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Austria> Marvelous Mountains of Tyrol & Vorarlberg


A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

Marvelous Mountains of Tyrol & Vorarlberg

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When one hears the word "Tyrol," wonderful visions dance in the mind-lush green fields with lazy cows munching grass, their huge bells ringing with the rhythm of each step; little boys with apple cheeks wearing leather shorts held up with jaunty suspenders; little girls with blond braids dressed in gay dirndls; picture-perfect villages with every small chalet bedecked with geraniums; simple little churches standing on mountain ledges in isolated splendor; enormous farmhouse-barn combinations with plump down pillows dangling and airing from the windows; meadows of wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see; powerful mountains rising like walls of granite into the sky. All this is true-and more.

The province of Tyrol fills most of the narrow long western finger of Austria-a strip intersected by the Inn Valley, enclosed both to the north and south by spectacular mountains. The tip of the finger of western Austria is her smallest province, Vorarlberg. Combining the two provinces for an itinerary is logical, for together they make up the entire western section of the country, and although both are similar in their Alpine beauty, each has unique attributes to offer. This itinerary weaves across western Austria following one of the most scenic routes, suggesting sightseeing along the way, and staying in inns that capture the mood and beauty of the countryside.



After absorbing the splendors of Salzburg, a trip to the mountains of western Austria is like the icing on the cake. Salzburg is a beautiful little city, but always filled with people. The contrast of the countryside, where most of the sightseeing is of the grandeur of nature and where you will see many fewer fellow tourists, will make this itinerary all the more delightful. For sightseeing suggestions in Salzburg refer to the itinerary Highlights of Austria by Train & Boat-or Car.



It is an easy drive if you want to take the direct route via the highway from Salzburg to Innsbruck, but we recommend not making the journey in one day. Instead, meander along the back roads and savor some of Austria's exquisite scenery and charming villages. Leave Salzburg heading southwest in the direction of Innsbruck. Following the River Saalach, you traverse a short segment of Germany on road 21, but you are soon back in Austria on the 312. As you re-enter Austria, the road winds along the river following a narrow canyon then suddenly giant granite peaks soar behind conical-shaped hills-it is an incredibly stunning scene.

Just before the town of Lofer (about a 14-kilometer drive from the border) watch for a small road leading off to the left to Au. Follow this road, which circles to the left, and in a couple of minutes you come to an elegant, tiny pink chapel with a shingled roof and an onion dome, enhanced by mountains rising in the background. This scene is captured on many Austrian postcards. Peek inside to see the pristine white walls accented by a lovely altar and lots of gold trim. Return to the main road and continue on to Lofer, an exceptionally picturesque market town, with another stately onion-domed church on the main square. Stroll through town noting the many oriel windows and painted façades of some of the buildings. Be tempted by a cup of coffee and a pastry at one of the inns along the river that rushes through the town. Shopping is also an option as there are some excellent stores. You will find lovely sweaters (both for men and women) and an excellent selection of blouses and dirndls.

From Lofer continue west to Waidring, a small town with a tiny square sporting a delightful fountain and abounding with flowers and many chalet-style houses-some with roofs weighted down by stones.

A few kilometers beyond Waidring is another picturesque village, Saint Johann, surrounded by new condominiums announcing its popularity as both a summer and winter resort. You will still find the heart of the old town with many of the houses covered in intricate, colorful paintings.

From Saint Johann follow Highway 161 south watching for the signs to Kitzbuhel. Stop in Kitzbühel to see the town whose outstanding charm has made it a popular year-round destination for tourists from all over the world. Although no longer a tiny village, Kitzbühel still maintains the aura of a picture-perfect Austrian mountain hamlet. Drive through the gates of the medieval walls, which still encircle the town, then park your car and explore the town on foot. A rigid building code has worked: the buildings all still reflect the glory of their past. Except for the many tourists, you will feel you have dropped into another era-a storybook setting of gaily painted old gabled houses whose windowboxes overflow with colorful flowers.

Heading south from Kitzbühel along Highway 161 you pass through a wide valley of farmland and then head upward over a pass. After the summit, the road weaves downwards, hugging a mountainside that drops off sharply to the right and treats you to a magnificent bird's-eye view of the splendid valley below. The first town you see as you enter the valley is Mittersill. If you like churches, you will find here not just one, but two baroque churches to explore. From Mittersill it is only about 30 kilometers west on 165 to Wald im Pinzgau, a town snuggled at the foot of the Hohe Tauern National Park.

Just a few kilometers from Wald im Pinzgau you come to a small museum housed in a wonderful old peasant's cottage. The museum has an excellent collection of gems that are mined in the mountains overlooking Wald. It is very interesting that only in this one small section of Austria have emeralds been discovered. The fame of these beautiful stones was such that they attracted buyers from as far away as Venice. (In fact, the highest peaks are called Gross Venediger and Klein Venediger in respect of these early Venetian tourists.) In addition to the rock collection, the museum also has many other exhibits including one on how honey was produced within very old beehives (of particular interest are two beehives whose doors open showing the bees very busy with their "honeywork").

Close to Wald im Pinzgau is one of the most famous sightseeing destinations in Austria, the Krimml Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe. As you leave the town of Wald, the road splits: the road to the right is the old mountain pass and the road to the left is a toll road. Take the road to the left marked to Gerlos and 7 kilometers outside Wald the falls are visible in the distance gushing from the mountains. A few minutes after spotting the Krimml Falls, you see a parking lot on the right-hand side of the road and from there it is about 20 minutes along a well-marked path to the bottom of the waterfall. There are lovely views along the way plus a couple of cafés should you need a little refreshment en route. There is a splendid view of the falls from below where they crash to the floor of the valley and join the river, which flows on through the forest. If it is a lovely day, you might want to allocate three hours and climb the path that weaves up the mountain to higher vista points.

From the Krimml Falls, continue west over the pass to the famous high-mountain ski resort of Gerlos. From Gerlos the road crosses an open valley and then twists down through the trees to an even lower valley and the town of Zell am Ziller. Once a gold-mining center, the town still retains remnants of its past glory with a lovely parish church and its most impressive dome painted by Franz-Anton Zeiller.

From Zell am Ziller, turn north on Highway 169 for about 9 kilometers to Stumm, a small, very old village off the beaten path. Here you can stop for a meal at the Landgasthof Linde, a delightful, family-run restaurant and inn.



For your next destination of Innsbruck, leave Stumm and continue north on 169 for about 32 kilometers to the A12 autobahn. Take the A12 east for about five minutes to the joint exit for Kramsach and Rattenberg and follow signs to Rattenberg. This is a picturesque medieval walled town that rose to prominence because of its valuable salt mines. These were exhausted in the early part of the 18th century but now the town is famous for the production of fine glassware-a craft brought to Rattenberg many years ago by refugees from Czechoslovakia. The streets are lined with many shops selling all kinds of glass, most of which are finely engraved or etched. You can watch the craftsmen at work and have your name or initials carved while you wait. Prices are low and the shops will mail packages home tax free-a savings which more or less pays for the postage. Just across the autobahn from Rattenberg in Kramsach you find the Museum Tiroler Bauernhofe, a complex of ancient farmhouses brought here from all over Austria and set in a meadow to show what rural life was like in days gone by.

Return to the A12 and head west, following the signs to Innsbruck. Before reaching Innsbruck, make a stop in Hall in Tirol, which in medieval times was one of the most important towns in the Tyrol due to the mining of that most precious commodity-salt.

Leaving Hall, it is just a few minutes' drive to the famous tourist destination of Innsbruck, a wonderfully preserved city with a superb setting. Mountains rise just outside the town and the River Inn cuts right through its center. If you want to stay out in the countryside, we recommend several lodging choices in the hills surrounding Innsbruck. However, to enjoy Innsbruck to its fullest, it is fun to stay right in the heart of town.

Innsbruck is an alluring city for sightseeing. Its medieval core looks just like it must have many centuries ago. It is fun just to meander with no particular destination in mind, other than enjoying the quaint streets, whimsical fountains, and charming architecture of the medieval buildings. Stop and have a cup of coffee or glass of wine at one of the many small cafés and watch the stream of tourists go by, or stroll along the embankment of the river and gaze up at the mountains at your fingertips.

While meandering through the old town be sure to stop and admire one of Innsbruck's most famous highlights, the Goldenes Dachl (Little Golden Roof), an intricately carved exterior balcony added to the Ducal Palace to commemorate the marriage of Maximilian I to Bianca Maria Sforza. Legend says that the gold roof of the balcony was commissioned by Duke "Friedrich the Penniless" to disprove the rumors of his poverty. This colorfully painted little balcony was used as a box by privileged royal guests to view in regal grandeur festivities in the square below.

Another target should be the Hofburg Palace, built by Maria Theresa, where you are surrounded by the wealth and grandeur of the Hapsburg dynasty. Pause to admire the family portraits of Maria Theresa and her children.



When it is time to continue your journey, take the A12 and continue west following the River Inn. If you are a sports enthusiast, watch for a road and signs leading north a few kilometers beyond Innsbruck for Seefeld, a town familiar to all as the setting for the excitement generated by two Olympic games.

After visiting Seefeld, return to the autobahn and continue west. A few kilometers farther you come to the town of Stams. A stop in Stams is certainly worthwhile to visit the splendid 13th-century Cistercian Abbey. This abbey is most impressive and has two marvelous towers crowned by onion domes.

Leaving Stams, continue west for about 55 kilometers following signs to Saint Anton and the Arlberg Pass. Park your car in Saint Anton and stroll along the main street, a pedestrian mall with many fancy shops-clues to the international fame of Saint Anton as a jet-set ski resort. When you leave Saint Anton, do not return to the main highway, but instead follow the small road that winds along the mountain, through the small town of Saint Christoph, and then twists its way north over the Flexenpass. Crossing the pass, the first town you come to is the ski resort of Zurs. In winter this mountain paradise is a bustling ski resort, but in summer it is a barren little town standing almost deserted in a treeless high mountain valley.

From Zürs the road drops farther into the valley and in a few minutes you arrive in Lech, an appealing village with lovely chalet-style hotels and shops lining both sides of a clear stream that rushes through the center of town. Because of its slightly lower elevation, Lech has many more trees and warmer weather than its sister ski resort of Zürs and therefore it is both a summer and winter resort-hiking is the sport in summer. Hotel rates are lower in summer, but winter is a paradise too. If you are a skier, consider the fun of staying in Lech and taking the funicular to the top of the mountain to ski down for lunch at Zürs-the mountain lift systems all interconnect, making a giant spiderweb of skiing adventures and trails.

There are only a few very old buildings in the village, the most famous being a lovely small church dating from the 14th century. However, most of the new construction is consistent with the Alpine motif and blends harmoniously into the lovely valley. Lech's main reason for being today is tourism, and almost every place in town seems to offer rooms.



On your way to Feldkirch we suggest you loop through the Bregenzerwald, a lovely region of the Vorarlberg. The name means "the forest near Bregenz," but it is much more. Bregenzerwald is an area of soft rolling hills, impressive walls of rocky cliffs, gentle pasture lands, the winding Bregenzer Ache River, lush forests, and, best of all, picturesque villages different from anything else found in Austria.

To reach the Bregenzerwald, continue north on 198 from Lech following the River Lech as it cuts a deep gorge far below the road. In spring, waterfalls leap from many of the cliffs and make inlets into the rushing river. As you near the town of Warth, the canyon opens into a high mountain valley with meadows and farms. At Warth take road 200 heading west to Bezau. The road zigzags up and over the Hochtannberg Pass, where the landscape becomes wild and barren. There are some spectacular vistas, especially near the town of Nesslegg.

From Nesslegg the road drops quickly downward to the village of Schonbrunn, and from there you follow the valley floor, walled on both sides by lush green hills. Suddenly at Schoppernau the narrow valley spreads into an open meadow and you begin to see the colorful Bregenzerwald villages. Stop in the town of Bezau, one of the most typical of the small hamlets that dot the velvety meadows. Walk around the village: there are a few cute shops and restaurants, but the main attraction is the architecture and decor. Most of the buildings are shingled, mostly with natural wood, but sometimes painted. Shutters, usually green, enclose the small paned windows. Look carefully at the windows-they make a beautiful picture. Peeking behind the windows are filmy white cotton curtains trimmed with exquisite handmade borders of lace. Accenting the white curtains are tied-back drapes, often in a country-French blue. Below the windows are flowerboxes of geraniums-the final perfect touch.

It is only about a five-minute drive from Bezau to Schwarzenberg, an even smaller hamlet well known for dairy products. As you stroll around the village, you will see a large cheese factory and in the early morning and evening the sound of cowbells ushers in the parade of cows which linger for a sip of cool water at the ancient fountain in the town square. The town is not only host to cows, but also a great attraction to tourists because of the wonderful assortment of typical Bregenzerwald houses.

Leaving Schwarzenberg, follow the small back road through Bödele down into the town of Dornbirn. This is a very narrow road but the scenery is splendid. The road zigzags through the mountains and then drops down into Dornbirn. As you descend into the valley, the Bodensee (Lake Constance) appears in the distance. From Dornbirn it is only a short drive to the main highway, A14, where you go south to Feldkirch, a jewel of a medieval town.

From Feldkirch it is just a few minutes' drive into Switzerland or Liechtenstein, or, heading north on A14, just a short drive to Germany.

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A Few Nearby Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts:   List Them All

A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Schlosshotel Post
Imst, Tyrol, Austria
€ 100-120
A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Hotel Uhrerhof
Ortisei, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
€ 190-258
A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Hotel Alpenland
Lech, Voralberg, Austria
€ 250-310
A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Hotel Cavallino d’Oro
Castelrotto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
€ 120-180
A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Schlosshotel Goldener Engl
Hall in Tirol, Tyrol, Austria
€ 130-150

A Few Nearby Attractions:   List Them All

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[ icon ] Füssen Tourist Office - Füssen Tourismus
Füssen, Bavaria, Germany
Tourist Offices
[ icon ] Tourist Information Oberammergau & Ammergau Alps
Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany
Tourist Offices
[ icon ] Tourist-Information Saulgrub
Saulgrub, Bavaria, Germany
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[ icon ] Tourist Information Ettal
Ettal, Bavaria, Germany
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[ icon ] Tourist-Information Bad Kohlgrub
Bad Kohlgrub, Bavaria, Germany
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[ icon ] San Martino di Castrozza
Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
[ icon ] Guarda
Graubunden, Switzerland
[ icon ] Saint Anton
Voralberg, Austria
[ icon ] Rattenberg
Tyrol, Austria
[ icon ] Poschiavo
Graubunden, Switzerland

A Few Nearby Restaurants:   List Them All

[ icon ] Lindner´s Restaurant
Bad Aibling, Bavaria, Germany
German Cuisine
[ icon ] La Stüa de Michil
Corvara, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Italian Cuisine
[ icon ] La Corte
Follina, Veneto, Italy
Italian Cuisine
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