We were keen on travelling again, after 2 years and a weird long lockdown that stole the spring of 2020 from us. It felt as if we had hibernated and all of a sudden six months were gone. We had our Covid vaccine passport, and we decided to look for a safe destination within the EU borders. We chose a good one, one that never disappoints, and that is Austria. Actually, we went to one of the last places I had visited before the pandemic, Innsbruck, but this time we headed for the mountains for some hiking and much, much needed fresh air. As I said, it turned out to be the perfect choice.
With 24.000km of alpine trails, the Tirol had been known since the Middle Ages as the Land of the Mountains. Well, that is a suitable description. And for a couple of outdoors lovers, like me and my friend Teresa, couldn’t sound more promising. I was not in a good shape, actually, recovering from a broken toe, but that didn’t stop us. We just adapted our plans to shorter lighter walks. It helps to have gondolas, cable cars and lifts aplenty to take you up over 2000 metres, getting you close to panoramic breathtaking views combining rocky peaks with alpine forests and green bright fields and meadows, from where mountain ranges overlay on the horizon one after another.
We set food in the Austrian Tirol a bright and sunny summer morning, willing to explore the area that mesmerised Emperor Maximilian – a keen hiker and hunter. We set camp in the pretty village of Götzens, 10km from Innsbruck. We were using public transport but it was fine, as there were plenty of buses running, and we got ourselves the Innsbruck Welcome card, which gave us unlimited transport and free access to lifts and gondolas.
Our first outing took us to the Kalkkögel mountains, a chain which is part of the Stubai Alps, and known as the Dolomites of the north, due to its sculpted limestone peaks that look alike to those of the famous range, which lays actually not far south, at the other side of the Italian border.
The Olympiabahn, a red cable car built for the Winter Games of 1975, lifted us up to Hoadl Haus, at 2340 m height, from the ski station of Axamer Lizum, gaining 700 m in less than 3 minutes. This is the point of departure for several hikes. We chose the path toward Schliker Seespitze (2804 m), the highest point in the range, that passes by the Adolf Pichler hut. The trail is narrow and runs through a slope covered in gravel under a beautifully sculpted rocky ridge. The landscape was breathtaking. Far, at the other side of the valley, we could see the Karwendel range. Due to my recovering food, we discarded the hard, slippery and aerial climb to the top, and we took, instead, to the serenity of the alpine meadows and the company of a very friendly and uninhibited sheep. We needed to take into account, also, that the last cable car departed at 4.30pm.
Top of Innsbruck
On our second Tyrolese day we approached Innsbruck to take the Nordkettebahn up over 2000 metres, to the massive Karwendel range, the largest of the Tyrolese Alps, with 125 peaks over 2000m high – the highest being Birkkarspitze (2749m). Either from the Seegrube station (1905m), or from the Hafelekar (2334m) peak, you get a range of trails departing each direction, all of them offering amazing views. It is a marvellous viewpoint over the valley of the Inn river. After going to the top – it is compulsory as is only a few metres over the station- we chose to follow the Goetheweg, a 10km trail that takes you to the Pfeishütte (one of the 21 huts in this range). The trail goes from slope to slope, allowing us to enjoy the inner side of the impressive chain – rocky peaks, evergreen fir forests and fields – and the vertiginous stretches looming over Innsbruck and the surrounding towns, with the Kalkkögel chain in the background. Stunning.
On our last day in Tirol, we got to the village of Mutters to take the Muttereralmbahn, a cable car lifting us to 1608 metres, to an area covered in fir trees, again the starting point for some trails. We walked up to Birgitzköpflhaus (2035 m), where we realized it was the perfect place to enjoy a beer in the marvellous terrace gazing at the mountains for the last time. The perfect farewell to this place which had stolen our hearts. We were already making plans to come back, maybe in winter when everything is covered in snow. For our great finale we came across, without planning for it, a chair lift that took us down to Axamer Lizum, just from the other side across the Olympiabahn. We were going to end our tour exactly where we had started 3 days before.
Sometimes one day is not enough
We are indeed planning a comeback, and the Tirol is a great destination if you want to walk for days and sleep in huts. We find 357 fully equipped huts offering beds and restaurant service. They are the perfect stop to sleep closer to nature or to embark upon the Adlerweg, the Eagle Walk, a 414 km trail. It is divided among 33 legs, with an elevation gain of 31,000 metres, a great alpine adventure that will take us from the Kaiser Mountains and the Arlberg, in the North Tyrol, to the Venediger and mount Großglockner – the highest peak in Austria and the second highest in the Alps after the Montblanc-, in East Tyrol.
Free guided walks in Innsbruck
The city of Innsbruck offers, between May and October, free guided walks. They are included in the Welcome Card, that you can get for free with a stay of more than 3 nights in some establishments. You need to sign up in advance.
We slept in Neugötzens, in a cosy apartment with our own tiny garden offering amazing views to the Karwendel mountains. Perfect place to enjoy our afternoon beers after the hikes.
About my previous trip to Innsbruck: