It’s no secret that the main reason for our Salzburg stopover was to finally visit an animal sanctuary – an idea that we’d been toying with for months, but never really had the chance to carry out. The perspective of seeing animals given a second chance, being able to live in much more comfortable and humane conditions, was something that dragged us to the West of Austria, where we were able to visit the Gut Aiderbichl sanctuary. Twice.
First impression left us overwhelmed. The premises, true to what we’d read about them prior to our visit, are enormous. Animals have plenty of space to run around – and they surely need it, as the sanctuary is home to more than a thousand animals of all kinds: horses, pigs, cows, dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, peacocks, goats, llamas and many others. That was the first positive surprise – even though it was easy to approach the donkeys or pigs strolling near the entrance, they could always back out to their dens or different parts of the sanctuary when they were tired of human attention. Some of the animals, however, were housed in smaller enclosures – we’ve never found out whether there was a specific reason for that. Still, they had enough room to move around freely and most of them had companions and an enriched, stimulating environment.
That was probably the most elaborate cat-house we’ve ever seen – with a couple of rooms and a corridor to go out to an outdoor enclosure at any time.
Now, the second surprise was the playfulness of the animals… and, in some cases, the lack of it. The ones we’re used to interact with (dogs, cats, horses, and so on) were rather indifferent to people walking around or trying to get their attention. The cows, however, were sometimes following us just like some slightly heavier, big-eyed, spotted dogs – licking our hands, legs and clothes and trying to get as much attention as possible. For such a giant animal, they were also incredibly gentle, and we’ve found them much more intriguing than we could’ve ever expected. Of all the animals in Gut Aiderbichl, for us they were probably the most fascinating, together with the friendly goats, accompanying the visitors on every step (surely not without an agenda – their main goal being more centered around food than interspecies friendship). The pigs, mostly focused on rambling around and bathing in mud, were also quite fond of bristle scratches, while the llamas… were absolutely terrifying. I mean – just look at this stare. (They were also lovable, of course! Lovable and horrifying.)
We’ve also had the chance to take a guided tour of the sanctuary – despite the translation issues (only one of us speaks German – and simultaneous translation isn’t exactly a piece of cake), we’ve listened to a lot of personal stories of some of the animals housed in the sanctuary: donkeys taken away from circuses, old, unwanted or blind horses, rescued dairy cows and peacocks given to someone as a rather ridiculous and not exactly well-thought wedding gift. What really got to us was that each story was equally important, and that each of these animals had a past of their own. We were happy to see the sanctuary and its employees treating them as individuals, the way they should always be regarded.
During the tour, we’ve also had the chance to ask a question that’s been bugging us since we stepped into the on-site restaurant: why are they still serving dairy? Don’t get us wrong – we do acknowledge the fact that everyone has the right to make their own choice, and we’re far from forcing our beliefs on others. Still, in a place that, among others, rescues bulls and dairy cows abused by the industry, serving food containing milk or butter seemed a bit out of place. We were explained that the restaurant was, in fact, planning to turn entirely plant-based in the next years, but they didn’t want the change to be too quick, as people weren’t even particularly keen even on the current vegetarian and vegan menu. This concern seemed justified, as some of the reviewers on various travel websites complained… that the restaurant didn’t serve meat. (If you ask us – they’ve apparently missed the whole point of why this place was brought to existence in the first place.) Still, it felt a bit like money and convenience were the main reason for this, and the issue left us a bit torn. Also, speaking of money, afterwards we’ve found out that some of the sanctuary’s employees could have been involved in financial misdeeds. While we’re in no position to make assumptions based on online articles, we’re really hoping that the allegations turn out to be untrue – as for us, caring about animals doesn’t justify disregarding people.
Possibly the cutest snout there is.
Despite the fact that these two issues cast a bit of a shadow on our visit, we’d still count it as a very positive experience. It was absolutely amazing and eye-opening to see these animals, usually treated as commodities in the food or entertainment industry, running around (relatively) free and interacting with humans in their own, distinct ways. We hope that there will be more places like this opening up in different destinations, and that the ones already existing will continue to improve and attract more visitors. As for us – we’re planning on visiting more sanctuaries and, if everything goes well, volunteering in one.
Gut Aiderbichl, Henndorf – Practical Info
Getting to the sanctuary is relatively simple and easiest by car or bus. If you want to drive there yourself, you can use a GPS (Google Maps, Maps.me or any other navigating app), as the road is easy to follow and only about 20 km long if you’re starting from Salzburg. As for the bus, note that the bus ticket (around 12eur) is a return one, and it includes the sanctuary’s entrance fee. After being dropped off on a bus station in one of the villages, you’ll be driven to the gates by a small shuttle bus. The whole journey shouldn’t take longer than 1 hour.
And, seriously – don’t give anyone a peacock as their wedding gift. Buy them a good wine or something.