Innsbruck is an Alpine city, right? Very much so. It’s the capital of the Tyrol region of Austria. So if you’re heading north from Italy, you cross the Alps via the Brenner Pass, and Innsbruck is the twinkling city that greets you. Innsbruck does mountains , like some cities do skyscrapers. The city is cocooned by soaring alpine peaks in all directions.
Is this Sound of Music country? Well, most people would associate Salzburg with the musical, which is just 90 minutes away. But the sweeping meadows and high valleys of Tyrol stretch from Salzburg to Innsbruck. So yes, if you really want to unleash your inner Von Trapp, burst into song, skip through the cow-nibbled meadows and climb every mountain, you’ll be right at home.
Is this Austria’s Queenstown? Well, its very much the heart of the Alps, with several dozen ski-fields right on its doorstep, plus unlimited off-piste options. It’s definitely the mountain sports capital of Europe, playing host to the Winter Olympics twice. And Jack, if you just want to scale a mountain to suck up the panoramas, ski poles and crampons aren’t required. I was in seventh heaven, because the city sports a swag of funiculars, to feed my fetish. Add to that, the gondolas, cable cars, chair-lifts, and cog-railways. So you could quite conceivably scale a half a dozen mountain summits, in a day.
Tell us about the crazy Olympic ski jump. Just five minutes from the city centre, the Olympic Ski Jump crowns Bergisel Hill, looming on the skyline like some wacko alien installation. If you want a first-hand encounter with the extreme adrenalin junkies who hang out in Innsbruck, the ski jump is central station. The start of the ramp is 400 metres high. And the ramp is 90 metres long. Watching skiers hurtle off this ramp, airborne 50 metres off the ground, is truly mind-blowing. I don’t know if the Austrians have a macabre sense of humour, but I happened to notice that adjacent to the base of the ski jump is a highly populated cemetery.
What about Innsbruck’s Old Town. Is it awash with treasures? The old town, or Old Stadt, is like a mini-Vienna of treats, with legacy architecture commissioned by the mighty Hapsburgs . The imperial Palace is a frozen in time gilt and velvet masterpiece. And the city’s most photographed landmark is the Golden Roof, which is actually a three-storey balcony, built on the side of a townhouse and coated in three thousand gold-plated tiles. It was constructed for a Hapsburg Emperor as a royal box, so he could perch and keep an eye on his subjects, and watch the tournaments that would be held in the town square.
What about the Crystal World theme park?Well, if Walt Disney wanted to create a crystal magic kingdom , I don’t think he could have outdone Crystal World. It’s quite bizarre really, but this family theme park has somehow turned the world of crystal glass into a fantasy pleasure land. There’s underground crystal caves, waterfalls, 3D lightshows and all sorts of high-tech wizardy. And this is all part of the world headquarters of Swa-rov-ski. The acclaimed crystal glass empire is still a family owned company, founded by Daniel Swarovski over a century ago. So their home base is well worth a visit. By the way, every year Swarovski creates a crystal star snowflake that adorns the famous Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree in New York City.
Is the Christmas Market underway? Europe’s most famous Christmas Markets are of course in Germany, which we will look at next week. But yes, the Innsbruck market burst into life last weekend, sporting a hundred wooden chalets. It’s held in the Old Stadt and very atmospheric. So, if you’ve dreamed about experiencing Europe’s winter and Christmas charms, Innsbruck ticks a lot of boxes.
Where to Stay? Perfectly positioned, directly opposite Innsbruck’s railway station, the Grand Hotel Europa exemplifies all that is good about time-honoured European hotels. Dating from 1869, this charming property has hosted a regular procession of the great and the good including Queen Elizabeth II, the Shah of Iran, General Patton, the Rolling Stones and the crew of Apollo 14. Rooms and suites, handsomely dressed in cosy Tyrolean furnishings and blended with modern Italian design, feature marble bathrooms and all the mod-cons are laid on, including flat-screen cable TVs and wi-fi. The impeccably presented hotel staff are attentive, personable and only too happy to help you maximise your time in Tyrol country. Make sure you ask them to take you for a peek of the hotel’s exquisite yellow-and-white Baroque Hall, which the Tyrolean government uses for its most important functions. The historically protected ballroom was constructed by the court architects of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II ( Of Neuschwanstein Castle fame.) If you fancy some fine-dining within wood-panelled surrounds, the hotel’s restaurant, Europa Stüberl, is universally considered the finest in Tyrol. I love the recently refreshed Europa Bar, which is snug and sexy, accentuated by Giuseppe’s evening cocktail hour. If you’re a snow-bunny, the ski bus stops right in front of the hotel, making for a seamless transit to the slopes. Grand Hotel Europa offers surprisingly great-value rates. Five-star trimmings at three-star prices. To bag the best deals on offer, jump to www.grandhotelauropa.at
For more travel tips, advice and inspiration, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel. www.fortheloveoftravel.net.nz
Mike Yardley’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show. Nov 30. http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz