Most of my favourite places in the world have become so for very different reasons, usually a result of who I was there with, how I was feeling when I was there and sometimes even what season it was.
Innsbruck, at least for me, is a city best experienced when in the icy grip of winter. The snow lies thickly on the mountains, covers the roofs of the buildings in a blanket of eye squinting white stuff, and makes the branches of the trees sag under its weight. Simply stepping outside makes you catch your breath in the cold, but then the sun appears from behind a cloud, lighting up the wintry scene before you, and you’re instantly energised. You clap your mittened hands together, stamp your booted feet and head off into the pretty and historic town centre to find a log fire to warm yourself by while you sip a steaming hot drink.
Having friends living in Innsbruck has given my husband and I the opportunity to visit the region several times, and on our first visit, having never been to Austria before or seen such snowy mountainous scenes, I couldn’t help oohing and aahing as the plane made its descent.
Innsbruck is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol in Western Austria, and is perhaps best known as being an international winter sports centre, the city having played host to both the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. Most recently, the first Winter Youth Olympics were held there earlier this year.
Its altitude and position in Central Europe has given the city a continental climate, usually translating as winters that are colder and snowier than most major European cities, a short-lived spring and a summer that’s anyones guess, with unpredictable and varied weather patterns.
Located between high mountain ranges has made Innsbruck popular for mountaineering in the summer time, but it’s when winter arrives, heralding the opening of the local ski resorts, that the crowds of heavily insulated, brightly clothed tourists begin to appear. Now skiing might be my husband’s bag, but it definitely isn’t mine (knock knees and two left feet a skier maketh not!), tobogganing however; now you’re talking my language! If you fancy careening your way down a course purposely designed for toboggans, then there are several runs around Innsbruck guaranteed to blow your thermal socks off, or rip the soles from your boots as was the case with me! I screamed and hollered my merry way down the course, with only a pathetic lack of daredevilness making me use my feet as brakes, hence the ruined boots.
If you’re after a more leisurely time of things though, why not visit the ‘Stadtturm’ or ‘Town Tower’, a 15th century medieval tower in the Old Town district that is almost 67 meters high. It gives amazing views out across Innsbruck and of the Nordkette Mountains in the distance.
The ‘Goldenes Dachl’ or ‘Golden Roof’ is also popular with tourists; covered with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles, it was said to be built for Maximillian the 1st, so that he could watch events happening in the square below.
Located in the hills of Innsbruck you’ll find the ‘Ambras Castle’, former residence of Archduke Ferdinand the 2nd from 1563 to 1595, an important cultural and historical landmark of Tyrol.
Then there is the the gulp inducing ‘Bergisel Ski Jump’ that looms above the Bergiselschanze hill, a spectacular ski jump standing 47 meters high. Every year the Four Hills Tournament takes place here in January and there’s also a Summer Grand Prix Jumping event that fills the 28,000 capacity spectator stands every year. The views from up there are so amazing that its worth a visit regardless of whether an event is being held.
For animal lovers, there’s the ‘Alpenzoo’ or ‘Alpine Zoo’, the highest zoo in Europe and home to breeds of animals found typically in the Alps.
Innsbruck also has a fantastic selection of bars and restaurants, a great number of which I’ve sampled as the cold weather gives me an unquenchable thirst and raging appetite (at least that’s my excuse!), and in my experience they all offered a high standard of food and impeccable service.
If you’re looking for a winter destination to ‘chill out’ in (couldn’t resist, sorry!), or somewhere to get your winter sports rocks off, you really need look no further than beautiful Innsbruck in Austria.