E. Boucher - 2009-11-25
Between tradition and modernity, Innsbruck offers many ways in which you can discover Tyrolean hospitality and cuisine and meet its inhabitants.
Classic luxury hotel, stylish contemporary hotel…
At the top end of the range, Innsbruck boasts several exceptional establishments, beginning with the most classic of them all, the Hotel Europa Tyrol, which is the city's only real luxury hotel. Although the façade is nothing special, the interior has kept its prestigious Austro-Hungarian image from 1869, when it was built, notably with a splendid Baroque-style ceremonial hall. Ludwig II of Bavaria and Queen Elizabeth II are among the VIPs who have passed through the doors of the Europa.
Heir to a very rich past, the capital of the Tyrol has nevertheless stepped resolutely into the 21st century, as witnessed by the creation of the PenzHotel and Rathaus Galerien (town hall shopping mall), which opened in 2002. These two joint constructions are the work of Frenchman Dominique Perrault, who was also behind the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library) in Paris.
Remaining true to the architect's minimalist design, the Penz Hotel's glass façades, mobile solar panels and steel structures aim for greater integration of the building in the urban fabric. Here, the glass walls are not there to separate but, on the contrary, to reveal the inside of the building.
Like the architecture, the interior design is austere without being cold and all in all shows great classicism. The 5th floor bar, restaurant and terrace are superb and offer an exquisite view over the rooftops of old Innsbruck.
... or aristocratic residence?
Change of scene in Kühtai the highest village in Austria at an altitude of 2,020 m (6,627 ft) where the imperial family's very aristocratic Jagdschloss (hunting lodge) awaits, as it has done for nigh on 800 years.
Kühtai was already highly prized by Emperor Maximilian in the 15th century on account of its ibex, which he hunted in the most inaccessible places. The current residence, of late Gothic and Renaissance style, fell into the hands of several dynasties during its history, but in 1893 it became the property of the Habsburgs for good, when it was purchased by Emperor Francis Joseph I.
The present owner, Count Christian of Stolberg-Stolberg, is none other than the great grandson of Francis Joseph and Empress Elizabeth. Antiques, old engravings, trophies, cedar-panelled rooms; the house of the Habsburgs welcomes you with refinement but without ostentation.
There is nothing starchy about it and, as a worthy representative of Tyrolean hospitality, the descendant of Sissi will come to exchange a few words with you.
Although it is not within everyone's means to stay at this prestigious address, the dining room and terrace are open to all for a dish, salad or cake at a very reasonable price. Very fine Austrian wine cellar.
Farm produce: you can find typical products such as cheese and speck (ham) on Sparkassenplatz on Fridays between 9am and 2.30pm.
Pastries, liqueurs, coffee...: the most famous place is the Konditorei-Café Mundig, the oldest cake shop in the Tyrol.
Christmas market: at the foot of the Goldenes Dachl and on Landhausplatz.
Christmas decorations: several shops in the old town offer a large selection of Christmas decorations and candles, notably on Herzog-Friedrich-Straße and Domplatz.
Swarovski: a world-leading company in cut crystal. Its museum in Wattens, 15 km (9 miles) away from Innsbruck is the third biggest attraction in Austria, after Schönbrunn Palace and the Albertina Museum in Vienna. The company does of course have a boutique in the heart of Innsbruck, the Swarovski Crystal Gallery, which is always full.
Antiques, clocks, jewellery: in the old town, for example at Georg Schmollgruber under the arcades in Pfarrplatz.
Soup, game, dumplings... and remaining true to the land
First of all let's not forget that Austrian cuisine is as much Germanic as oriental, and that there are many Czech, Hungarian, Slovenian and Italian influences to be found here.
Among the dishes commonly served in the inns (Gasthaus and Gasthof) and mountain restaurants, soups have a prominent place and are eaten as a starter: Frittaten Suppe, with pieces of crêpe, Leberknödel Suppe, flavoured with liver... Then comes the goulash, Tafelspitz (boiled fillet of beef served with horseradish) and Wiener Schnitzel (Vienna cutlet) often served with the inevitable Knödel (dumplings made with potato and breadcrumbs).
Apfelstrudel needs no introduction, but among the desserts that most surprised us by their consistency is the impressive Germknödel, a sort of large sweet dumpling covered with poppy seeds, swimming in melted butter...
Tasty but - you guessed it - fortifying cuisine! It is therefore advisable to consume with moderation the Liptauer (fromage blanc with herbs or paprika) and Schmalzfleisch (a sort of pork scratching) which are often served as an aperitif - otherwise you might not be able to finish your meal.
So what is typically Tyrolean?
According to Roland Gaisberger, chef at the Europastüberl, "Tyrolean cuisine gives pride of place to lamb, game, dumplings (with liver, smoked ham, spinach, cheese, fruit) and ravioli stuffed with spinach, fromage blanc or liver served with melted butter, grated Parmesan and chives."
In autumn and winter, you have to plump for a dish of venison because, according to Roland Gaisberger, "Tyrolean game is the best in Europe and maybe even the world, since the animals feed only on high-altitude plants."
Among other typical products, we must also mention the delicious potatoes that grow in the light soils of the Tiroler Oberland, the plums from Stanz, cranberries and lamb from Ötztal.
As for the restaurant owners, small farmers and butchers of the region of Stubaital, they have grouped together to commercialise their regional specialities, such as goat's cheese, cured leg of lamb and dried Stubai beef.
The Goldener Adler (Golden Eagle)
The city's oldest inn has played host to such illustrious people as Mozart, Goethe, Heine and Camus - a plaque on the façade gives a detailed list. It is therefore an obligatory stop on a tour of the old town.
Although people come to this establishment more for the historic setting than for the food, the menu does include a speciality that you will not find anywhere else: Tiroler Zopfbraten, plaited veal strips coated with herb sauce.
Another classic place is the Café Sacher, which is not strictly speaking typical of Innsbruck but rather a branch of the famous Viennese establishment. You can of course have lunch here, but people mainly come for the house speciality, the famous Sachertorte, a cake whose recipe is kept secret.
The restaurant of the Hotel Europa Tyrol is without doubt one of the best places in town. The dining room is panelled and warm in the great tradition of Tyrolean Stuben.
Here Roland Gaisberger serves a cuisine that is both traditional and creative, interpreting with a lightness of touch some of the local specialities.
For a truly typical dish, he recommends for example Tiroler Tris, dumplings with spinach, or ravioli stuffed with liver sprinkled with Parmesan, washed down with an Austrian red wine such as a St. Laurent from Styria or a Blauer Burgunder from Burgenland.
We also sampled some tasty Schlutzkrapfen (spinach ravioli) and, in a more classic style, the finest Wiener Schnitzel that we have ever tasted.
The Wilder Mann
Another famous place in Lans, this 17th-century family-run inn has kept the typical atmosphere of Tyrolean Stuben, with panelled walls, crucifix, old pendulum clock in its wooden case, and earthenware stove.
Chef Anton Kern recommends seasonal cuisine: for example, when we dropped in, a Weinsuppe (beef broth with white wine and cream); Tafelspitzsulz (a sort of brawn made with very tasty boiled beef), served with a green salad and pumpkin seed oil marinade; lamb from the Tyrol mountains is incomparable, and here Anton Kern serves it in the form of Bauernbratl, i.e. roast country-style, plain, with Lanser potatoes cooked in the juices with onions, and served with a salad of raw vegetables and diced bacon.
For dessert, you will have the difficult choice between Topfenknödel (fromage blanc dumplings browned in melted butter) with stewed apricots or fresh plums and Gebackene Apfelkiach mit Zimt und Rahmparfait (apple fritters sprinkled with cinnamon and cream parfait).
With the starter, Anton Kern recommends a chilled traditional Austrian white wine such as the Grüner Veltliner by FX Pichler, from the region of Dürnstein/Wachau. The main course calls for a full-bodied fruity red wine, like for example the Zweigelt Hedwighof from the Moser estate in the Burgenland region.
Two trendy addresses
The Lichtblick, on the top floor of the Rathaus Galerien, offers a beautiful view of the city and is above all the ideal place to mingle with the trendy young people of Innsbruck.
As for the Solo Vino, it's an Italian wine bar with a friendly atmosphere where you can rub shoulders with the local middle classes leaving the nearby theatre.
In more classic style, the city's gastronomic benchmark is of course Wirtshaus Schöneck, Innsbruck's only star-rated restaurant.
Guesthouse, apartment rental or hotel room, accommodation in the region of Innsbruck offers excellent value for money and is, like for like, comparatively less expensive than in many European winter sports resorts.
Hotels in Innsbruck
Hotel Europa Tyrol, Südtiroler Platz 2 - Innsbruck.
Tel: (0512) 59 31
Tel: (0512) 57 56 57
www.thepenz.com Charming hotels in villages around InnsbruckJagdschloss Kühtai
Tel: (0) 5239-5201
Tel: (0512) 37 72 41
Tel: (0512) 57 11 11
Café Sacher, Rennweg 1.
Europastüberl, Südtiroler Platz 2 - Innsbruck.
Tel: (0512) 59 31
Wilder Mann, Römserstraße 12 - Lans.
Tel: (0512) 37 73 87
Lichtblick, Maria-Theresienstrasse 18 - Innsbruck.
Tel: (0512) 56 65 50
Solo Vino, Universitätsstrasse 15b - Innsbruck.
Tel: (0512) 58 72 06
Wirtshaus Schöneck, Weiherburggasse 6 - Innsbruck
Swarovski Crystal Gallery, Herzog-Friedrich-Straße 39 - Innsbruck.
Konditorei-Café Mundig, Kiebachgasse 16 - Innsbruck.