Welcome to Tyrol & grüß Gott (pronounced “Gruss Gott”, this is how Austrians and Bavarians say hello). This post briefly covers transport, choosing places to stay, lakes, hiking, alpine fine dining, spas, supermarkets and places near Tyrol.
Austria will always have a special place in my heart. I often describe it as Germany’s cousin from the country, and I mean the in the most flattering sense. Austria has the benefits of German efficiency with the scenery of Switzerland (without the Swiss price tag) and value-for-money of the Mediterranean or Eastern Europe.
When I think of my favourite places in the world, Tyrol always places in the top 5.
Tyrol is a region in the southern part of Austria, closest to Italy, and part of the region still technically crosses in to Italy. Don’t let the geopolitical divides confuse you, when you cross into Italy, the culture is still heavily Austrian and the German language (or Austrian-German to be more exact) is the lingua franca. I still remember the first time driving through the region and being confused by the dual names of towns on the Italian side, the German translation look nothing alike.
Tyrol (or ‘Tirol’ in German) is one of the best regions in Europe for skiing, hiking and wellness inspired holidays. Here are some of my favourite areas, things to do and places to visit.
Getting in and out or Tyrol is not much fun on public transport but it is possible. I strongly recommend hiring a car if you can to increase your flexibility in this region. Alternatively, you can rely on the trains, but make sure you organise transfer to your accommodation in more rural areas, particularly if you travel during ski season. Dragging bags in the snow isn’t the easiest start to your holiday. If you are flying internationally from outside of Europe it is best to fly into Munich. Another option is to fly into Milan or Venice, but Munich is definitely the easiest. If you are flying from within Europe, you can fly into Innsbruck.
To get my head around transport options for various destinations I like to use the website Rome2Rio, local tourism websites and the “getting here” section of accommodation providers. If you are staying somewhere that doesn’t have much information on arrival, you can always look for a nearby larger/more expensive hotel and see what options they suggest for arriving. In a pinch when travelling somewhere remote, I would even consider calling these larger hotels to see if you can use their shuttle service (for a fee).
We tend to stick to international car hire brands and have used Hertz and Sixt while travelling through Austria. As we picked up in the car in Germany, we needed to buy a “vignette” which is a sticker you put on your car to give permission to drive on toll roads in Austria, and is basically non-negotiable, if you’ve hired your car outside of Austria and plan on driving inside Austria, you need to buy it. Luckily, its pretty reasonable: as of 2020 its €9.40 for ten days and €27.40 for 2 months. We bought ours at a petrol station near the Austrian border. There are the odd additional toll roads in Austria, which you can pay with cash or card at the entrance but the vast majority will be covered under your vignette.
Places to visit
If skiing, I tend to research the best ski area of the time I plan on visiting. For example when we visited in November 2019, I chose to ski Solden as I wanted to have guaranteed skiing so I chose between the glaciar resorts: it came down to Solden and Stubai and we went with Solden this time. During other months, I like to stay in off the radar places when hiking and try to find great accommodation deals.
It is worth checking out that the accommodation you are looking at is actually open at the time you plan on visiting, as some destinations are seasonal and other which are open across both summer and winter may take a few weeks off between seasons to rest and do maintenance outside of peak season.
One good way to base yourself is by picking a valley that has a few places that appeal to you. This was you can easily visit locations within the valley and get to know it quite well, then take a day trip to destinations outside of the valley. Some of the best valleys to consider are:
- The Ötztal Valley
- The Ziller Valley (Zillertal)
- The Stubai Valley (Stubaital)
- The Tuxer Valley (Tuxertal)
If you want to stay in a city with city conveniences and rely on public transport, Innsbruck is a great choice. It’s the colourful capital city of Tyrol, the fifth largest city in Austria and has hosted multiple Winter Olympics. Although you miss the small mountain village charm, Innsbruck is one of the loveliest towns you can stay in in Austria. You have the benefit of many hotel options (although you should note parking is more limited) and there are excellent mountains right on your doorstep.
St Anton (nearby Lech/Zurs) / Kitzbuehl
The big names in Tyrol are St Anton (nearby Lech/Zurs) and Kitzbuehl, big names come with big prices, but this means they have a great range of accommodation, restaurants and ease of travel.
In Kitzbuehl there is a incredible Curio Collection Hilton, but it is just slightly off the main area so I wouldn’t recommend this if you want to walk everywhere. It is a better place to stay with a car. In town, there is the Kitzbuehl Schwarzer Adler.
Solden (also known as Sölden/Soelden)
Solden isn’t one of the cutest mountain towns in Austria, but it is a really easy place to stay, ski and explore. It has the incredible Ice-Q restaurant featured in the James Bond film Spectre, which we visited for our wedding anniversary lunch. The skiing was also fantastic and our accommodation was brilliant as we had an apartment (we were there with my brother-in-law and uncle-in-law) with a kitchen so we could enjoy the local produce, get a good meal in before or after skiing and cut down on costs by cooking. We also loved the rooftop pool and wellness centre which had multiple saunas. We stayed at Regina’s Alp Deluxe.
If you are open to visiting any glorious mountain (because let’s face it they are all beautiful), I like to search for accommodation by my standards across the whole area on an aggregator like google hotels. I filter by high guest ratings and facilities then pick accommodation based on what is the best value for money. Because of this we ended up staying just outside of Tyrol in a tiny village called Damüls, in ridiculously good value accommodation. We spent our days hiking glorious mountains and exploring random parts of the Austrian wilderness we otherwise would not have experienced.
I always to look for lakes, castles, hanging bridges, waterfalls and viewpoints on the map around areas we are staying or along our planned route. These can be places to visit in themselves or nice ways to break up a road trip. Here are some beautiful lakes in Tyrol:
- Kaltwassersee (Cold Water lake)
- Weißsee Gletscherwelt (White Lake Glacier World)
Summer hiking and mountain hut lunches
During the traditional European summer months (June to September, but always check each venue for opening days), many Austria mountain huts open and you can hike up to them, have a delicious feed the hike back. You can also find huts to stay in and hike between those from day to day.
For the day hikes for lunch, you can generally rely on the local tourism websites for a decent list. For example, in the Ötztal region there are several options. Some summer huts you won’t find much of an online presence as they are very rustic, others like the Panorama restaurant and IceQ in Solden are more proper restaurants than rustic huts, so information is easier to find online. Another wonderful foodie option in Wedelhutte in Zillertal.
Another thing I like to do is save beautiful photos of Austria I see on Instagram, and I follow all the Austria tourism boards to get ideas. Then if I like the look of something I will do further research into the hike and if it fits into our trip.
Here are a few Austrian Instagram pages to start with:
Here are a few beautiful spas in Tyrol, some are attached to expensive hotels but luckily you can visit them without staying – you just pay to use the spa. If you can’t find anything on the website, you can ask the hotel about the “day spa” rate.
- Aqua Dome: Luckily this was just down the road from Solden so we could enjoy it on our skiing trip.
- Tauern in Kaprun
- Seetal (you can just use the infinity pool for 6 euros for 3 hours between 10am – 4pm or the whole day spa for 75 euros for 1pm – 8pm including a late buffet lunch)
- Arlberg WellCom
Be warned though, the sauna areas may cost extra and there will likely be a relatively strictly enforced “no-clothes rule” in the saunas. If you aren’t comfortable taking off your swimsuit, it’s better to save your money.
In Tyrol we tend to shop at Lidl, Hofer (Aldi in Germany) and MPreis.
MPreis is my favourite to shop in as it’s a Tyrolean family-owned company. Other than just groceries, in the fridge section there are always great drink, snack and sandwich options. They also have an excellent café at the front of each store, where you can buy other bakery or café items. My favourite: anything covered in chives.
Places to visit near Tyrol
The following destinations are just outside of Tyrol but within day-trip distance of Tyrol or worth a mini-trip in themselves.
- Salzburg: this is a larger town and has an airport, but it is not technically in Tyrol, as it is itself the state capital of Sazlburg. Salzburg is a beautiful place to base yourself in this region and it is THE place for the Sound of Music tours.
- The picture perfect postcard town of Hallstatt: this is the perfect destination for long stroll around the lake and to take incredible photos. As it is a tourist hot spot for its beauty, is worth scheduling your day to get here early or stay late so you get some time away from the big bus tour groups who only do short visits. Salzburg is 1 hour and 15 minutes away.
- For WWII history buffs, Eagle’s Nest:
- Just across the German border in Berchtesgarten is Kehlsteinhaus (the Eagle’s Nest) which is famous for being Hitler’s summer retreat, despite the fact he wasn’t a great fan of heights and didn’t actually spend much time there. Built perched on the top of Mt Kehlstein, the views are astounding and the history behind the construction is fascinating.
- It is ok to feel a bit weird travelling to a place that was once a mountainous Nazi retreat. Something I learnt travelling through Eastern Europe is that keeping places like this open – places that were once the hallowed halls of some of the most horrific people to walk the planet – and allowing every single person to walk through them, no matter their background is sort of an eternal fuck you to the former regime.
- If you want to enjoy a bit of historical fiction to get into the zone before your visit, I strongly recommend reading Philip Kerr’s “Prussian Blue”, which is set across two periods both before and after WWII and centres around Kehlsteinhaus and the surrounding region.
- Here are two great blog posts spelling out how to visit Kehlsteinhaus: Alicia Marie Travels and Countdown to Friday.
Just remember it is closed over winter
- Königssee (King’s Lake): near Berchtesgarten again, this is known to be one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany. You can take a boat to see the glorious St Bartholomew’s Church and if you want you can continue on to hike to Obersee, which takes around 90 minutes at a leisurely place. For visiting here or Eagle’s Nest you’re best to stay in Berchtesgarten but it is also possible to day trip here from other nearby towns such as Salzburg (35 mins).
- The Dolomites: Just over the border in Italian Tyrol (known as South Tyrol or Sud Tirol) are the glorious, incomparable Dolomites, filled with gorgeous food, hiking, lakes and hotels. I still have dreams about this infinity pool in the Dolomites:
& that’s all for now, feel free to comment or send me a message if you have any specific questions about Tyrol.