The perfect Tyrol

By | Category: Travel destinations

Tyrol

picture postcard Tyrol

Lyn takes a trip to the Austrian Tyrol and finds it to be one of Europe’s loveliest locations

To get to Austria’s Tyrol it is often easier to fly via Munich, an airport with excellent facilities and then drive over the border which is what I did this time.

The scenery changed dramatically as the Austrian Tyrol appeared in the distance and drew nearer. Everywhere was a diverse variety of green with the snow-capped mountains standing proud and prominent in the background. And it was so clean! No litter or grafitti here! Just the natural landscape. Lovely. So relaxing to the eye.Wooden houses with ornate carved facades perched on hills or beside the road like giant cuckoo clocks. I half-expected them all to start chiming on the hour and a couple in national costume would take it in turns to pop out onto the balcony!

Unlike many countries where the national costume is only trotted out for tourists and events, the Austrians actually wear theirs as part of everyday life. I thought at first that they were restaurant or hotel staff walking around, but no, they genuinely wear it. As we drove to Zillertal, we paused at an open-air museum called the Museum of Tyrolean Farmhouses. Like the Weald and Downland Museum near Chichester, they rescue historical farmhouses that are threatened with demolition and rebuild them exactly as they were, but on the museum’s land.

It’s a working museum where various crafts are taught or demonstrated. A couple were making a Prugeltorte cake, on a spit. The man turned the spit while the lady slowly dripped the batter-like mixture on the ever-growing cake. It takes about two to three hours to make, and it ends up looking like a Christmas tree with spiky bits, and tastes absolutely delicious – a bit like honeycomb. We sat around a wooden table in a large old reconstructed family house and, to our surprise, our guide opened his rucksack and took out a half-bottle of Schnapps and a stack of tiny glasses! He’d made it himself from his apple trees!

Prugeltorte cake

Prugeltorte cake-making

Our hotel in Zillertal, the Hotel Sieghard, has a couple of hats on the hotel sign which are the Austrian equivalent of Michelin stars. It is owned by Master Chef Sieghard Eder and his son who have lived in Zillertal all their lives. Sieghard’s father even ran a small hotel before that so the cooking pedigree is strong. All of Sieghard’s ingredients are fresh and sourced locally as much as possible. As part of the stay you can enjoy a cookery demonstration, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (Check out our ‘travel rumblings’ section today for a wonderful recipe!)

We walked through the absolutely perfect, almost silent village of Zillertal in the still-hot evening air, admiring the views in every direction.
It was obviously a farming community, but there were no ugly Jerry-built sheds here! Everything was neat and tidy. Even the immaculate animals in their lush green fields politely trotted over to place their noses in our hand, then they excused themselves and politely trotted away again.The only sign that anything could ever go wrong was a large fire station in the middle of the village and I suddenly realised that if there was a fire, possibly with a winter gale blowing, the ornately-carved wooden buildings would be in terrible danger.

Distillery

part of the distillery

Martin Frankhauser was waiting for us outside his small Stiegenhaushof Schnapps Distillery. It was so spotless that it looked as though it had opened that afternoon! Martin is a fourth generation schnapps distiller and has won 51 awards for his schnapps. In the past, schnapps was used for medicinal purposes. It was rubbed into aching joints, or sipped to cure ailments in the stomach and was also given to cows after calving, and used to disinfect the umbilical cord. Although the oldest reference to ‘Aqua Vitae’ in the Tirol was in 1322, people didn’t begin to enjoy schnapps as a drink until the 17th century. Now Martin produces many different flavours using his own fruit, including cherries, apples, pears and raspberries. He also uses masterwort, which is a celery-like root that grows high up the mountains. It’s supposed to be good for indigestion, flatulence, asthma, bronchitis, gout and rheumatism. Almost the all-purpose cure-all! It certainly warms the insides. There is actually a schnapps made from fermenting hay. It’s called Really Sexy and I don’t think the benefits need an explanation!

church altar

Wilder Kaiser church altar

Our next destination was the Wilder Kaiser Region, literally at the foot of the mountains. The others went for a mountain walk, but I wanted to explore the village. The church was surrounded by gravel, and neat graves with metal crosses. I thought it was quite new until I went inside. It was beautifully ornate and I was surprised to read that it dated back to the 1400s. I’m not sure if I approve. I know that ancient buildings need upkeeping, but I think they should be allowed to age gracefully.

On we went to Innsbruck, a city with an international airport that many use as the gateway to the Tyrol. Now the immaculate perfection of the mountain villages disappeared. Like all large cities, Innsbruck’s busting streets, had the typical city signs of traffic pollution and graffiti. Innsbruck is a great, fun, buzzing city with beautiful old buildings, lots of picturesque pedestrian areas, and of course, cafes with displays of home-made cakes just begging to be eaten! So much has been written about this city over the centuries. My advice is, just wander around and explore, then sit and people-watch, or gaze at the mountain views at the end of every street.

From Innsbruck we travelled up the mountain in cable cars. Halfway up, we had to change cable cars. I went to the loo and I’m sure they’d just built it and opened it especially for me! There was no lavatory attendant to be seen, but it was like a bathroom showroom, it was so clean! At the top of the mountain, we were offered a ride across the mountain on a zipwire. Out of a group of 24, only two of us took up the challenge. As I ran along, I reached the Point of No Return, and I was dangling several thousand feet above Innsbruck. Was I scared? Yes, for a nanosecond. Then the adrenalin kicked in. It was absolutely MIND-BLOWING! The others missed a lifetime’s opportunity. I’ll never forget it, and I can’t believe I dared to do it. But I have the video to prove it! If you get the opportunity don’t miss out.

It’s hard to fault the Tyrol. The weather was perfect, the people are friendly, the food in general is excellent, fresh and local, the scenery is unique, and of course, it’s immaculate. So why am I hesitating? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m British and I enjoy having something to moan about. I’m just not used to perfection!

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