Austria’s Tirol is as pure Alpine as it gets, with mountains that make you want to yodel out loud and patchwork pastures chiming with cowbells. After the first proper snow falls in winter, it’s a complete Christmas-card scene, with frosted forests and skiers whizzing down some of the finest slopes in Europe.
But, as Tirol casts off its icy blanket and turns gorgeously green, its mountains and valleys become the perfect playground for sunny holiday adventures. The warmer weather brings hiking trails that thread high to mountain huts and pointed peaks, while folk music gets steins swinging down in the valleys.
So, whether it’s the stepping out to the ‘Sound of Music’ in Salzburg or mountain-karting down the Alps to the sound of rip roaring gravel, there is an undeniably beating, pulsing, exciting rhythm to the pace of life in Austria and the travel adventurer inside of you will be screaming ‘Hell Yeah…Let’s Go!’
Passport at the ready, I jumped head first into a beautiful late-summer break, exploring the region of Tirol, situated in West Austria and the architecturally inspired city of Salzburg. ‘Do you mind if I drive fast?’, our taxi driver Patrick shouted after we bundled our suitcases into the sleek Four Seasons shuttle bus.
Not waiting for an answer, we raced our way through dark countryside roads and sleepy Austrian villages barely catching the shadowy outline of the tall, wooden farm buildings we would soon witness in abundance, to finally reach our first stop -Westendof.
This quaint hamlet is situated high up on a sunny plateau in the middle of the Brixen valley, far away from the hustle-bustle of city life. It is a picturesque little village with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and with tons of rural charm. Connected to Austria’s largest ski area, Wilder Kaiser Brixental and the well-known ski area Kitzbühel, it’s popular both in winter and summer.
It’s also the perfect place to kick back and take in unrivaled mountain views or stroll through the rolling meadows along the valley to the neighboring town of Kirchberg. For added traveling convenience, it’s also within easy reach of Innsbruck, Salzburg and Munich Airports, so you have no excuses but to pop on by.
Where to Stay
I stayed at Hotel Post which is a traditional Tyrolean style inn. It’s located right in the center of the village and a stone’s throw away from ski lifts, and nursery slopes; the character of the family run hotel has that of a quaint old traditional village pub. The luxurious building is furnished in a mix of traditional Alpine style and modern minimalism, and the bedroom had a balcony that framed the surrounding landscape like a masterpiece painting!
After unpacking, there was a knock at the door from one of the hotel staff, who delivered a delicious charcuterie plate of cold cured local meats, farmhouse cheeses, fresh garden salad and marinated olives. With happy bellies, we were more than ready to take on this gorgeous country.
Pedal Power; E-Bikes
The next day I ventured into the village to try our hand (and legs) at E-biking – Austria’s Hottest New Biking Trend. The region is a total paradise for electric bikes with nine renowned tourist regions in Tirol part of the E-Bike route network. With over 300 electric bikes available to hire and more than 80 rental stations and battery charging points, it makes the Kitzbüheler Alpen the world’s biggest interconnected E-Bike destination!
So, setting off, we went from tour to turbo taking in a fabulous route of glorious greenery in the Kitzbühel landscape and the stunning lake scenery at Schwarzsee. I would highly recommend E-biking for any age group, and the best way to see as much as possible at a very relaxed pace.
My trusty steed came from Dieter’s Bike Hire, where the staff were extremely friendly and had a superb range of bikes available. They offer a complementary sip of schnapps to get you off to the right start too! In a country that’s renowned for sporting ski wear over a string bikini, I packed mine as a ‘just in case’ item, and it was more than needed for our stop at Lake Schwarzsee between Kitzbühel and Reith.
Lake Schwarzsee is a moorland lake with dark waters which reach temperatures of 27°C in summer, making it the warmest moorland lake in Tirol and a fantastically popular swimming spot.The water is exceptionally clean and great for your skin thanks to its high concentration of natural minerals, so it’s a case of diving in to immerse yourself in sheer goodness!
We parked our E-bikes to take a leisurely stroll around the lake and stumbled upon a ‘Stadt Bad’, a boat rental station which offers one of the fastest growing watersports around, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). Without the need to get changed, you can grab a paddle, board, your finest selfie stick and make the lake your own floatable playground. You can rent the SUP’s from 1 – 3 hours and the boards are available in different sizes which make it a perfect family activity.
Naturally, after all the pedaling, paddling and pushing, we started to get a little peckish. Just a few paces from the lake decking, we walked barefoot and bikini clad into the fabulous Alpen Hotel Bistro.This lakeside bistro offers spectacular views and a relaxed, enjoyable dining experience. The perfect perching spot after a cool dip in the beautiful lake, with breath-taking panoramic sights of the lake.itself, the woods and meadows around mountains that seem almost close enough to touch.
I devoured a delicious Caprese salad which was a magical combination of flavours, textures, and freshness: ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil – perfect in the warm Austrian sunshine! After our cycle home, we took a leisurely stroll around the little village dipping in and out of cute, quirky stores feasting on local crafts and beautiful artwork.
As the lazy sunset enveloped the dusky evening, we made our way up a windy, sandy gravel hill to the neighboring Kirchberg and stopped at Jausenstation Ruetzenhof, a beautiful 270-year-old farm, and restaurant on on the sunny side of the valley!
Food and Drink.
Ruetzenhof is brimming with Austrian charm, a cozy restaurant with classic Tyrolean cuisine and produce from local farms such as bacon, milk, meat and homemade cakes. We sampled a Tafelspitz, which is beef boiled in broth (soup), served with apple and horseradish sauce and Vanillerostbraten which is a delicious beef dish prepared with lots of garlic.
Austria’s excellent wines, beers, and spirits are the pride of local restaurateurs, so we were pre-warned to make sure to try regional beverages whenever possible (oh the pressure).We sampled ‘Top Of The Lake,’ a bottle of crisp dry white Grüner Veltliner by Ernst Waltschek/Gut Romerstein; it’s a popular grape variety in Austria and an exotic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.
In summer, Radler (shandy) is also a popular choice, usually a mixture of lager and Almdudler, a lemonade made from alpine herbs.A perfectly chilled, foamy-headed, gold tinged glass of beer, served in a shady beer garden or comfy tavern is one of the most emblematic symbols of Austrian hospitality and folksiness. Prost!
P.S. If you feel like showing off, you can also say ‘Zum Wohl’ or ‘Prost’ – all three mean ‘to your health.’
Before you leave Brixental, another must see is the Erber Schnapps Distillery. You will find it in Brixen im Thale, in the midst of the Kitzbüheler Alps, where drinking schnapps claims a centuries old tradition. After a meal (or before a cycle), you are likely to be offered a shot of Schnapps, which is Austria’s favourite digestive. This is not a drink for the faint-hearted: the rule is to drink it in a single mouthful and, with most varieties containing around 40% alcohol, and it’s an eye-watering experience.
The Erber distillery produces only the finest handcrafted brews. You can sample award winning brandies, liquors, and a vast variety of fruity spirits. Be careful though – you might be partial to even seeing a few fruity spirits after one too many of these!
St Johann in Tirol
Our next Google pin drove us towards St Johann, which lies in a valley basin between the Wilder Kaiser mountain range and a mountain called the Kitzbüheler Horn in the center of the district of Kitzbühel. The St Johann region showcases fantastic hiking trails such as the new six-part KAT trail, and there is free Westendorf bus access for mountain pass holders.
The drive from Westendorf to St Johann is so stunning, with the beautifully impressive ornate houses standing tall and proud on Reith, one of the most expensive roads to build and buy on in Austria.
We rambled on through National Geographic worthy views of mountain valleys and looming Wilderkaiser peaks yet to be discovered. The idyllic landscape is just as you imagine, with traditional chalet style houses and farms appearing on each turn through the Austrian countryside.
There are over 200km of walking routes between the Wilder Kaiser Mountains and the Kitzbüheler Horn alone, and by the end of our visit to St Johann, I felt like we had walked every inch.‘The view is sick.’ Our guide Fritz uttered while hiking the Kitzbühelerhorn on the edge of the main Alpine ridge; you know it’s good when your mountain guide can’t but hide his enthusiasm for a climb he’s likely to have done 100 times over!
From a style perspective, it’s all about function over fashion so swap those sexy stilettos for a pair of hiking boots and get ready to trek your cotton socks off. Prepare for sheer exhilaration and stunning views across the Austrian countryside from mountain pastures, lakes and forests, and keep your eyes peeled for sightings of wildlife such as alpine marmottes, chamois, mountain goats and the bell swinging cows of Tirol.
Walking the Wilder Kaiser’s steep pine-covered slopes needs stamina and plenty of nibbles, but from a family perspective, it’s easy to see that so much care is taken to make even difficult walks child-friendly. Some walks are punctuated by little treats every 20 minutes or so: sculptures; a zip wire, some wooden swings, and treehouse that provides just enough entertainment for children (and adults who need a sneaky rest).
Don’t worry though, for a slower pace in St Johann; you can spend time meandering down pedestrianised cobblestone streets, wandering around shops, art galleries and into markets, relaxing with a coffee or sampling beers directly from the local Huber Bräu brewery. (http://www.huberbraeu.at)
Where to Stay
During our time in St Johann, we checked into Hotel Bruckenvirt, an elegant family-run hotel, nestled in the heart of the town. Walking in it was clear to see the hotel held the eye of an artist and a woman’s touch (no offense guys)! Owned and managed by our very stylish and friendly hosts, Brigitte and Julia Lackner, Hotel Brückenwirt features bright, modern bedrooms, each designed with a taste for bold décor.
There is a uniquely blended feel of contemporary design and traditional Austrian charm featuring deep reds, plush purple and forest green interiors and funky furniture.The aroma of beautiful freshly cut flower arrangements could be seen blossoming in every corner, with charming little trinkets and fine china adorning mahogany cabinets and windowsills throughout the hotel.
Before you leave, make sure you visit the restaurant and taste an Austrian dessert called ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ – It’s made from a light pancake mixture coated with powdered sugar, freshly picked wild blueberries, and vanilla ice-cream.We asked for more than one spoon so everyone could have a nibble -after all sharing (calories) is caring in my book!
We visited their beautiful wellness area (more than once), where we spent our trekking downtime unwinding in the bubbly whirlpools of their steam bath, invigorating hot sauna and resting on heated massage lounges. Bring a vitamin face mask and kick back for the ultimate mountain recovery spa time.
In St Johann, we quickly found out that there’s certainly more than one way to get off a mountain and Super Mountain Carting on Kitzbühelerhorn brought a serious fun factor to our descent.The mountain cart route on the Harschbichl is a major highlight of any trip to Tirol and fantastic for large groups/ families or just your regular thrill seeker, like mé féín!
The 5km route takes off from the Harschbichl mountain station and ends at the valley station in St. Johann in Tirol. With a backdrop equal to that of a Bond movie scene, and the Rocky theme tune pumping on Spotify, we tore down the stony track to experience fantastic views and spectacular descents on the bumpy ride down.
Hintere Goinger Halt
Our next mission began soon after in the early hours of the morning when we set off at 2am for a lengthy Sunrise Hike to Hintere Goinger Halt – Kaiser South North.
This was undoubtedly the absolute highlight of my trip to Austria. Initially, the thought of starting out in pitch darkness to climb one of the highest points in the Wilderkaiser mountain range to catch a sunrise may seem a little crazy, but if you are in the company of a group of people equally as crazy, it’s completely worth it.
The journey, from heading out in the bright moonlight, with the starry night sky still twinkling in the darkness and watching the night give way to the day as we ascended the steep slope was unforgettable. Coupled with the sense of sheer achievement once we reached the peak to witnessing a vision of purples, pinks, and oranges coming from the stunning sunrise, this was an experience of a lifetime!
On our descent, thanks to a little nudge from our mountain guides, I was introduced to ‘Scree Running,’ which ended up being a whole other core work out from a multitude of screams and pure laughter, pretty much both at the same time! A scree slide or slope is a fan of shattered rock that stretches down from a bluff. You can make a seriously quick descent running on this if the rock pieces are small enough, not to mention it being hilariously good fun.
Our final foodie pitstop in St Johann was at Hotel-Gasthof zur Schönen Aussicht. We were spoilt for choice in terms of traditional Tyrolean and Austrian specialty and international dishes. After our long hike, it was time to hang up our boots and wander in to satisfy some deafening hiking hunger pangs. It’s right next to a ski lift in the foothills of Kitzbühel Horn mountain, which makes it a perfect stop after a day of arduous climbing.
We sat, exhausted and elated, on the restaurant terrace with gorgeous views of the mountains we had just climbed. Happy in the knowledge I wouldn’t be kissing anyone in close contact that evening while equally accepting the risk if I did, I chose the most delicious creamy garlic soup topped with crunchy herby croutons, (Knoblauchcremesuppe) which is an Austrian favorite. We also tried Gulasch (goulash), a hotpot similar to a Hungarian pörkölt with some soft white bread rolls.
For the Geography enthusiasts among us, Tirol is the third-largest state in Austria. It’s also arguably the number one summer destination for walkers in Europe. From Alpbach to the Ziller Valley, the Tirolean region is jam-packed with snow-capped Alpine peaks, quaint lakeside villages, local culture and some mesmerising awe-inspiring views.
So, if taking a dip in a glacial lake, hurtling downhill on a mountain bike or hiking above the clouds is your idea of holiday heaven, then the Tirol should feature firmly on your travel bucket list. Staying active in the great outdoors is a Tirolean way of life.
And why wouldn’t you with all that fresh mountain air?
Before our exciting expedition came to an end, it was time to swap country life for a brief city-scape to Salzburg. Salzburg (meaning: “Salt Fortress”) is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of the federal state of Salzburg, which is a neighboring state East of Tirol.
The “Old Town” (Altstadt) is internationally renowned for its baroque architecture and is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. We visited the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart located just over the tree at Spar! Well, not literally but Spar have taken up residency right underneath Mozart’s previous home!
And, in case you didn’t know, when it comes to couples declaring their eternal devotion to each other, “love locks” is where it’s at. After a walk through the city, we crossed Austria’s most modern pedestrian bridge, the Makartsteg spanning across the Salzach River. Prepare to witness some serious PDA with lover’s inscriptions painted on a sea of padlocks attached to a steely fence all over the bridge!
Short of committing a mortal musical sin, we couldn’t leave Salzburg without hopping down the famous steps of The Mirabell Palace Gardens singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ (much to the delight of the other tourists). This iconic building was the setting for the well-known musical play and film ‘The Sound of Music’.
On a fashionable note – Label Lovers – be warned! Salzburg has a fabulous designer outlet just 10 minutes from the city center with up to 70 % off Designer brands. Take the bus lines 2,10 and 27 from the city center and make room in your suitcase before you leave.
Travelling food lovers will be pleasantly surprised by Austrian cuisine. Don’t expect light fare when visiting Austria; most dishes are sumptuously rich, meaty and happily satisfying, so vegetarians beware! There is limited variety in the cuisine but what they do cook is done very well. Austria’s specialties originate from all countries of the former monarchy: Hungary, Bohemia, Italy….they were perfected here, turned into joys for the eyes and the taste-buds.
The food is the main attraction wherever you are: Schnitzel and Tafelspitz.Kaiserschmarren and Powideltascherl. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Austrian delicacies such as Sachertorte, Gugelhupf or Apfelstrudel. They are literally “la dolce vita” at the cake shops!
After walking the length and breadth of Austria guided by the entertaining Helmut, our fabulous Salzburg tour guide, who came dressed in traditional Austrian braces and lederhosen, we dined al fresco at Panorama Restaurant, Salzburg. Situated at the Hohensalzburg Castle which sits atop the Festungsberg, we tasted the traditional Austrian culinary cuisine, while enjoying magnificent views of the city.
We nibbled on Wiener Schnitzel, a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from pork, garnished with a slice of lemon served with potatoes, parsley and melting butter. Our tables were adorned with baskets of homemade soft warm salty pretzels which were the perfect snack to stave off the hunger before our mouth-watering main courses arrived.
In Salzburg, I would highly recommend making time to visit family run Stiegl Brewery and get your beer tasting game on with their incredible selection of local tipples. Stiegl has developed from a small local brewery into Austria’s largest and most successful private brewer producing over a 100 million liters of beer per year.
We had the pleasure of tasting their signature brew, Wildshuter Gmahde Wiesn, the first and only Austrian beer with its own organic farm, malt house, roasting house and quality standards.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget make eye contact into your partner’s eyes or whoever you are clinking glasses with – Don’t worry, it’s not creepy, it’s just respecting an etiquette and a traditional Austrian custom- Prost!!
Where to Stay
Our final resting stop on this tantalising trip was the IBIS Hotel, Salzburg Airport Featuring a colourful exterior, this straightforward airport hotel lies an 11-minute walk from Salzburg Airport and 6 km from Mozart’s birthplace on Getreidegasse. It’s 7 km from Salzburger Dom cathedral and was perfect for our passing visit.
Snacking on fresh rosy red apples and sipping cool spring water from the reception area, we had a swift check in following our drive from St Johann. The rooms/hall entrances are individually security coded, so it gives a little extra peace of mind if you have precious belongings in transit with you.
The bright, basic bed rooms sleep up to 3 people and has free Wi-Fi & flat-screen TVs. An all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (with a surcharge) is served in the trendy dining room. Parking is complimentary, and pets are welcome for a fee! Our Salzburg trip was all about feasting on as much of the city as we could in our final few hours, so this hotel acted as the perfect flyover for our short stay.
Exploring the land where the past meets future, brings you the ultimate in all things Austria! And during the summertime, it is unlike anywhere else on Earth. Super for walking groups, active families, hikers, cyclists, kayakers and climbers, couples and families, senior travelers, the young and intrepid (did I miss anyone?) – It’s a place where tradition meets modernity so if you are looking for an active, healthy, uplifting break this is the country to visit!
As our Austrian edelweiss sweetheart Maria declared in ‘The Sound of Music’: ‘When the Lord closes a door, Somewhere He opens a window’ – and Austria certainly provides a world class window view to a breath-taking landscape of beauty, pure nature and a showcase of adventure activities whatever the weather! All you need to do is book a flight and experience it for yourself!
Fly with Crystal Holidays from Dublin to Salzburg who operate weekly charter flights from June to August each year – www.crystalholidays.ie
Travel Tip: Bump yourself up to Business Class as a nice relaxing treat with bonus perks such advanced seat reservation, Business Lounge access, Priority boarding, Security Fast Lane and a Pre-Boarding glass of bubbly!
Four Seasons Travel offer First Class transfers from and to the airport to Tyrol – the perfect way to transform your journey into a luxury experience! Our driver, Patrick was full of hugely helpful tips on what to see/visit, pointing out some Austrian landmarks on our route to Westendorf.
For more information, Visit www.tirol-taxi.at
Salzburg boasts an environmentally-friendly bus system that includes electric trolleybuses running on overhead powerlines. The trolleybuses run during the daytime every 10 minutes, while most of the regular buses run at 15-minute intervals. Every destination (including the airport) in the city is quick and easy to reach. There is a special schedule during the official school-holiday period.
For more information, visit www.obus.at
There are several on-call taxi services in Salzburg that will bring you to the train station, airport, downtown or your hotel in a matter of minutes – For more information, Visit www.taxi.at
The best way to avoid traffic jams and ride into the heart of the historical Salzburg district is on S-Bahn trains. The Salzburg S-Bahn system also connects the central Salzburg region with an attractive rail network. – For more information, Visit www.oebb.at
Travel Tip: The Salzburg Card provides one-time free entry to all the attractions/museums in the city as well as all public transport! It also gives access to discounts on cultural events, tours and excursions. A well worthy investment to have while holidaying in this city. Discounted group rates available. For more information, Visit www.salzburg.info
All rooms in the Hotel Post come equipped with a cable TV, radio, bathroom, shower, and hairdryer. Ask for a room with a balcony to take advantage of the stunning alpine scenery surrounding the hotel. Perfect for a morning stretch and a yodel or two if your neighbors don’t mind! Prices from €49/€59pp p/night – For more information, Visit: http://www.hotelpost.co.at
This hotel is one of the top hotels in St Johann and offers guests award-winning cuisine, a very attentive service from its owners and is located in a beautifully pleasant setting. End the day in style by having a drink at the bar or enjoying the view from the terrace or your balcony. We did both! Prices from €80pp p/night – For more information, Visit www.hotel-brueckenwirt.at
IBIS Hotel, Salzburg Airport
Prices from €59 pp/p/night. For more information, Visit www.ibis.com
For an alternative snoozing experience:
Valley of the Alms.
Also known as the Valley of the Alms, the Grossarl Valley in Salzburger Land is a gorgeous place for summer holidays in Austria. While planning your hiking route, why not stay in a mountain huts en-route. With 120 alpine huts, 40 of which are located in the Grossarl Valley, Salzburger Land has more holiday huts than any other area of Austria.
Some of the huts serve regional specialties, such as cheese noodles, veal schnitzels and bilberry dumplings to hungry hikers, and because the huts are close to alpine farms, there is a plentiful supply of fresh milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, bacon and of course schnapps!
The Grossarl Valley is also easily accessible from Salzburg’s W.A. Mozart airport. Prices from €60 pp p/night – Family & Group rates available.
Hotel Alpen Bistro, Lake Schwarzee
Prices from €10 – €18 for main courses. For more information, Visit www.alpenhotel-kitzbuehel.at/de/bistro
Hotel-Gasthof zur Schönen Aussicht, St Johann
The restaurant offers a four-course menu daily, and prices start from €10 – €20. For more information, Visit www.schoene-aussicht.com/
Panorama Restaurant, Salzburg
Prices from €15 – €22 for main courses – For more information, Visit http://www.festungsrestaurant.at/
NICE TO KNOW
Tourists can get a free bus/train pass in the Westendorf area for basically just being – touristsThere are daily hikes that people can tap into for free. Groups of 16 – 20 can have their own tour, but it needs to be pre- arranged.
Guides cost approx. €150 – €200 p/day for hire.It costs approx. €43 for a 3-day cable car pass (needs to be used consecutively) – a great way to break up a climb and reach new heights on your hiking experience!
The Summer Solstice is an amazing event to witness held on the 21st June each year and brings very special solstice celebrations to towns and villages throughout Tirol. After sunset, bonfires are lit on mountaintops all over the country.
A special Thank you to AE Consulting, Crystal Holidays, Austrian National Tourist Board, Tirol Tourist Board, Salzburg City Tourist Board, Salzburg Airport, Steigl Brewery, Erber Schnapps Distillery