Steinöl - the lake's home remedy

Vitalberg Visitor Centre, Pertisau, AustriaA sharp modernist glass building stands near the traditional Tyrolean houses in the centre of Pertisau.

The Vitalberg Erlebniszentrum is a museum-cafe-shop which features products made from oil extracted from local shale deposits.

The Tyrolean shale layers date from 180 million years ago. The predominant local rock is Karwendel limestone, formed from the skeletons of animals which dropped to the bottom of the seas which used to cover the region.

Shale, on the other hand, is usually formed from plant deposits in swampy areas. The rare shale layers are trapped between the limestone strata and exposed by the mountain uplift over the centuries.

Tyroleans used the oil extracted from shale for waterproofing and fuel back in the Middle Ages.

The mining in the Pertisau area started at the beginning of the 20th century when amateur mineralogist Martin Albrecht discovered a vein of oil-bearing slate near the lake shore between Pertisau and the Gaisalm. With colleagues, he mined this deposit, named after his wife, for 15 years before an avalanche destroyed the mine.

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Undeterred, he found a new source in the remote Bächen valley, which is only accessible by road from Germany. Now the third generation of the family carries on the production. Rock is mined, crushed and then steamed to produce the sulphur-bearing oil.

The extracted mineral oil, called Steinöl in Pertisau and Ichthyol in other areas, is a folk remedy. Locals believe it can treat skin complaints, rheumatism and other joint pain.

Tiroler Steinöl: www.steinoel.at