The air is crisp, the vistas are breathtaking, and adventure is as natural as breathing. Welcome to Tirol, the crown jewel of Austria.
Cradled by ridiculously attractive Alps, Tirol is one of the nine federal states of Austria and borders Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. And yeh, we get it - Tirol’s rep is a winter playground, where slopes and après are hit equally hard. Yet the region’s natural wonders, adrenaline-fueled activities, and unique culture offer genuine year-round adventure – there is no off season.
We’re in love with this place if you can’t tell, and found it very easy to find 11 epic reasons why we do:
Diehard rock climbers speak in hushed tones of the Schleier waterfall – the epicentre of some of the world’s toughest climbing routes.
What makes the area so special is not just the knee-trembling vertical cliff faces and severe overhangs but the 60-metre waterfall that cascades over the rock spur. The falls spectacular natural veil (‘schleier’ in German, pronounced shh-layer, like you’re encouraging your best friend who just went and said hi to a member of the opposite sex) provides climbers with a cooling mist and rumbling soundtrack.
If you don’t have the skills required to tackle the Schleierfall, you can still marvel at the heart-stopping rock ballet performed by the extreme climbers and free climbers from the safety of the bathing lake at the base of the picturesque falls.
Walk as the bird flies
It’s difficult to cram Austria’s incredible variety of awe-inspiring panoramas, alpine pastures, serene forests and rich cultural heritage into one experience but the Eagle Walk comes close.
The majestic 413km climb through Tirol is the crème de la creme of long-distance walks. From above, the route looks like an eagle spreading its wings across the breathtaking Austrian landscape, so the name checks out. The hike is split into no less than 33 stages, with trails varying in difficulty and length.
‘I wanted to go to the highest peaks and the most dramatic alpine landscapes. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than 8,000 feet up in the Alps.’
– Spectre Director, Sam Mendes.
Above: Photographer Christoph Nösig
Spectre of Bond
Sam Mendes wanted Bond, James Bond-worthy locations when he began work on the 2015 installment film Spectre, and he found it on the Gaislachkogl Mountain in Sölden, Tirol.
In the movie, the location is an uber expensive health resort that serves green smoothies rather than martinis. In real life there’s none of these horrors - ice Q is a gourmet restaurant with a wine and tapas lounge that gives patrons a license to drink.
Leveraging from the location’s starring role, a futuristic building has been built into the mountain to house 007 ELEMENTS (which is written in capitals, we checked…and presumably shouted). There are interactive displays and behind-the-scenes looks at the filming of the franchise’s over-the-top stunts, including the action sequence that saw Bond bring an airplane to a car chase.
Left: Photographer Alexander Lohmann
Above: Photographer Christoph Nösig Below: Photographer Alexander Lohmann
Become an iron…person
If watching hardy climbers tackling Schleierfall has given you adventure envy, Tirol has an (arguably) chiller way to enjoy the same thrills and views ‘via ferrata’, which means ‘iron path’ in Italian.
Via ferrata gives you the freedom to climb to dizzying heights, traverse ladders and bridges with the backup of a harness clipped to a safety wire. Think of it as an exhilarating cross between hiking and climbing. Routes are rated from easy A to extreme E.
The Stuibenfall Via Ferrata in the Ötztal Valley will get your blood pumping, enabling you to climb the tallest waterfall in Tirol. If you’re feeling confident, you can tackle the rope bridge that spans the Stuibenfall, keeping a close eye on the roaring waters below. There are easier options if that route is literally a bridge too far.
Crystals are forever
Is your partner taking a little too long to ask that question?
Tell them you’re taking them to Austrian Disneyland (doesn’t exist) and then ACTUALLY bring them here instead - Swarovski Crystal Worlds, where a massive Giant guards the entrance to a crystal universe with 18 underground chambers of installations made from Swarovski crystals.
There’s also a cloud of 800,000 hand-mounted crystals floating above a black mirror pool. The place is sick even if you aren’t waiting to get hitched. And if you are? A little nudge, nudge never hurt anyone.
Ever thought you could crack the mysteries of the universe, if only you had the right gear?
Venet Star Gazing Park can hit you up. The scenic Venetbahn cable car will deposit you at the top of Venet, 2,212 metres above sea level, next to Tirol’s only public observatory. The stunning alpine landscape will tempt you to explore hiking trails, but keep your eye on the prize — the observatory’s incredible telescopes.
By day, filters on the telescopes allow you to take a rare close and safe look at Big Yella and its bright gas clouds, known as 'solar prominences'. As night falls, the lack of light pollution brings the Milky Way, constellations, and random meteor showers into sharp focus. Book ahead.
Right: Photographer Dr Norbert Span.
Above: Photographer Dr Norbert Span
Make it schnappy
The Tyrolean Schnapps Route is a cultural experience that includes alcohol. Say no more fam.
Austrians have been fermenting fruit to make a type of high-proof distilled fruit brandy since the 1700s, so it’s a deeply ingrained part of their culture as well as a tasty and highly alcoholic bevo. An estimated 2,500 private distilleries throughout the Tyrolean region use a variety of fruits and herbs to create their own special brew.
There are a number of Tyrolean ‘Schnapps Routes’ that provide meandering (stumbling) tours of local distilleries where you can taste the unique character and flavour profiles of various schnapps, from a crisp apple schnapps in Kufsteinerland to a robust plum brandy in Zillertal.
Video © Tirol Werbung
Making sure you look your best when returning home after a summer spent in the mountains is not so unusual. In Austria, cows do this too.
Almabtrieb festivals, when farmers herd their cattle, sheep and goats back from the mountain pastures where they have been grazing over summer, are celebrated throughout Tirol. The ‘homecoming’ celebration is a big deal, with cows decked out in elaborate headdresses, bells, and flowers for a procession celebrated by locals and tourists alike. Many villages milk Almabtrieb as an excuse for a folk festival with local food and drink, music and dances with their own local flavour.
Imagine floating weightlessly in a salt water thermal spa at night, the stars rolling out across the sky above you, bookended by three-thousand-metre-high alpine peaks, as steam from the 35-degree Celsius water encircles you.
Sold? Then head to the Aqua Dome Thermal Baths in the Ötztal valley. The Aqua Dome is a cool name, and the 22,000 square metre wellness resort and hotel is surrounded by the snowcapped Austrian alps. Its stunning thermal spas have been designed to mimic a pod of UFOs hovering above the valley floor.
Käsespätzle — you’re welcome
Tyrolean cuisine is hearty and robust, often featuring meats, cheeses, and breads – all the good things.
Put your stomach in the hands of a local foodie on the Innsbruck Food Tour and you’ll be introduced to things like 'Käsespätzle', a type of soft egg noodle, or dumplings smothered in melted cheese and often served topped with crispy onions (OMG stop).
Be sure to leave room for dessert — you may get to try Kiachl, a traditional Tyrolean pastry, fried in hot lard and served either sweet with cranberry jam or savoury with sauerkraut.
Know anyone who has warmed up after a bit of snowshoeing under the starry alpine sky by drinking mulled wine, or glühwein, in a bar made of ice, then slept in an igloo and enjoyed a sauna before breakfast? No? Well, you can be that person.
Iglu-Dorf Kühtai by Innsbruck is a hotel made of snow and ice and decorated with artwork carved right into its walls.
If you are staying overnight, you’ll be relieved to know your bedding includes an expedition sleeping bag rated to minus 40 degrees Celsius. If an igloo stay isn’t on your bucket list (and really, we all know it should be) just enjoy the all-you-can-eat mountain cheese fondue at the bar before skiing back down the mountain on a torch-lit run in the company of an experienced guide. Experienced skiers only — and go easy on the glühwein.
get in the know Jungholz is a village in Tirol which can only be accessed by a German road, meaning even Austrians need a passport to come and go..