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Innsbruck and its charming villages

Innsbruck and its charming villages

Éric Boucher - 2009-11-19

Innsbruck, the name resounds with the promise of powder snow and Olympic feats, chic holidays and the traditional art of living. For those who can't imagine the joys of winter sports without taking in a few museums, good restaurants and a little shopping, a stay in the city is called for. But for those who are after a family holiday in a typical setting, Innsbruck offers the tranquillity of its charming villages: Igls, Lans, Sistrans, Rinn...

The capital of the Tyrol is bursting with health and exuberance. Everywhere you go you are greeted with a cheery "Grüss Gott" (God bless you!), which the people here - as in Bavaria - prefer to the more classic "Guten Tag" (good day). And there seems to be a smile on everyone's face.
In architectural terms, the city expresses the same good humour with its façades in pastel shades of pink, pistachio, lemon yellow, mauve... And, of course, a profusion of Baroque, and onion-domed bell towers against a backdrop of sparkling mountains.

If you had to compare Innsbruck with another city, it would be Grenoble, which is actually its twin town. Along with Grenoble and Bolzano, Innsbruck is one of the three main cities in the Alps. Like Grenoble, Innsbruck has been an Olympic city, and boasts the exceptional honour of having been so twice, in 1964 and 1976. Lastly, like Grenoble, Innsbruck is renowned for its quality of life, with access to the skiing area of Seegrube in 30 minutes.
Imperial Innsbruck
We will only suggest the must-sees here, which are mainly in the following streets: Herzog-Friedrich Strasse, Maria-Theresien Strasse, Kiebachgasse, Hofgasse and Pfarrgasse.

Although Innsbruck exudes a very provincial charm, everywhere you look the architecture reminds you that it was an imperial capital. It owes this status mainly to Maximilian I of Habsburg, who became emperor in 1493. A great chamois hunter and experienced mountaineer, Maximilian loved the Tyrol and made Innsbruck his capital.
A symbol of Innsbruck and an emblematic monument of Maximilian's reign, the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) should be the starting point of any tour of the city. This loggia, richly decorated with coats of arms and one- and two-headed eagles, was built by the emperor in 1494 on the occasion of his second marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza: it therefore comes as no surprise to find portraits of Maximilian and his new wife.
But more curiously, there is also the effigy of his first wife, Mary of Burgundy (daughter of Charles the Bold), his one true love. The roof consists of 2,557 plates of gilded copper.
Almost opposite the Goldenes Dachl, you will inevitably stop and stare at Innsbruck's most beautiful Baroque façade, belonging to the Heblinghaus. It was originally a 15th century house, which was completely stuccoed rococo-style in the 18th century. The tour is just beginning, but if you are feeling a little peckish, you are just a few strides away from the city's oldest inn, the Goldener Adler (the Golden Eagle), whose patrons included none other than Mozart, Siegfried Wagner and Camus. Moreover, it is in the small streets round about that you will find the best places for shopping and eating.
Empress Marie-Thérèse is the other important person who left her mark on Innsbruck. Although the city was no longer the capital at the time, Marie-Thérèse's intention was to reassert the power of the Habsburgs in the Tyrol by some monument worthy of this name. It was to be the Hofburg.
Maximilian's old palace was thus entirely rebuilt in Baroque style and, since 1766, its long, pale yellow façade has stretched out in the very heart of the old town. The tour mainly focuses on the ceremonial rooms, which extol the glories of the Tyrol and the grandeur of the Habsburgs, the most grandiose being the Giants' Hall; in this 31.50 m (34 yd)-long hall with its superb fresco on the ceiling, you can admire the portraits of the imperial couple and their progeny. Among them, two youths in 18th century fashion, Marie-Antoinette - head intact - and Louis XVI a few kilos lighter.

Before continuing, we invite you to take a short break in the famous Café Sacher, within the grounds of the Hofburg.
If you had to visit only one monument in Innsbruck, it would be the Hofkirche (1564), adjoining the Hofburg. This church with its remarkable Renaissance and Baroque decorations is worth a visit above all on account of the incredible funerary monument that it houses: the mausoleum of Emperor Maximilian I.
Twenty-eight larger-than-life bronze statues that are supposed to legitimise the Germanic Holy Roman Empire by an extravagant filiation, throwing together King Arthur, Clovis, Charlemagne, Theodoric (king of the Ostrogoths), Mary of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, Ferdinand of Spain and a few Habsburgs... These Schwarzen Männer (black men), as they are called by the Tyroleans, have the distinctive feature of being able to serve as torch holders during funerary ceremonies, though Maximilian never had the posthumous pleasure of making the most of this: the tomb remained empty and the works were spread over almost 80 years.
The monastery adjoining the Hofburg is a must for those wishing to find out more about traditional ways of life in the Tyrol. It houses the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum, the finest folk art museum in Europe. In addition to Christmas cribs, costumes, tools, sleighs, furniture and earthenware stoves, you will discover above all a characteristic feature of the Tyrolean habitat: Stuben. These entirely panelled living rooms have mostly been recovered from old farms in the southern Tyrol. Today the same principle can be found in many traditional Austrian restaurants.
To feel the pulse of the city, end your tour by going up the main thoroughfare in Innsbruck, Maria-Theresien Strasse as far as the Triumphforte, the triumphal arch built in 1765 on the occasion of the future emperor Leopold II's wedding; the ideal place for a last photo of the city with the mountains in view.
Olympic Innsbruck

In many cities which have had the privilege of hosting the Games, the Olympic infrastructures have not always aged well. This is true of Innsbruck, judging by its Olympic villages, but there are a few notable exception.
The Bergisel ski jump has undergone a remarkable renovation by architect Zaha Hadid, who was also behind the Tomigaya Building in Tokyo and the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid. This superb creation is on the way to becoming one of the emblems of the city, in the same way as the Goldenes Dachl.
Rather than taking a stab at beating German Sven Hannawald's 2002 jump record of 134.5 m, you can come and have lunch or a drink at the panoramic restaurant of the Café Im Turm at the top of the jump, at a height of 43 m (141 ft): the view is sublime!
Skiing in Innsbruck
Although Innsbruck is at an altitude of only 575 m (1,886 ft), the city is nevertheless wedged at the foot of two mountain masses: the Nordkette to the north (2,334 m/7,657 ft) and Patscherkofel to the south (2,247 m/7,372 ft). According to our timed run leaving from the city centre, you can be at the top of the pistes of the nearest skiing area, Nordpark-Seegrube, at 2,300 m (7,546 ft), with your skis on, in 30 minutes: 10 minutes by tram to the cable car; then no more than 10 minutes' queuing time; and finally 10 minutes for the ascent. Once there, you can hire skis at the Bergrestaurant Seegrube high-altitude restaurant... and above all, have a snack. From the terrace there is a very beautiful view of Innsbruck and the Patscherkofel. On the menu, a fortifying soup for 2 to 3  euros*, sausage with cabbage for 6 to 7 euros, washed down with an Almdudler (typical lemonade with herbs) or an Austrian beer, a Zillertal for example. Plain but authentic cuisine for 10 euros.
Innsbruck's ideal location provides access to six other skiing areas: Patscherkofel, as mentioned above, AxamerLizum, Glungezer, Schlink 2000, Stubaier Gletscher and, further away, Kühtai. The names may be difficult to pronounce, but the snow is excellent and guaranteed from mid-December to mid-April. Two of these skiing areas are of Olympic standard, including the famous Patscherkofel piste on which Franz Klammer triumphed in the Games of 1976. But on the whole, we found the pistes less technical than in France and ideal for skiing with the family.
Since there are only eight million Austrians and the school holidays in Austria may be at different dates than in other countries, the pistes are much less crowded than in the rest of the Alps and the waiting time at ski lifts is relatively short, or even nonexistent. We should also point out that civility here goes without saying, and that other skiers are treated with respect.
If you like variety and have a little time, we suggest carrying on to the resort of Kühtai, which was our favourite. Set around forty kilometres (around 40 minutes) from Innsbruck, Kühtai is the highest village in Austria. At an altitude of 2,020 m (6,627 ft), the snow here is plentiful and perfectly smooth. The village is cosy and a haven of peace and quiet, but offers little in the way of accommodation other than a few chalets and a superb 800-year-old hunting lodge.
For fans of cross-country skiing, the region is crisscrossed by 500 km (311 miles) of groomed trails, including two high-altitude pistes between 1,800 and 2,600 m (5,906 and 8,530 ft), with a total length of 15 km (9 miles).
Ski passes
The Innsbruck region offers 2 ski passes: the Innsbruck Gletscher Skipass which gives you access to all the skiing areas around Innsbruck grouped together under the name Olympia SkiWorld, i.e. 270 km (168 miles) of pistes. Reckon on €160 for adults, €128 for young people and senior citizens, and €96 for children. The InnsbruckSuper Skipass gives you access to the additional skiing areas of Kitzbühel and Arlberg, i.e. 700 km (435 miles) of pistes. Reckon on €152,50 for an adult and €101 for a child, for a package including 3 days at Olympia SkiWorld and one day at Kitzbühel or St Anton, including shuttle.
For group skiing lessons over 6 days, reckon on around €122 per adult and €115 per child.
Cosy villages and wayside crosses
If you want to stay in the heart of the countryside in a typically Tyrolean setting, there is nothing like setting down your suitcases in one of the many villages overlooking Innsbruck. Villages and hamlets that you can wander through on foot, along splendid hiking trails.
The villages closest to the Tyrolean capital, on a sort of plateau at the foot of Platscherkofel, are Igls and Lans. Igls, at an altitude of 900 m (2,953 ft), is an attractive village with the advantage of being at the foot of the cable car that leads to the summit of Patscherkofel. Here you will find almost 30 km (19 miles) of hiking trails, particularly in the direction of Lans. The quintessential Tyrolean village, Lans is proud of its 800-year-old history and the fact that Georg Trakl (1887 - 1914), one of Austria's most famous poets, stayed here.

There are numerous options for accommodation here, from charming hotels - such as the Sporthotel in Igls or the Isserwirt in Lans - to apartment rentals and B&Bs, and even farm stays.
As for gastronomy, for an introduction to the local specialities in a real Tyrolean Stube, you can go to the Wilder Mann inn, which dates back to the 17th century (Lans).
Getting there

It is a common misconception that winter sports in Austria are just for the wealthy; the resorts here in fact offer great value for money. 
By plane: until very recently, there were no direct flights to Innsbruck and you had to go via Munich, making the journey considerably longer. From December 2005, low-cost airline SkyEurope is flying to Innsbruck from London-Gatwick, Amsterdam and Paris-Orly. There are some particularly tempting special offers, at 25 euros from Paris and Amsterdam.


Innsbruck Tourist Office
The staff at this tourist office speak several languages and are particularly efficient.
Tel.: 00 43 512 59 85 0-123
E-mail. : office@innsbruck.info
Internet. : www.innsbruck.info (in English, French, German and Italian)

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