole host of services and activities.

Our hotel for the week was the Hotel Zum Stadttor in the heart of the town. Owned by Michaela and Karl Kurtz, it was warm and friendly, while the mountain view from the balcony of our family room was breathtaking.

Another bonus with the Stadttor is that it is one of Thomson Lakes & Mountains’ all-inclusive properties, meaning we could fill up with a delicious continental breakfast, take a packed lunch onto the mountain, and tuck into a four-course dinner with drinks in the evening.

Upon arrival, Michaela presented us with our Sommercards, and we used them immediately, embarking on our first expedition up the Planai gondola from where Isla and Evelyn explored the Hopsiland play area. During lunch, we had what would be our first of many bowls of gullashsuppe, while Rachel and I sampled our first Schladmingers (the town's tasty local beer) of the holiday.

Next day the rains arrived, so we donned cagoules and walked down to the Adventure Pool for a splash around, before a fun game of mini golf next to the River Enns.

If you're not much of a map-reader, Schladming tourist office will point you in the direction of a variety of guided walks.

We caught a bus into the Untertal Valley to the Wilde Wasser area, home of alpine meadows, thick forests and dramatic rock falls. The two-hour ascent from Riesachfall Gasthaus up the Höll canyon via muddy paths and over suspension bridges was fairly testing, but we were rewarded by an amazing sight at the top - the serene lower Sonntagskarseen Lake.

Next day, we jumped on the same bus, disembarking at Gasthof Weise Wand where the kids were booked into a beginners' climbing session. Over a couple of hours they had great fun with instructor Gerhard, scaling craggy rock faces and a 30-foot tree, before zooming down the flying fox zipline into a crash mat.

From there, we walked through the buttercup-covered meadows and along the river to Waldhäuslalm.

On Tuesdays during the summer, little ones can take part in a whole host of free activities including cooking, arts and crafts and petting the farm animals.

More showers were forecast the following day, but we had planned ahead and booked a family rafting excursion. Our guide, a likeable Italian named Andrea, led the four of us, paddles in hands, down a stretch of the Enns through some gentle white water rapids. Isla is a keen swimmer back home, but she didn’t appreciate being thrown overboard by her dad - not even the wetsuit could keep out the chill of the glacial water!

Speaking of the cold, before we travelled to Austria, some of our friends had asked if we were going there to ski. I laughed, pointing out it was summer time. However, I was left eating my words when we took the cable car to the famous Dachstein Glacier above the town of Ramsau. Here, even at the height of summer, skiers and snowboarders take to the 3,000m-high slopes to practice freestyle skills.

After lunch on the mountain, we headed to Stoderzinken, where Isla and I rode Europe’s longest zipline at 2.5km long with a drop of 700m.

Before heading home there was time for one more activity; mountain go-karting. Once we reached the top station of the Hochwurzen gondola, the four of us zoomed down the 7km-long gravel course at breakneck speeds.

An adrenaline-fuelled end to what had been a thrilling week.

Slowly but surely, more and more young people are flocking to Austria, and understandably want more from their summer vacations than tranquil Alpine walks, edelweiss and The Sound of Music.

By all means, you can still get those Austrian staples in Schladming, and you're missing out if you don't get into the Von Trapp spirit at some point.

However, for thrill-seeking families like us, the Sommercard means that the Austrian hills are alive with the sound of adventure.