What to do
It will come as no surprise that walking is a popular activity in Tirol. With a staggering 15,000km of marked trails traversing the landscape, there is something to suit everyone, from seasoned hikers looking for a challenge to families looking for more gentle walks that offer the best of the magnificent scenery. The Eagle Walk is perhaps the most famous, comprising a total of 128 day hikes covering a distance of almost 1,500km. Showcasing the grandeur of the Tirol to perfection, it enables both novices and veterans to admire the grace and splendour of nature, and to experience the powerful sense of freedom that comes from standing on the roof of Europe.
Heritage and walking come together on the Culture Hiking Trail in Seefeld. Starting at Reith, this beautiful countryside route reveals historical and cultural curiosities such as the 90 year old Karwendel railway and various mountain churches. It’s an easy walk, ideal for introducing children to the region. Intrepid explorers will have no qualms about entering Tirol’s spirit realm, which begins at the gateway to the forest accessed from the Leutasch Gorge. Said to be the domain of the Spirit of the Gorge, its thundering waterfalls, strange rock formations and bottomless whirlpools present a breathtaking example of Alpine majesty – and a worthy abode for a supernatural being.
A mountain region inevitably has its freshwater lakes fed from springs and snow melts, which glitter against the stunning backdrop of snow capped peaks and rocky precipices. Lake Achensee gleams like a jewel in the Achental Valley, edged with beautiful beaches at Eben and Pertisau. Its refreshing temperature and clear waters make it popular with bathers, sailors and scuba divers. Lake Natterer See is an especially good location for families, thanks to its wide variety of facilities. From the children’s bathing cove, water trampoline and 66m water slide to canoe rental, an archery range and Barracuda speed boats, it has plenty to keep all ages occupied. What’s more, the selection of fine campsites around the lake make it an ideal place for a family holiday.
Tirol is home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, set in the largest national park in Central Europe, Hohe Tauern. A day trip to explore this magical place is not to be missed – it’s a beautiful, unspoilt area with fantastic views of the soaring peaks and vast glacier. The picturesque Krimmler Waterfalls are also well worth a steep climb to the top. Looking back at rainbows forming in the misty spray against a backdrop of jagged rocks and lush pine forest is a truly unforgettable experience.
The region’s capital, Innsbruck, is an eclectic mix ofimperial grandeur and modern urban design. The Imperial Palace and Ambras Castle are the most striking examples of the Habsburg Empire’s power, which is also manifested in the famous Golden Roof, a three storey balcony constructed in the 15th century, and the bronze statuesof the Court Church. Contemporary architecture and Innsbruck’s reputation as a centre for sport come together in Hadid’s Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium, a fluid structure that reflects the speed and agility of the athletes who compete there. Visitors can ascend the tower for spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains, which are best appreciated over lunch in the Bergisel Sky restaurant.
Innsbruck’s other star attractions include Swarovski Crystal World, an opulent celebration of Daniel Swarovski and his world-class crystal designs, and the Alpenzoo, a great destination for families that houses an exciting array of species, from bears, lynx and wolves to owls, fish and lizards.
Steeped in tradition, Tirol is the perfect place to discover some of Austria’s most interesting customs and festivals. There is a thriving carnival culture, with events such as the Imster Carnival Parade and Nassereither Schellerlaufen taking place at the beginning of the year, and cattle drives occurring in late summer and early autumn. During these drives, the cattle are adorned with garlands of flowers and ribbons, and street stalls are set up in local villages to celebrate their return.
The summer solstice fires and Christmas are also important occasions in the Tirolean tradition that fuse religion with history. The summer fires are lit to commemorate Tirol’s ‘engagement’ to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1796, which was believed to result in protection from invading French troops. Christmas combines Christian spirituality with customary rituals such as the bringing of cherry or apple tree branches into the home for good luck and the burning of incense on three ‘Nights of Smoke’ to avert bad fortune.
Cuisine is also an integral part of tradition, and Tirol has its share of culinary specialities. Among them are smoked bacon, Kaminwurzen (smoked sausages with a spicy flavour), Daumnidei (potato dumplings), apple strudel and Tirolean schnapps, made with apples, sweet plums or pears and swallowed following the toast, ‘Zum Wohl!’