In Innsbruck, Austria, home of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, between June and September, as little as EUR179 buys three nights’ bed, breakfast and dinner, with entrance to all attractions, unlimited use of cable cars and buses, plus guided mountain walks. An Innsbruck Card offers all the above, excluding accommodation and meals, for EUR25(24hrs) EUR30(48hrs) and EUR35(72hours).
Innsbruck could hardly have a more spectacular location. The milky green river Inn (“Innsbruck”, the bridge on the Inn) cuts through a wide glacial valley, with snow-capped mountain ranges rising on both sides.
Regular buses shuttle out to Innsbruck’s holiday villages, notable for their old farmhouses, all exposed wood and geranium boxes, with peculiarly Tyrolean decoration – elaborately painted window and door surrounds. Churches all seem to have been supplied in kit form from the same warehouse; identical size, cream and salmon colours, with a choice of two steeples – pointy spire or onion dome. They look incredibly cute against those brilliant mountains.
Innsbruck itself is relatively small, but the university gives the place a lively student buzz. Brightly coloured houses line the river bank and the old town has been tastefully preserved. And thanks to the money lavished on Innsbruck over the past five hundred years, since outdoor enthusiast Emperor Maximilian I moved his court here from Vienna, there’s no shortage of historic buildings and museums.
That suited me perfectly, because on the day I arrived winds were lashing the mountain peaks at 100km per hour. It was no weather for playing outside, but fine for scuttling between the town’s attractions. I particularly enjoyed Castle Ambras, former home of the megarich Hapsburgs and, for a view of how the poorer half lived, the Folk Museum, displaying among other things wood carvings Tyrolean farmers made when they couldn’t play outside either.
By mid-afternoon the weather had cleared enough for me to take the funicular railway, then two cable cars, up onto the 3000metre high Nordketten range. It’s wild and rugged limestone country. Those who enjoy life-threatening experiences could join the mountainbikers tackling the downhill runs, or try the high climbing course of chains and ladders along the ridges. An extremely good head for heights was needed, I was warned, so I settled for just admiring the scenery.
The next day was made for walking; cool, still and with sun breaking through on Patscherkofel mountain, towering over Innsbruck. Local expert Evelyn, who runs a ski hire business in the winter, and in summer works for the tourist office, guiding walks for visitors, suggested we take the cable car to save ourselves a 1500metre slog up from the village. That was fine by me. The view from the top was breathtaking enough and we had time and energy to take it in.Once over 2000metres we could make it as easy or as hard for ourselves as we liked, walking a few hours on the signposted trails leading along the ridges and over the peaks. Then at a mountain hut we drank beer and tucked into a huge lunch of sauerkraut and heavy dumplings – potato balls studded with ham and herbs. Perfect walking food, in a perfect walking spot.
Staying a night in the area makes you an automatic Innsbruck Club member, entitled to free daily guided hikes in the mountains. At the tourist offices each morning, guides assign people to groups appropriate to their levels of fitness and masochism, then take them up the hill for three to five hours. On Tuesday evenings ‘lantern wanderings’ lead visitors up to a mountain inn for some jolly Tyrolean music.
BONUS: For those needing one final thrill, the Olympic ski-jump ramp is open to the public – to look at, not to fly off. I teetered at the top and realised legendary Olympian Eddie the Eagle had the right approach to ski-jumping: slide down the slope as slowly as possible, cling to the sides by your fingernails if you can, and when you reach the bottom, try not to sail too far out into space. It’s an awfully long way down, and directly beyond the landing area is a cemetery.
DETAILS: Easyjet flies from London Gatwick to Innsbruck from around GBP125 return. See easyjet.com.
For accommodation and other activities, see innsbruck.info
The writer was a guest of Innsbruck Tourism.
First published by Sun-Herald, Sydney