A few months ago I found myself exploring a part of Europe completely new to me, the Austrian Alps. Sure, I’d visited Salzburg for a few hours 13 years ago, but that’s it. Attending a conference in Kitzbühel, I had the great luxury to enjoy those stunning views and to learn more about the communities nestled among the peaks a little more slowly and definitely with more thought. I didn’t just spend time in the more rural areas of the Tirol region, I was sure to also visit Innsbruck, the de facto capital of the area, and what I discovered was amazing. Today I want to share what impressed me most about my time in the Austrian Alps and why it definitely won’t be my last visit.
Smaller Communities Like Kitzbühel
Whether your interest is in hiking, biking, skiing or just luxuriating in the crisp mountain air, the many communities found throughout the region truly do offer something for any type of traveler. I was there though to visit a particularly special town, Kitzbühel. The town is the quintessential mountain retreat, with finely gabled roofs, luxury accommodations and of course, those gorgeous mountains. For the ultimate immersion into the Kitzbühel Alps, I took a cable car up 2,000 meters for a stunning view. While famous for its wintertime activities, today I learned that there’s a lot to love about this mountain town even without skis strapped to my feet.
A well-located headquarters means that this sparkling attraction is easy to visit whether you’re in Inssbruck or hanging out in one of those sleepy mountain communities. Don’t expect a factory tour at this remarkable facility though; the process of crafting their crystal is still a closely held secret. Instead though, enjoy the fascinating Swarovski museum/gallery know simple as the Crystal Worlds. This massive facility is home to a variety of special exhibits, all created by different artists and all using an incredible number of Swarovski crystals. While the entire museum complex is interesting, it was the outdoor garden that really caught my eye. The Crystal Cloud and Mirror Pool is at the heart of the garden experience, more than 800,000 hand-mounted Swarovski crystals were used to create this ethereal wonderland for the senses. With the sun shining brightly, the effect was extraordinary creating a sort of fairy tale garden in the mountains.
Innsbruck is Amazing
Founded more than 800 years ago as a key stop on regional trading routes, the city still features many of those medieval buildings, all in an array of colors. Walking around Innsbruck’s Old Town, I couldn’t help but gradually fall in love with the city. The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold, the sun was shining and it seemed as if the entire city was out with me, sipping coffee at a café or just walking along the banks of the glacially fed river. There’s a lot more to do in Innsbruck than just enjoy a nice stroll though, and a first stop should be one that provides a great overview to the city – the Bergiselschanze. This ski jumping stadium has been hosting competitions since the 1920s and over the years has been remodeled into the modern facility found today. When jumpers aren’t hurtling themselves over the massive hill though, visitors can tour the facility and even take a special funicular to the top for what I think are the best views of the city. Within the town walls there’s even more to do including engaging museums, lush parks, amazing food to try and a climb up to the top of the City Tower for amazing mountain views.
Just as I tend to gravitate towards German cuisine, the same holds true for Austrian food and particularly Tirolean. It shouldn’t come as any great surprise really, given the region’s close proximity not only to Germany but other notable areas of Europe, the cuisine is a perfect match for my own peculiar eating habits. The mountains have been a remote and rural part of the world for a very long time which, when you also factor in cold winters, has all led to a regional cuisine that is homey, hearty and of course delicious. Aside from the schnitzel, which is a national delicacy, look out for a few local favorites starting with Tiroler Gröstl. Originally a way to use leftovers, today it’s a must-try dish in its own right. Essentially, it’s a simple fry-up using bacon, onion and potatoes served with a fried egg on top for good measure. Given the preponderance of cows, it should also surprise no one that the region’s artisanal meats and cheeses are amongst the best in the world. Producing the highest quality meats and cheeses is a way of life for the many small, family farmers in Tirol and trying them all was a challenge I gladly accepted. Of course, you can’t visit Austria without trying their schnapps and in Tirol that means Zum Wohl. The region has ideal fruit growing conditions, which has translated into a variety of distilleries around the region.
The mountain ranges of Austria are a nature lover’s paradise, and people come from all over the world to spend some time in the gorgeous Austrian Alps. It’s also an all-seasons destination. Although it may be most famous for winter sports, the summer months bring plenty of opportunities to go biking, hiking or just being out and about enjoying the scenery. For an overview of the Alpine ranges though I did something a little different, I took a helicopter ride over them. While I’ve been in helicopters before, they all had something the one in Innsbruck did not – doors. The first of its kind in Europe, the folks over at MySnapAir offer guests the very unique opportunity to hang out of a helicopter as they fly over the Austrian Alps. While swinging my legs around mid-air was definitely a rush, the real highlight were those incredible views. Nestled in a valley, the city of Innsbruck quickly looked like a model playset against the massive mountains. Flying a lot closer than I would have ever guessed, it’s a unique way to experience the beauty of the Alps in as close and personal a way as you can get without undertaking a massive trek.