Innsbruck, Austrian Tirol: The ultimate summer mountain destination

STORY BY Anne 23rd May 2017

The Austrian Tirol offers hundreds of miles of magnificent mountain splendour and is a summer mecca for mountain bikers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. It is quite possibly the ultimate summer mountain destination.

With British Airways new direct service from London Heathrow to Innsbruck Airport, from which most destinations are just minutes away with efficient, short transfers, it is now even easier to get to there ba.com/innsbruck

Located in the heart of the Alps, Tirol is a veritable Alpine paradise for walkers, hikers, climbers, cyclists and mountain bikers with an incredible 24,000km of signposted and marked hiking and 5,600km of marked mountain bike trails plus 230km of trails.  These include everything from very easy strolls or rides – found around almost every small village in Tirol – to long-distance hiking trails like the Eagle Walk, which runs from St. Johann in Tirol to St. Anton am Arlberg, or the Bike Trail Tirol, a 1,000km-long mountain bike circuit.

The region’s cultural heritage is preserved by the locals, the accommodation, from B&Bs to 5★ hotels, is all run by families and at the same time the infrastructure is state-of-the-art. Over €300 million is invested each year in modern lifts, so the Tirol can now claim to have the best in the world. But those fast, comfy lifts aren’t just for skiers; they carry people and their bikes up the mountains in spring and summer too.

In summer, the mountains go from monochrome hues to rich colours of green pastureland and forest, dotted with colourful flowers in the meadows. A newfound energy sparks a different type of adventure, which along with walking, hiking, climbing, mountain biking and cycling includes a myriad of other adrenaline activities such as climbing, whitewater rafting and many other outdoor adventure sports.

Tirol’s typical warm hospitality brings guests back year after year, and this summer getting straight to Tirol will be easier still with a new direct British Airways service from London Heathrow to Innsbruck Airport, from which most destinations are just minutes away with efficient, short transfers.

The locals are genuinely friendly, the food is delicious, the unique restaurants and accommodation are of high quality and the resorts exude true mountain-village charm.  The only question is, which one should you visit first?

Innsbruck

The beautiful capital of Tirol, three times an Olympic host, is just a 15-minute transfer from the airport to the city centre. Surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, this unique destination combines city and nature. Imperial history and modern Alpine urbanity are pairedwith the full range of summer activities, from climbing to water sports.

A buzzing city surrounded by 2,300m peaks, Innsbruck plays host to an endless array of outdoor activities and events each spring and summer.  The historic town is as beautiful as its mountainous backdrop, and there are lots of summer sporting attractions, plus endless opportunities for window shopping and enjoying the café culture all day.  Bikepark Innsbruck is Tirol’s newest mountain biking hotspot. Situated at Muttereralm, just 15 minutes from the city centre, it caters to every level of rider, with four routes on offer. It’s one of the world’s leading mountain biking destinations and will play host to the Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival this year in June for the first time. For those who don’t know it, Crankworx is a global world tour for elite riders and brings a full festival atmosphere along with it. Routes include the 5km-long Muttereralm trail from the top of the Muttereralm gondola. Everyone from beginners to early-advanced riders will enjoy the jaw-dropping views over Innsbruck towards the impressive Nordkette mountains beyond as it descends 750 vertical metres over a series of nerve-testing switchbacks, through the wooded mountainside to the middle station.

Ort: Innsbruck

Mayrhofen

Mayrhofen, just a one-hour transfer from Innsbruck Airport, is the only destination to make the top three for British visitors in both winter and summer.  A walker’s and mountain biker’s paradise, with breathtaking views up to the glacier (one of only two in the world where you can ski all year round), you’ll find both traditional and grand mountain huts like the Berliner Hütte or the modern and sustainable Olpererhütte to enjoy.  The Zillertal is a truly action-packed valley, with every nook and cranny offering up fun for all types of adventurers. Alongside 1,400km of hiking trails served by 10 summer cable cars, you can also explore the valley on bike, climb up to high-altitude peaks or cool off in a natural lake.

Mayrhofen-born Peter Habeler is a local hero. In 1978, he and the South Tyrolean climber Reinhold Messner became the first people in the world to conquer Everest without bottled oxygen. But despite climbing all over the world, Habeler considers his home mountains of the Zillertal Valley to be the most beautiful of all. And the Peter-Habeler-Route, created to honour his 70th birthday, will show experienced climbers exactly why.  The 56.1km path circumnavigates the peaks of the western Zillertal, crossing through awe-inspiring high-mountain landscapes along the way. Divided into six stages, the entire route involves a heartthumping 4,230m of ascent – and with a predicted walking time of 25.5 hours, it usually takes hikers four to five days to complete, although if you’re short on time it’s easy to just tackle a section or two instead. There are six traditional mountain huts dotted along the route, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get some well-deserved rest and fill up on tasty local cuisine.

Mayrhofen am Penken

Kitzbühel

Kitzbühel, 75 minutes from Innsbruck, is the third most popular summer destination choice for Brits in the Tirol.
It’s the legendary hotspot in the Alps for relaxation, shopping can be paired with outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking and road cycling, and it’s also a hotspot for golfing in the Alps with no fewer than four golf courses to choose from.  In January each year, Kitzbühel stages Austria’s, and indeed the skiing world’s, biggest sporting event, the infamous Hahnenkamm downhill, and there’s no need to miss out on the race route when you visit in summer! The best skiers make it down the Hahnenkamm racecourse, known as the Streif, in less than two minutes, but in summer on foot it takes 2.5 hours to negotiate the 900m drop in altitude. It begins at the race’s start house, close to the top of the Hahnenkamm Gondola, with views over the green pastures of the Kitzbühel Alps all the way to the jagged peaks of the Wilder Kaiser region. From there, the hike passes through spots like Mausefalle (mousetrap), an 85° jump that tests the nerves of the world’s best skiers, and Steilhang, a steep section that has ended many a skier’s World Cup dreams. The Streif hike ends in the valley just after the Hausberg, a jump known for being one of the hardest in skiing.

Kitzbuhel: Lake Schwarzsee

Alpbach

The most picturesque village in Austria: home to traditional wooden and Tirolean-style houses, with balconies and colourful flower boxes, it is a great starting point for walkers, road cyclists and mountain lovers (even for swimming with 25°C water temperatures) as well as a perfect spot for families.  Two summer lifts ensure that the “going up” is easy for bikers, and more than 30 mountain huts take care of the “filling up”. The region can’t really claim to be a top secret tip for mountain bikers as the famed Transalp Challenge has already been held in the region four times, yet it is still far from crowded, with bikes and routes varying from the most challenging to the well-marked biking trails for families.  E-biking is also popular here, making the experience even more pleasurable. The latest e-bikes look like standard mountain bikes but have an electric motor concealed within the frame, acting like an extra set of gears.  You can often ride without engaging “e-bike mode” if you’re a relatively fit biker, but it’s when you tackle the steeper, higher routes that the e-bike really comes into its own. Switch to “turbo mode” and you’ll feel like Superman (or woman) with the boost the motor provides every time you touch the pedals.

Mutterer Alm, Speichersee

Niederau and Auffach in the Wildschönau Valley

A walker’s and mountain biker’s paradise, located 70 minutes from Innsbruck Airport, the Wildschönau Valley is a beautiful playground of Alpine pastures, old traditions and quaint mountain villages.  In fact Wildschönau is made for summer holidays with 300km of walking trails criss-crossing the region, and mountaintop bike paths to make exploring easy. Families are well catered for too, with swimming pools, horse riding and museums all on its doorstep.  The Wildschönau Valley is an outdoors haven for hikers. Walkers can kick off their stay with a cable-car trip to the top of the Markbachjoch, free with the Wildschönau Card. From there, an easy four-hour hike around the Rosskopf offers a great introduction to the area, with aweinspiring views over the Wildschönau Valley. Make sure to stop off at the Holzalm along the way – it’s a must-visit for cheese lovers, offering guided tours alongside a great selection of local homemade cheeses.

Innsbruck:  Nordkette, Seegrube

St Johann in Tirol
The Kitzbüheler Horn and Wilder Kaiser mountains stand a scenic guard over the pretty town of St Johann in Tirol. With its frescoed facades, it is just a 75-minute transfer from Innsbruck Airport.  This popular holiday resort, part of the larger Kitzbühel Alps region, with over 200km of mountain biking routes to explore, is also the other starting point of the long-distance trail, the Eagle Walk, which runs on 24 stages for some 280km over to St Anton am Arlberg. Don’t worry: you do not need to walk all of those.
But there are plenty of other ways to explore the great outdoors of the Kitzbühel Alps from a base in St Johann. How about mountain karting? Described by one visitor as “a kind of three-wheeled go-kart with chunky, all-terrain wheels but no motor, crank, nor pedals, since gravity provides locomotion in spades.”  You race downhill on your cart with powerful pneumatic brakes controlling each rear wheel independently, allowing you to navigate hairpin turns by locking the steering and the corresponding back wheel to slide around each bend. It takes a bit of practice, but you’ll soon master it and the ski lifts get you effortlessly up the mountain to the start.

Zillertal Berliner Hutte

Zillertal Berliner Hutte

Seefeld in Tirol
The most popular destination for Brits in Tirol in summer, Seefeld is also one of the easiest to reach – just 25 minutes from Innsbruck Airport.  That’s no surprise as it’s a paradise for relaxation, and nature lovers have access to the biggest nature reserve in the Tirol, the Karwendel, which is open to road cyclists and mountain bikers as well as hikers.  In fact, there are no fewer than 650km of marked hiking trails, 570km of road cycling routes and mountain bike trails, and for climbers numerous mountaineering routes and via ferratas (protected climbing routes) covering all levels of difficulty. In addition, the Nordic Walking and Running Arena, with its 266km of signposted routes, provides an ideal opportunity for exercise.  And there’s so much more to do: golf, summer biathlon, and a huge choice of equestrian activities from pony rides to full-day horse trekking. You can also enjoy the currently popular stand-up paddling (SUP) on a mountain lake and even combine it with yoga in Seefeld’s “SUP Yoga Programme” suitable for beginners and experienced yogis alike. This unique concept involves carrying out yoga exercises on the water amid the tranquil setting of the nature protection area. Segway tour, tennis, squash, paragliding – the list of options just keeps going, and Seefeld stays have become very popular as a result.

St Anton am Arlberg

Only 60 minutes from Innsbruck Airport, St Anton is another great spot for hiking, mountain biking and climbing in the summer months. For hikers, among its many attractions, it is the beginning and end point for the long-distance trekking path, the 24 stage, 280km (175 mile) Eagle Walk (“Adlerweg”) over to St Johann in Tirol.  St Anton is also a great option for climbers in the summer, with a number of climbing hotspots to choose from and ascents for all abilities, from total beginners (who’ll find all the training and equipment they require ready and waiting) to consummate pros.  Indeed, for first-timers, St Anton also has an indoor climbing centre, arl.rock, where beginners can master the basics before heading out with a guide to try the real thing.  The Schnann Gorge is one popular draw with 40 easily accessible routes, or higher up is a climbing area around the Darmstädter Hütte and the 3,140m-high Kuchenspitz Peak.

Albach: Eagle Walk in the Brandenberger Alps

Ehrwald and Lermoosin the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
The Zugspitz Arena is an amazing destination for fans of hiking and mountain biking at the foot of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, but it is also famed for the glittering lakes that make up its landscape, and the best way to explore them is by bike. The 3-Seen-Tour (3 lake circuit) takes in three of the most beautiful lakes:  Mittersee, Blindsee and Weißensee.  The 11.2km route starts in Biberwier and follows a tree-lined path towards the Loisachquellen, a series of shimmering springs and the first of many photogenic spots along the route. After that, the path carries on through the woods to Mittersee. It’s the smallest of the three lakes, but its waters often reach 22°C in summer, making it an ideal spot to take a dip.

After winding through an undulating of forest of fir trees, the cycle path reaches Blindsee, the largest lake in the area. Although it can be cold, it’s also famed for its great swimming, with jaw-dropping views over to the Zugspitz, the imposing mountain that marks the border between Austria and Germany. Watch out for scuba divers, who are drawn to its clear waters, and underwater tree trunks.  Another forested track leads to the final lake of the tour, Weißensee, which has an incredible backdrop of mountains. From there, you can pedal back to Biberwier to complete the circuit.  This half-day cycle ride is even more breathtaking in the morning or evening, when the sun tickles the peaks that surround it with a pinkish glow. There’s 513m of ascent but no major climbs, making it ideal for all levels of cyclists. Whether you are after alternative fun such as llama trekking, scavenger hunts or adventure paths, Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is a perfect holiday destination for families, as well as anyone else looking for a fantastic summer mountains holiday.

Tiroler Zugspitzarena, Lake Blindsee

British Airways is offering a new direct service from London Heathrow to Innsbruck Airport, from which most destinations are just minutes away with efficient, short transfers. ba.com/innsbruck 

Major International Sports Events in Tirol This Summer

Mountain Biking

June 21–25: Crankworx MTB Festival in Innsbruck

June 30: 9th Zillertal Bike Challenge

Aug 3–6: Ischgl Iron Bike

Walking Events

July 15–16: KitzAlp 24 in Alpbach

Aug 20: Schatzbergmarsch in Auffach

Aug 26: Karwendelmarsch in Seefeld

Road Cycling

June 16: Tour de Suisse starts in Sölden

Aug 29–30: Arlberg Giro in St Anton

Climbing

Aug 30 – Sept 10: 2017 Youth Climbing World Championship in Innsbruck

For all road cycling an climbing enthusiasts:

In September 2018 two World Championships will take place in Innsbruck:  UCI Road Cycling World Championship in Innsbruck and IFSC Climbing World Championship

For more information make sure you visit  VISIT TIROL

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