The Temptations of Tyrol: A luxury travel guide to this western Austrian state
Writer Nilufer Atik explains why you should visit Austria’s wonderful western state…
Boasting numerous snow-capped mountains, emerald green meadows, rushing alpine streams and over fifty pristine lakes, the West Austrian state of Tyrol is undoubtedly a place worth visiting.
Whether in summer or winter, the unique terrain here provides plenty of activities for thrill-seekers and nature-lovers alike. Not only is it home to a skiable territory of around 3,000 kilometres – offering some of the most epic trails for both skiing and snowboarding in Europe – but as the colder months draw to an end Tyrol blooms into life with a range of other outdoor activities to enjoy.
From mountain biking, hiking or rock climbing to wading in a hot spring, sun-bathing by a warm lake, or perusing the many historic sights, like the Mighty Kufstein Fortress towers above the small town of the same name, or the Swarovski Face Fountain in Wattens, near Innsbruck, you’ll be amazed by how much there is to see and do, whatever the time of year.
It’s a place where you can enjoy open-air concerts, catch an opera on the slopes or take a quick cable car ride up to a mountain peak to get panoramic views of the landscape. Tyrol is also an ideal destination for families, continuing to practice centuries-old customs and traditions such as the famous Imst Schemenlaufen Parade in the town of Imst, held every four years. Featuring 900 participants, the parade is one of the most important carnivals in the Alps. Then there are the Summer Solstice celebrations each June, during which spectacular bonfires are lit on mountaintops all over the region just after nightfall, creating a magical atmosphere.
Tyrol’s individual cities and towns are hugely popular with visitors too, keen to marvel at the array of architectural highlights they offer. With fine townhouses, medieval alleys and majestic fortresses scattered everywhere, each area has its own special story to tell and a friendly local or two more than happy to tell it.
Many of the town centres were built during the Middle Ages and time seems to have stood still inside them. Buildings and landmarks have been carefully preserved and restored to retain their original character, making their surroundings even more charming. One of the finest examples of this is the region’s capital city Innsbruck – a historic old town that transports you back to the time of Emperor Maximilian I. The Gothic façades built from 1490 to 1520, arcades designed to keep shoppers dry constructed in the typical Innsbruck-Salzach style and the intricately decorated bay windows bring both culture and history to life.
The fifth largest city in Austria, Innsbruck has a population of around 130,000 and contains one of the crowning glories of Tyrol, the Golden Roof. Set below the majestic peaks of the Nordkette mountain range, this landmark structure located in Innsbruck’s Old Town is considered the city’s most famous symbol. It was built in 1500 to commemorate the wedding of Emperor Maximilian I to Biance Maria Sforza and has a roof decorated with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles, giving it a ‘golden’ appearance.
Just eight kilometres south of Innsbruck, at an altitude of 651m, lies the picturesque town of Ampass, where you’ll find the Taxerhofsee lake, home to birds such as herons and fish like carp and trout.
There is another reason to visit Tyrol however, aside from sight-seeing, especially if you’re after a more rejuvenating experience – the Relais & Châteaux SPA-Hotel Jagdhof. Austria is famous worldwide for its spas. Replete with natural hot springs, alpine-fresh air and spectacular scenery, the country lends itself to a thriving wellbeing scene and the Jagdhof is no exception. Just a half hour drive from Innsbruck Airport, this extraordinary 5-star family-run hideaway in the Stubai Valley has a rustic, Tyrolean ambience that simply leaves you captivated.
All of the Jagdhof’s 71 rooms and suites offer luxurious comfort, with antique country furniture, sleek pine flooring and paneling, traditional stoves for extra warmth in winter, local artwork and the icing on the cake – balconies from where you can breathe in the crisp mountain air and take in the stunning views of the valley. You can even hear the soothing ripple of the river flowing nearby.
Despite being a luxury establishment however, there’s no garishness here. Everyone is made to feel welcome and treated as part of the family. Staff, all dressed in traditional Dirndl and Lederhosen attire, are warm and attentive without being overbearing. There’s a very laid-back feel to the hotel yet it’s clear every ornament on the shelves, picture on the walls and pretty curtain lining the windows has been carefully thought out.
This is no doubt down to the influence of the Pfurtscheller family, who own the hotel. First opened in 1977, the Jagdhof was originally owned by Leo and Margot Pfurtscheller, who then passed it down to their son Armin, his wife Christina, and their children Alban and Saskia Pfurtscheller.
The family still have a very hands-on approach when it comes to looking after guests and you can often spot them sharing a drink or two with visitors in the hotel’s fireplace bar, regaling them with tales of how the Jagdhof grew from a simple boutique establishment into one of the best spa destinations in the region.
The only five-star hotel in the Stubai Valley, the hotel has gradually extended over the last 40 years to almost double its original size. It now has a vast new spa area with indoor and outdoor pool, outside whirlpool tub and lounging areas and a new suite of plunge pools, saunas, steam rooms and three themed relaxation pods. Its Spa Chalet also includes a tea bar & lounge, a spacious terrace and there’s even a private spa overlooking the mountains available for hire if you want a more bespoke experience.
Then there are the treatments, almost 100 of them in fact. With so many to choose from it’s difficult to select the best but you can’t go wrong with a signature treatment the Private Spa Suite. Priced at £145 per person, this two-hour pamper includes an aromatherapy bath with a glass of champagne followed by a gentle salt body scrub, a steam, then a tension-releasing massage finished off with a soothing body wrap and facial. It’s two hours of your life you’ll wish you could repeat again and again.
A day of rest and relaxation at Jagdhof wouldn’t be complete without a good meal and the food here is both delicious and plentiful. In the morning there’s a huge breakfast buffet with a selection of freshly baked breads, pastries, fruit, cereals and meats. Mid-afternoon, an exquisite selection of cakes made by the in-house patisserie are available for those who’ve booked half board and the evening offers many more culinary delights with dishes such as slowly roasted lamb and vegetables direct from the hotel’s own farm or venison coated in rich gravy.
In the Hubertus Stube room, Head Chef Boris Meyer offers a six – or seven-course taster dinner daily and with its own wine cellar containing more than 1,200 bins and 20,000 bottles, the Jagdhof has a wine to suit every flavor.
If you haven’t yet managed to fit in enough outdoor fun during your time in Tyrol before reaching the Jagdhof you needn’t worry. The hotel has a daily activities programme which includes guided sunrise hikes with breakfast, special foodie and adventure excursions, and even a family hike to the Pfurtscheller’s own Isse mountain lodge.
“We want our guests to leave feeling like they’ve had an unforgettable experience, like they can’t wait to come back,” says owner Armin.
I imagine most of them never want to leave.
A Time to SPA! REN detox short break for two at Relais & Châteaux SPA-Hotel Jagdhof is priced at £2,060 based on two people sharing for four nights. The hotel is also a member of the exclusive Niche Destinations collection of establishments.