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~ ~ Trust ‘the mad cabbie’ to visit one of Europe’s most renowned ski resorts in the height of the summer! Kitzbuhel is a small Austrian town situated high in the Austrian Alps in the famous Tyrol area of Austria, and probably best known for its famous downhill ski race which takes part here every winter season, and which attracts the cream of the world’s skiers. It’s about an hour and a quarter drive from the nearest main airport in the city of Salzburg. The drive from Salzburg itself is a memorable experience, with roads which wind their way past enormous mountain peaks, tumultuous rivers, and huge lakes, and which immediately gives you the sense of awe that never really leaves you when visiting this truly spectacular part of the world. I was struck straight away by the huge predominance of four-wheel-drive vehicles on the roads, until it dawned on me that these roads are covered in hard-packed snow and ice for a large portion of the year, and that four-wheel-drive would be a huge asset during the winter months.
~ ~ We stayed in the Alpenhotel, (opinion to follow) a four star establishment which sits on the beautiful Schwarzsee lake. But one thing that Kitzbuhel is not short of is hotels, guesthouses, pensions and hostels, and anyone planning a visit could very easily arrange their own accommodation over the telephone or Internet without having to pay a commission to a travel agent. I had been a bit apprehensive about the holiday because of the terrible rain and flooding in this part of the world just prior to our departure date, and true to form it absolutely chucked it down from the heavens for the whole of the first day we arrived, but this was to be practically the last rain we saw for the duration of our week’s stay. The hotel was beautiful, with magnificent views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, but I’ll go into more detail about this in another opinion. We did have a little difficulty finding it though, as the directions that I received from ‘herbb’, an Austrian member of both Ciao and dooyoo here in the UK and Germany, were for another hotel called the ‘Alpenhof’. (hee, hee) But a visit to the Tourist Information Bureau in the town soon sorted out my difficulty. Kitzbuhel have introduced a marvellous signposting system, with different coloured ‘hotel routes’, (red, green, blue, and yellow) which is simplicity itself to follow. Once you know what colour of route your accommodation is located on, you simply follow the signs. And you need the signposts, as the streets in Kitzbuhel are very small and narrow, and wind their way around the ancient town in a totally haphazard fashion. Almost all the locals have at least rudimentary English, by the way, with many being fluent, which makes life very simple for an English-speaking tourist.
~ ~ Our first morning necessitated a visit to the local swimming pool, as my 11-year-old daughter still has this fixation that she is part dolphin! This is in the centre of the town, and is called the ‘Aquarena’. It’s a marvellous modern swimming complex, with every facility imaginable. There are three pools, one regular layout for those people who enjoy swimming lengths, a landscaped pool for the use of families, and a smaller play pool for the babies and toddlers. It also has two cracking water slides, which my wee lass practically lived in, and where I nearly drowned on my (one and only!) descent of the steeper and faster of the two. I forgot to hold my nose at the bottom, and half the pool made it’s way up my nostrils! There is also a good snack bar overlooking all three pools, where you can sit and keep an eye on the youngsters, while enjoying a coffee (good), beer or light snack. (And also have a smoke, which surprised me!) And if you want to top up your tan, then there’s a sun terrace, (with free sun beds) and you can also take a steambath, solarium, sauna, or mud bath. The ‘Aquarena’ represented very good value, at €7.50 for adults and €4.70 for kids, which dropped to €6.50 and €4.50 when you produced your ‘guest card’ from your hotel. (This ‘guest card’ is an innovative idea of the local town council in Kitzbuhel, and gets you all sorts of discounts varying from 5% to 50% at many of the local attractions.) The pool was somewhere we visited on a daily basis on our week’s visit, and comes with a high recommendation. There’s also free parking, which was very handy, as we tended to leave our rented car there for the duration of our visit to the town, thus saving on parking fees in the official car parks.
~ ~ But what the Alps are most famous for are their magnificent mountains and scenery, and we took full advantage, taking the cable cars up two of the highest local peaks, and DRIVING up the third. (and highest) The first mountain we visited is called the Hahnenkamm, where the famous downhill ski race takes place each January. The cable car station is located right beside the local train station in the centre of the town. My wife was very apprehensive about this, as on a previous visit to Switzerland in the 1980’s we had ascended the ‘Grand Pass St. Bernard’ on one of those small ski lifts where you are open to the elements and only held in place by a small metal bar across your lap. It was an experience she didn’t enjoy (I did though!) and had no wish to repeat, but she needn’t have worried. The cable cars (at least the ones which we used) are all enclosed, and sit six people in comfort. The ride up was exhilarating, as you ascend at a fairly steep angle to the top station on the mountain, winding your way through the dense forests that cover the lower slopes, and with a panoramic view over the whole of the surrounding area. The mountain is 1658 metres in height, and when we reached the top station I was astounded by the vast crowds of people who were hanging around. I later discovered that a very famous downhill racer come pop star was due to visit the Hahnenkamm that same morning, (not that famous though, ‘cos I’ve forgotten his name) and the media, including Austrian television, were out in force. We retreated to a lovely ‘Jausenstationen’, a wooden built café come restaurant slightly downhill from the summit, where we enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee (Austrian coffee was invariably good!) while soaking in the magnificent sunshine and scenery, and watching the para-gliders glide gracefully down the valley. By the way, if you are the adventurous type, you can descend the mountain by para-glider yourself! There is a booking station at the summit where for €90 (upwards) you can book a tandem flight, with a highly qualified instructor, to the bottom. And before you ask, no I didn’t partake of the offer! I might be the ‘mad cabbie’, but I still retain some semblance of sanity. But for the younger and more adventurous amongst you, (or even the older and dafter!) this would probably be something that would appeal. There is also a small museum (free) at the top cable car station that gives you the history and background to the development of the cable car system on the mountain, and which contains some of the older type of cable cars that were used in times past. (some of them looked fairly dodgy to me!) And if you’re fairly fit then you can opt to either walk up or down the mountain by a well-designated path. If you walk up then you are only charged half price for the cable car ride back down. (or, of course, vice versa) Being August, there was no snow on the ski slopes, but it’s still fairly easy to see the path they take through the dense forests, with the bottom of one slope ending up on the third green of one of the local golf courses. (sacrilege, I call that!)
~ ~ The next day we went up the higher of the two local mountains adjacent to Kitzbuhel, the ‘Kitzbuheler Horn’, which rises to 1996 metres. The cable car station for this mountain is situated close by the famous Kitzbuhel Tennis Stadium, where a professional tournament is played each summer which attracts many of the world’s top professional players. (and vast crowds) Again the scenery on the ascent would quite literally take your breath away, and here your ascent is broken at a midway cable car station, where you can either opt to ascend to the summit by the small cable cars or in a larger gondola type car. On the day we visited only the large gondola was in operation. If you get out for a wander around at the midway station then do watch where you are walking, as cattle wander about freely, and leave their somewhat unsavoury deposits (shit) in the grass for unsuspecting tourists to step in! When you’re wearing sandals (as I was) this can be a most unpleasant experience!! When you reach the top station there is again a fairly large ‘Jausenstationen’, (café/restaurant) where we sat to drink in the crystal clear Alpine air and some very welcome caffeine. (Not such a good selection of food and drinks in this café as the one at the Hahnenkamm, by the way.) You climb about a further couple of hundred metres to reach the actual summit, where there is a gigantic radio and weather mast, which you can supposedly climb, but which was closed to visitors when we visited. We opted to walk down the path to the lower station, as one of the main attractions at the Kitzbuheler Horn is an ‘Alpine Garden’, which is situated between the top and midway stations. Here you can view all the plant life, flowers and fauna that thrive on the mountains. We bought a little guide book (€10) so we would have a better idea of what everything was, but it turned out that everything was clearly labelled in any case. And we didn’t get to see the garden at its best, as most of the plants and flowers flower in June each year, and many were now withering somewhat. The mountain path winds its way down the mountain in a haphazard fashion, but let me give you a word of warning here. If you aren’t used to this type of walking then it can prove VERY wearing on the old calf muscles in your legs. My legs are in fairly good shape due to the amount of exercise I get on the golf course, but by the time I reached the midway station my calf muscles were like jelly, and practically in spasm! And watch your time as well! When we arrived at the midway station at 5.10PM we discovered to our extreme dismay that the last cable car runs at 5.00PM, and were told that we would have to walk the whole way to the bottom! But a bit of old fashioned bribery and corruption on the part of the ‘mad cabbie’ (€20) got us down OK. It’s also possible to actually drive your car to the midway station here on the Kitzbuheler Horn, something I didn’t realise until I actually got up there. On the week we visited the yearly race, called the ‘International Kitzbuheler Horn Run’ was scheduled to take place on the following Sunday. This is a kind of ‘mad marathon’ where the participants start out in the middle of Kitzbuhel village, and run to the top of the mountain. All week the village and surrounding area was over run with competitors training for this event. Personally, I think anyone attempting this challenge needs urgent psychiatric help, but each to their own. The cost of the cable cars is €15 for an adult, and €6 for a child, with a reduction of €2 in each case on production of your visitor’s card, or alternatively you can purchase a family pass valid for seven days for €80 if you intend to use the cable cars a lot during your visit.
~ ~ The third mountain we visited during our trip is called the Grossglockner, and is actually the highest in Austria at 3,798 metres. This is accessed by a 34 kilometre long road that twists and winds its way up to the top station at 2,369 metres, but as it is situated about an hour’s drive from Kitzbuhel itself I intend to make it the subject of a separate opinion. Of the three mountains the Grossglockner was by far the most impressive, and I look forward in anticipation to writing my review.
~ ~ If walking is your thing then you are well catered for here in Kitzbuhel. There are over 180 kilometres of well marked walks in the immediate vicinity, varying from gentle little strolls down the valley to the neighbouring villages of Kirchberg or Aurach, or more adventurous and challenging hikes up the Alpine peaks. A visit to the local Tourist Office will get you a local map, and you can even earn yourself a bronze, silver or gold medal for your efforts. Each walk is awarded a certain points value depending on the degree of difficulty, and you can ‘earn your stripes’ over a number of years if needs be. We didn’t venture on any of these walks, but did enjoy some lovely evening strolls around the Schwarzsee lake which was adjacent to our hotel. Another way of getting about is by bike, and cycling is a very favoured pastime in this region, with many local cycle races, both on the roads and up and down the mountains. We also borrowed bicycles from our hotel on a number of occasions (free) and used them to cycle the three kilometres or so into the town centre, which was great fun. Bikes (for both road and mountain use) can be hired from many local shops, and lots of people take them up on the cable cars and then enjoy an exhilarating free wheel ride back down the twisty mountain roads and paths. And if you are the adventurous type then you are quite literally spoiled for choice. Some of the local attractions include a helicopter tour of the Kitzbuhel Alps, or a more leisurely flight in a hot air balloon. But at prices that vary from €182 up to a whopping €400 per person, you’d need to have a deeper pocket than the ‘mad cabbie’. More affordable adventure pursuits would include horse riding, canoeing, or taking a trip on a white water raft. Golfers are well catered for with four local courses, which range in price from a mere €25 for a small par-three layout, up to €73 for the more challenging 18-hole courses. The course at Schwarzsee is supposedly of championship standard, but one look at the hills and gradients was enough to put me off, and I settled for hitting a large bucket of practice balls at the adjoining driving range. I DID manage to get a round of golf in during my trip though, although it entailed a round trip of 600 miles to Vienna, where I was the guest of ‘herb’, my friend here at dooyoo and at Ciao in the UK and Germany, at his home course the ‘Club Danube’. A very enjoyable day Herbert (thank you) even though the driving took me the best part of 10 hours!
~ ~ Kitzbuhel itself is a lively little town, with a wide choice of good restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to choose from. I imagine it would be even livelier in the winter season when the town is practically taken over by young (and not so young) skiers. We didn’t eat out very much as we were booked half board at our hotel (where the food was simply superb), but we did have a wonderful pizza at a small café called the Barrique, which is directly opposite the Casino in the middle of the town. Other notable restaurants are said to be the Unterbergstuben, which is reputed to be one of the top restaurants in Austria, and which is situated next door to the Hotel Jagerwirt. But you have to book about a year in advance to get a table here, and judging by the Rolls Royces and BMW’s parked at the door, you’d also need to arrange a second mortgage with your bank in order to pay the bill! There’s a local McDonalds, (isn’t there always!) and the local Spar supermarket has a small restaurant above the shop, which is the cheapest in town. The local supermarkets all have excellent (and cheap) delicatessen counters, by the way, if you fancy a light snack during the day, and we used them often. The local Casino at the Hotel Goldener Greif offers a good deal, where if you eat in their restaurant they will give you €25 worth of chips for only €21. That is, if you fancy a flutter. I had a look in one evening, (they don’t seem to have a dress code incidentally!) but bottled out of actually gambling when I saw some of the high stakes that were passing over the green baize tables. (Literally thousands of Euros on the turn of a card!) Very glamorous though, and worth a visit if gambling is your thing. And there are two local Internet Cafés. The largest is the ‘Internet Cafe Videothek’ next door to the Hotel Schwarzer Adler, which has six terminals, and the smaller Café Kortschak in the town centre, which has only the one terminal, but which is the cheaper of the two at only about €9 per hour. (I used this one!) Not being a drinker, I didn’t really frequent the pubs at all, but had a coffee one evening in ‘The Londoner’. This is modelled on your traditional English boozer, and is probably one of the liveliest places in town, and is constantly packed with young people who go to listen to the live music. ‘Siggi’s Bar’ in the Jagerwirt Hotel is another lively spot, which also has large screen TV and screens most of the important football matches and sporting events on Sky Sports. Another trendy spot is ‘Highways’, which is an American themed bar, and seems to attract its fair share of posers. And the ‘Ecco’ is a fairly new bar next door to the Casino, where all the ‘beautiful people’ seem to congregate.
~ ~ I wouldn’t really recommend shopping here in Kitzbuhel however, that is unless you have more money than sense. It’s very much an ‘upmarket’ environment, and the prices in all the local shops reflect this. Many of the clothes, shoes, etc were either of the designer label variety (and thus VERY expensive) or overpriced rags. Far better to visit the neighbouring towns of Kirchberg or Aurach to buy your clothes and souvenirs, as the prices are far more affordable. One bargain I DID pick up was some hand rolling tobacco! Golden Virginia is only €4.65 for a 50 gram packet, compared to €6.15 for a 25 gram packet at home here in Ireland. So my golf bag went home with its pockets literally bulging with enough tobacco to keep me going for about the next six months!! Cigarettes are about half the price they are at home here in Ireland as well, at about the €3 mark for a pack of twenty.
~ ~ Well. That’s about it folks. The ‘mad cabbie’s’ take on Kitzbuhel in Austria. Did I enjoy the holiday? Well, the answer to that is a resounding yes, even though I went with no great expectations. Definitely on the agenda for another visit, but the next time for far longer than a week, as we really only managed to scratch the surface of the things to do, see, and explore in this fascinating and extremely beautiful part of the world.
Packages are available to Kitzbuhel from most of the major Travel Agents. We travelled with Inghams at a total inclusive cost of just under €2,100 for the week for myself and my wife and the wee lass. This included half board at our (excellent) hotel, and a week’s car hire from Avis. (Renault Scenic diesel) You could visit far more cheaply however, by taking a budget flight to Munich in Germany, which is only a couple of hours away by coach, and by booking your accommodation over the Internet.
Very pleasant and not too warm, with daily temperatures in the 25 to 30 degrees Centigrade range daily.
Skiing here this winter so good to get a feel for it. Nick
lingo666 15.10.2002 11:59
Sounds beautiful. I visited Austria 12 years ago and didn't want to come home it was so gorgeous. I love mountain walking and I can still smell the pine...
As for the ski-lifts though I can sympathise with your wife - horrific! I stayed in Zellamsee (I think that's how it's spealt) Lisa x
hepialid 13.10.2002 13:37
Excellent opinion, very detailed and informative. I'd love to go to the Alps one day. Andy.