Adventures in the heartland of the Alps
The Alpen landscape in the Austrian Tirol, the corridor between Germany and Italy, is stunning and packed with options, both in winter, with endless snow and average temperature of 0º C, and in summer, with every possible shade of green carpeting the mountains.
Winter: Skiing on the roof of Europe
It's impossible not to be amazed when you see the Alps for the first time. The immense walls of ice look like they've just come out of the film ‘Frozen,’ as if the Snow Queen had built them to the strains of ‘Let it go.’ One of the most impressive is the Hintertux glacier in the Zillertal (Ziller valley) in the Tirol, at an altitude of 3,250 metres and with ski slopes operating all 365 days of the year.
With more than 5,200 kilometres of snow and close to 100 ski resorts, the Austrian Tirol has become a winter sports hotspot. The capital, Innsbruck, has played host to the Winter Olympic Games twice, in 1964 and 1976. Plus, it has the Bergisel Ski Jump, a ski-jump ramp designed by award-winning Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Innsbruck also boasts the Hungerburg Funicular, the only funicular railway in the world that directly connects the city with the top of the mountain and the ski slopes—also designed by Hadid.
About 60 kilometres from Innsbruck is the valley of Ötztal, a popular Tirolean ski destination with more than ninety 300-metre peaks, 300 kilometres of piste and 76 chairlifts. It's also home to one of Austria's biggest spas, ‘Aqua Dome,’ a 20,000-square-metre complex with geothermal pools where you can relax after a hard day's skiing in the mountains. For off-piste skiing fans, the village of St. Anton, which hosted the World Alpine Skiing Championships in 2001, has descents through virgin snow at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres. The trendiest skiing is to be had in the little village of Igls, very near Innsbruck, which has been a base for distinguished visitors like the Emperor Franz Josef and filmmaker Orson Welles.
Alpine luxury is evident in the après-ski facilities. In addition to enjoying the snow, you can also opt to have other experiences, such as staying in an ice igloo in Kühtai, the highest ski resort in Austria or trying ‘alpine cuisine’ in ‘Top Mountain Star,’ a fantastic and futuristic restaurant built on an observation platform at more than 3,000 metres. Plus, of course, there's some great nightlife at Sölden ski resort, known as the ‘Ibiza of the Alps.’
Summer: The mountain in all its glory
“Up here, you have to learn to walk all over again.” That's what expert mountaineers venturing into the Austrian Alps say. When they say ‘up here’ they mean at more than 2,000 metres.
With an average temperature of 20ºC, the Tirolean summer is ideal for trekking along some of Europe's most picturesque footpaths. One of the most impressive routes is the Adlerweg (Eagle Walk), so called because of its shape on the map. This footpath crosses the Austrian Tirol from west to east, with Innsbruck in the middle.
This walking route also covers the Zirbenweg footpath in the Patscherkofel-Zirmberg landscape protection area, which can be completed in less than three hours and is ideal for doing with the family. On the way, you can admire the breathtaking views from nearly 2,000 metres above the valley around the Inn river before returning to the starting point by cable car.
As you walk
As you walk these routes you can stop along the way in mountain refuges to recharge your batteries with cheese and speck, traditional Tyrolean ham. When you've eaten your fill, the Alpine mountain landscape awaits, with lakes where you can go sailing, extensive pine forests and eagles soaring over fairytale waterfalls such as Stuibenfall, the highest in the Tirol. For those wanting full immersion, some Tyrolean farms rent out rooms in their farmhouses. In Rattenberg, which with only 440 inhabitants is the smallest town in Austria, or in Alpbach, regarded as one of the country's prettiest villages, you can find accommodation and drink fresh milk for breakfast from cows living less than 100 metres away.
footpath in the Patscherkofel-Zirmberg landscape protection area, which can be completed in less than three hours and is ideal for doing with the family. On the way, you can admire the breathtaking views from nearly 2,000 metres above the valley around the Inn river before returning to the starting point by cable car.