Majestic mountains, wooded foothills, tree-lined ski slopes, lush nature reserves, crystal clear lakes, and pristine streets – the only way to describe it is idyllic. Austria is one of western Europe’s well-kept secrets and is lucky enough not to have been overrun by tourists, despite the beauty of the landscape and its cultural scene in urban areas. Vienna, the country’s capital, is a distinguished cultural hub and elegant city that has produced many notable musicians, Mozart and Hayden to name a few. Thinking of Vienna makes me nostalgic for wandering around and getting lost in the beauty of the maze of baroque and art nouveau streets in the museum quarter. Sipping lattes and eating chocolate cake in grand Viennese cafes or wandering around the Albertina museum. A city full of culture and class, yet somehow there is something quite down-to-earth about it. Vienna is sure not to disappoint for a fix of culture, but if you fancy some nature and tranquillity with picturesque views, venture out into the countryside. Austria tends to be a more popular destination in the ski season, but the small towns have a lot to offer in the summer as well.
Kitzbühel is a medieval town situated in the rugged peaks of the Kitzbühel Alps in the region of Tyrol. I was lucky to be sent there to work for a week one August. When I stepped off the train from Vienna (a six-hour journey), the first thing that struck me was the beauty of the place. As I wandered down the cobbled streets breathing in the fresh mountain air, I found myself stopping at every turn to take another photo. The whole town was picture perfect. Streets are lined with traditional Austrian restaurants and bars that are warm, friendly, and have that typical Austrian local charm. There are colourful buildings housing upscale shops, horse-drawn carriages, church steeples, and a 16th-century bell tower surrounded by the Kitzbühel Alps.
During ski season from October to May, Kitzbühel is a world-famous ski resort frequented primarily by the haut monde. Visiting in the off-season, you will miss the experience of the après-ski scene; however, the summer is equally appealing. Temperatures can reach a warm 30’C in the day, but mountain evenings are pleasantly cool and offer a good night’s sleep. Many tourists are attracted to Kitzbühel in the summer for the mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, and swimming in the emerald green moor, Lake Schwarzsee (Black Lake).
The town hosts the Hahnenkamm – the famous Alpine World Cup Ski Race – which was won four years in a row by the ‘Crazy Canucks’ starting in 1980, who were for a long time the only non-European winners until an American, Daron Rahlves, won it in 2006. The Hahnenkamm takes place on the infamous Streif Piste - considered to be the most challenging of all the downhill slopes in the world - and is watched by 500 million viewers worldwide. Apart from the Hahnenkamm and the charm of the town itself, Kitzbühel attracts skiers by virtue of the extensive number of ski runs suited to all skiing ability levels - even offering easy-to-access off-piste areas for the more adventurous cat skiers.
The wiener schnitzel (Viennese), which is fried breaded veal, is probably the most well-known Austrian specialty and is similar to the Milanese cotoletta. Another delicious specialty to look out for is tafelspitz, boiled veal or beef in broth with minced apples and horseradish. Many restaurants serve game (from the old hunting tradition) and seasonal vegetables like pumpkin in Autumn. For drinks on summer nights, try a beer, spritzer or a grüner veltliner (a white wine with subtle citrus and peppery flavours), a personal favourite of mine! For snowy wintery evenings, warm up with some mulled wine (glüwein). Austria has a famous coffee culture, and legend has it that it was the Austrians themselves who introduced coffee to Europe after bags of Turkish coffee were left behind after the battle of Vienna in 1683. You can also try the Austrian melange, which is a milder version of a cappuccino.
Enjoy and indulge in Tirolean delights in a mountain restaurant with panoramic views of rolling hills and small lakes
On my last day in Kitzbühel, my colleagues and I took the cable car up to the top of the infamous Hahnenkamm Mountain. I was not expecting, nor could I have imagined the sheer beauty and breath-taking views. It is hard to put into words the feeling of sitting outside on a pleasantly cool summer mountain evening with panoramic views of rolling hills and small sparkling lakes while eating the famous Tiroler Gröstel (fried bacon, potato, and onion) and sipping a glass of grüner veltliner. My evening finished with a shot of Schnapps at the Hocheckhütte Inn, along with the owners and the locals before we caught the last cable car back down to town.
This inn has a friendly and welcoming staff, mouth-watering food, and a garden with picturesque panoramic views. The inside has a cosy alpine-wooded interior replete with photos of famous skiers who have eaten there.
Hochkitzbühel bei Tomschy
This was the first restaurant established after the cable car was built in 1930, a family-run business offering gastronomic delights with stunning views.
If You’re Looking To Relax
Take a swim in a warm lake or picnic with breath-taking picturesque views
Sunbathe and picnic on the grass on sunny afternoons or take a dip in the beautiful emerald green Lake Schwarzsee with views of the surrounding mountains, a popular swimming spot in the summer months and the warmest lake in the region of Tyrol (with temperatures reaching 27’C during the summer). Replenish your skin while bathing in the water that has a high concentration of minerals. During the winter, when the lake freezes over, it is used for hockey and ice skating.
If You’re Seeking Some Adventure
For the adventurous spirits, paraglide through the magical Kitzbüheler Alpen starting at 1700 metres. It runs throughout the year, prices starting at 130 Euros per person or around $200 CDN. Enjoy a quiet and peaceful glide or something more acrobatic for the thrill-seeking risk-takers.
Summer Activities, Hiking, and Mountain Biking
Mountains/Beautiful Alpine Peaks
Kitzbühel has over 800km of cycle routes. Whether you are looking for endurance or enjoyment, there is plenty of choice. Stop off at a mountain inn en route and indulge in some mouth-watering Tyrolean cuisine. For seasoned or amateur hikers, there are more than 1,000 kilometres of hiking trails with endless idyllic scenery to soak up along the way.
Go to www.kitzbuhel.com for all the information you need for paragliding, skydiving, hiking, mountain biking, and other local activities, events, and points of interest.
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