Innsbruck and its charming villages :
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Innsbruck and its charming villages
Innsbruck and its charming villages
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...
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.
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.
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.
Before continuing, we invite you to take a short break in the famous Café Sacher, within the grounds of the Hofburg.
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.
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!
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).
For group skiing lessons over 6 days, reckon on around €122 per adult and €115 per child.
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).
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.