Try as I might to stay as fit and healthy as possible, the ageing process is as inexorable as a snowball in an avalanche.
So where I was once able to ski, cycle or hike all day, the spirit may now be as keen as ever, but the flesh is most definitely beginning to weaken.
If common sense and age are finally prevailing, a good balance on holiday these days is to combine some local arts and culture with a moderated level of physical activity.
Hopefully many other Silver Travellers will be nodding sympathetically at this point.
The Austrian Tirol may well be the perfect playground for us more mature travellers. We all know about its world-class skiing and the scintillating high-level walking, but are you also aware of all the cultural activities on offer in the verdant valleys of this proud region?
Music plays a large role. Explore the rich tradition of violin making in and around the medieval city of Hall, in the Inn valley. Jacob Stainer, a renowned creator of stringed instruments – particularly violins – lived in the small village of Absam, on the outskirts of Hall. Visit the charming ‘Gemeinde Museum‘ here for a fascinating insight into Herr Stainer and his craft. Arguably more respected even than legendary Antonio Stradivari – certainly for Baroque-style music – Stainer only made 300 instruments, some used by Bach and Mozart. One, made in 1678, is on display in the Museum.
And in a narrow street in Hall, visit the cluttered workshop of Arnold Posch to see how Stainer’s ancient instrument-making traditions are being faithfully preserved. Herr Posch, like a gentle academic, explains how spruce, maple and ebony are all used to create a new violin. He cuts the spruce trees down himself – with an axe rather than a saw – at a height of 1,500 metres in an exact place on the mountain, and in the few days between Christmas and the New Year. Afterwards the wood has to dry out for 7-10 years before the instrument can be crafted. He makes new instruments to order, as well as restoring older ones. The ‘varnish’ for the completed instrument is a magical concoction of resins and potions from around the world.
Each new small violin or viola takes this master craftsman from 160-200 hours to create (a cello takes longer), and will cost its lucky new owner in the region of 10,000 Euros.
Still in the Hall-Wattens area of the Austrian Tirol, the musical focus reached a crescendo with the 15th anniversary of the renowned ‘Music in the Giant’ Festival. Taking place at the glittering Swarovski Crystal Worlds complex, this special celebration paid tribute to Philip Glass, one of the music world’s most revered contemporary composers and musicians.
The great man played his 1979 composition ‘Mad Rush for Solo Piano’, his jet-lagged 81 year-old fingers flying over the keys as lightly as the Artful Dodger’s in a posh gentleman’s waistcoat. The rest of the programme comprised other scintillating Glass works, including ‘Four Movements for Two Pianos’ (2008) and ‘Two Movements for Four Pianos’ (2013), both with world-class long-time friends and collaborators Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa mesmerising on their pianos.
The very special climax to the concert was Glass’s Tirol Concerto for Piano & Orchestra (2000), evoking the wonderful landscape wrapped around us.
In the daytime, Swarovski Crystal Worlds is an other-worldly playground, assaulting the senses and warming the soul. A water-spouting giant lures you into a hidden underground world, where a series of entrancing Chambers of Wonder from creative global artists and designers, under the overall direction of multimedia artist André Heller, sparkle and delight.
Above ground, the is a centrepiece, with more than 800,000 hand-mounted Swarovski crystals formed into a cloud forest above an infinity lake. Stroll around delightful landscaped gardens, watch an open-air movie in the summer, check out Daniel’s Music Club every Thursday. And after all that you’ll need refuelling. The food at Daniel’s cafe and restaurant is outstanding, particularly – as you would expect in Austria – the patisserie section.
Further along the valley floor, away from Innsbruck and close to the German border, the small town of Erl provides more musical magic. In this small settlement of just 1,500 people, there are two world-class opera and music venues, side by side.
The Erl Passion Play has been performed in the town for more than 400 years. Taking place every 6 years, it has deep roots in Catholic traditions and the actors are all drawn from the local community. The current theatre was built in 1959, but has no heating, resulting in the new Festspieler being built in 2012, at a cost of €36m. It is built into the mountain, boasts the largest orchestra pit in the world and brings a remarkable range and quality of musical productions to this serene enclave in the Tirol.
Away from music, explore the perfectly preserved cobbled streets of Hall, capital of the Tirol before Innsbruck. A stronghold of empire in the Middle Ages, its wealth and power were rooted in salt mining from the 13th century. In 1486 the Hall Mint produced the first large silver coin in Europe, and today you can see a reconstruction of this revolutionary machine in the Mint Museum in Hasegg Castle.
And back along the valley, beyond Erl, more history is evident in Kufstein, the so-called ‘Pearl of Tirol.’ Ringed by the mighty Kaiser mountain range, this atmospheric ancient town is dominated by the Kufstein Fortress. First mentioned in 1205, this towering building was fought over by opposing factions for centuries but is now an extraordinary venue for many events.
These are just a few highlights, but you’ll find that nearly every town and village in the Tirol seems to have its own traditions and cultural events.
So come to this beautiful area, Silver Travellers, to be entertained in the valleys once you’ve been exhausted by the mountains. Take a look at www.visittirol.co.uk to see all the options and to plan your cultural Tirolean adventure.