Kitzbuhel Austria

My experience of a holiday in the summer at Kitzbuhel, Austria.

KITZBUHEL (KITZBUEHEL) IN THE SUMMER

I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love! As I lay in my enormous bed I look through the open doors leading to the balcony and beyond. The early morning light gently sucks up the darkness exposing the peaks of the mountains and the rich plushness of the lower meadows. Mmmm, if this isn't paradise then I don't know what is.

You know how it is when you arrive somewhere and you straight away think, "this is me, it's where I belong"? This is how I felt about Kitzbuhel. The minute I stepped off the bus the clean air and rich colours made me feel alive and invigorated. St. Moritz? Aspen? Pah! Kitzbuhel is 'the' mountain destination to be.

The town is situated in the Tyrolean region of Austria midway between Innsbruck and Salzburg. It's 800m above sea level and nestles between the Kitzbuheler Alps and the Wilder Kaiser mountains, which dominate the area. It's the sort of place that is so beautiful it takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes - and tears of sadness as you leave.

I was fortunate to stay in the town for nearly three weeks with my boyfriend and, though I have travelled quite a bit, I know that this is one place to where I will definitely return. Kitzbuhel is famous for skiing, winter sports and the exciting Hahnenkamm downhill event every January, but we were there from the 27th of August. The sun was shining through a blue sky and the only snow to be seen was a sprinkling on the highest mountain tops.

The town itself oozes class and sophistication. It dates back some 700 years and the old walled centre with it's quaint cobbled streets, picturesque buildings and old churches is a fascinating place to explore. Carts pulled by two horses are available to show visitors the highlights but we walked. The horses eyes looked too sad for me to want to burden them further.

Kitzbuhel is by no means large, so it's easy to get to know in a couple of days. It's a great place just to sit at one of the pavement cafes and watch the world go by - and they do! Especially the Italians, Germans, French, Scandinavians but not too many British. In the hotel where we stayed (the Maria Theresia) there were only eight other English guests for the whole of our visit.

So what do you do, in the summer, in Kitzbuhel?

First explore the town itself. The buildings are mostly very old and in a typical Tyrolean style, all slanting rooves and colourful window boxes. What hits you is how everything is so well preserved and the whole town is clean, neat and spotless. It almost looks unreal, too good to be true.

What to see? There's the local museum located in a former granary, which is part of a medieval tower of the town's fortifications. Here you can find the full history of Kitzbuhel starting way back in the bronze age to the present tourism and winter sports industry. I won't go into all of this as it would take too much space but I'd recommend a visit. It's open daily, except for Sundays.

You must visit the three churches: Liebdrauenkirche. Katharinenkirche and the Pfarrkirche. No matter what your beliefs these are magnificent, especially inside. The wonderful paintings on the ceilings, the altars, the architecture are just splendid. They all date back to the 1300's and there is a lovely sense of peace inside. The doors are open all day and there is no charge to look around, though donations are welcome.

Then there are the fountains, the Town Hall (Rathaus) which originally dates from 1521, the Jubilee Garden, the Freedom Fighter Memorial celebrating 100 years of the Tyrolean struggle for liberation and so on. I loved the town so much ... oh yes, and then there are the shops!

The best answer is not to carry your credit card with you! We are talking style. If you like haute couture labels this is the place to be plus there are boutiques, custom made shoes, glass and handicrafts. Prices are sky high (thongs e200!) as there is a lot of money here, and men to match! For shopping it's probably best to take the train or bus along to St.Johann (only about 10 minutes and e4.60 return) where most things cost much less. Then there are the jewellers ... diamonds! But 'he' didn't take the hint - and I saw such a lovely ring for just e6000 ... never mind!

By the way, I'm having to use an 'e' symbol for the Euro currency when quoting prices.

The main centre has a variety of pavement cafes (coffee e2.50, cakes e3), bars (small beer e3) and restaurants. Eating out can be expensive but there are a couple of small supermarkets for any self caterers.

In the evenings the town comes alive. There are dance bars, a disco, casino and the place has a nice ambience. On Friday at 8.30pm a brass band plays in the centre with folk dancing. It's great just standing, or sitting, with a drink soaking up the atmosphere - everyone seems so friendly with plenty of smiles to be seen.

Okay, briefly that's the town itself but, as great as it is, this isn't the best part of a holiday in Kitzbuhel in the summer - at least not for me. For me it's the fresh air, the scenary and getting up into those mountains. We walked miles and miles most days and it was idyllic. Around Kitzbuhel there are over 180kms of marked footpaths, and the amazing thing is, that once you set off, you are often on your own. The silence is only broken by the occasional cow-bell and your footsteps.

To help get to the top, or way up the mountains there are cable cars, gondolas and chairlifts. The two on the doorstep, so to speak, is the Hahnekamm Gondola and the Kitzbuhler Horn Cable Car. You can travel up to nearly 2000m in about 12 minutes, it's just wonderful. Prices for both are e14 per return but the best thing is to buy a '6-Day Variable Holiday Pass' for e48. This allows any six days of unlimited travel on all of the local cable cars, chairlifts etc and also on the buses plus admission into Kitzbuhels swimming pool centre at the Spa Centre Aquarena. (The map on the left shows the main cable cars and gondalas)

The passes allow easier access to some of the most exciting hikes, or walks, where the views and scenary are simply magnificent. The paths and trails are all well sign posted. You can buy a map in town for e7.50 or a smaller leaflet is issued free at the Information Centre in the town - where you can pick up all sorts of other useful stuff on trains, buses, places to visit etc.

In the summer it's lovely walking in the sunshine. It was warm enough for me to dress in shorts, vest top and hiking boots. We did it all properly and carried rucksacks with waterproofs, a thick sweater, water and food (the hotel supplied us with a packed lunch every day). The weather and temperature can change quickly sometimes, especially when up high.. A regular visitor we met reckons it rains about 3 days out of every 14, which seemed to tie in with our visit. We kept walking in the rain and it didn't spoil our enjoyment. It made it all a bit of an adventure and I quite like getting wet anyway.

Hiking (or walking) was the main part of our holiday, but we also used the trains to travel further afield. There are two train stations in Kitzbuhel. We went to Innsbruck and several small towns like St.Johann and Kufstein. Needless to say the trains were clean and on time, a pleasure to use. The trains can take you to most places reachable in a day such as Salzburg, Vienna and Munich

There was much more for us to do as well, such as: Paragliding from the summit of the Hahnenkamm mountain (oh, my God! I've never shaken so much in my life, but it was well worth the e80 for the experience); Golf (for my boyfriend. There are four local courses - I went hiking on my own instead); swimming at the local Aquarena (this includes a sauna - but be warned it's all nude - which proved amusing. I'll say no more ... maybe I'll write about it another day); cycling (we didn't, but mountain bikes are for hire); swimming again, but this time at Schwarzee (a lake about 2km from the town. There are also small boats for hire).

I suppose though that Kitzbuhel isn't for everyone. If you are not a walker, don't appreciate getting out in the open air and mountains you maybe could get a bit bored with the town itself, though there are those buses and trains for day trips. I didn't see many provisions for disabled or wheelchair visitors. For me, however, it was perfect, and had everything I wanted. Mind you, how could anyone get bored with such scenary to look at?

Yes, I'm in love with Kitzbuhel. I recommend it 100% in the summer.

Two weeks at the hotel we stayed in (a four star), with air flights, costs around £700 per person if you look out for deals on offer. Looking about we did see outlying bed and breakfast, in small farm and family chalets, available for e25-e28, and there are also smaller, cheaper hotels in town. There is a choice of either Salzburg or Innsbruck airports to fly to - both about 1 hour by bus or train.

If you want to try Austria, this is the place to go. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there next time: up a mountain or even in the sauna or ...

.... anyway, back to reality.

More information: Official Kitzbuhel Website
email: info@kitzbuehel.com.

Tourist Office: Hinterstadt 18, Postfach 164, A-6370 Kitzbuhel