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Eisriesenwelt - Werfen Ice Caves - Austria

Eisriesenwelt - Werfen Ice Caves Werfen CastleEisriesenwelt - Werfen Ice Caves

The Werfen Ice caves are the largest accessible ice caves in the world and stretch for 42km into the mountains. They are not easy to get to with the car park situated 6km from the town up a 1 in 5 hill with many hairpin bends. It's then a 20-minute walk up a steep road to the cable car station. After the cable car ride it's another equally long and steep walk to the caves. There are fantastic views of the valley and it's castle from the top though.

The tour through the caves lasts just under an hour and a half in temperatures only just above freezing and involves 1400 wooden steps. It's completely dark within the caves and visitors are given small oil lamps to light the way. These are blow out immediately on entering the first cavern by a fierce wind, caused by the pressure difference between the cold cave and the hot outside world. This wind can reach 100km per hour on hot days and gives the whole experience an adventurous feel.

Once the lamps have been relit it's a long trek on wooden platforms into the icy heart of the caves. The cave floors are completely made of ice rising up into the darkness before you. In some places this ice is thousands of years old, although the more delicate stalagmite structures are only 70 or 80 years old. These are formed when spring meltwater finds it's way into the caves and freezes only to melt again when summer rains run through the caverns. This means that the ice structures change in shape from year to year and may grow or shrink depending on the year's weather.

It's difficult to see the ice structures at times, as it's necessary to concentrate on the slippery steps, but when lit up by the guide's bright magnesium ribbon they are fantastic. There are ice columns and stalagmites, as well as an ice wall some 40m high, curving down like a frozen waterfall. Some of the structures are incredibly delicate, whilst others are impressive in their sheer size and age. After a winding walk into the caves the exit leads straight through a tunnel carved into the ice, which has a really strange, feel to it, like some kind of ice palace or Santa's Grotto.

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