We ascended the mountain by cable car floating through fluffy clouds until we arrived at the top station. Fresh air, the sound of cow-bells, glorious scenery. As I savoured the views I had a sudden urge to burst into song, but, for the sake of my companions, refrained. Where else but the Austrian Tyrol – where the hills are very much alive.
Austria is perhaps best known for winter skiing holidays but the summer is also a fantastic time to visit. Courtesy of top UK operator Inghams, we were staying at a new addition to their 2017 programme, the 5-star Jagdhof Spa Hotel and at the start of our first days walking high up in the mountains of the Stubai valley.
Mountains a dewy lush green and carpeted with a wonderful array of spring flowers against a backdrop of pine forests. As our small group descended the mountain path – buttocks, thighs and calves working overtime – we could have been walking through a carefully designed Alpine garden at the Chelsea Flower Show such was the variation and vibrant colours of summer flora. Our charming local guide, Eustachius, having spent most of his life running up and down the mountains, further added to the experience pointing out various species of trees – spruce, larch, pine – and identifying the peaks that make up the wonderful Stubai mountain range. With 80 glaciers and over 100 peaks above 3,000m there is plenty of jaw-dropping scenery and walking/cycling opportunities for both the super fit as well as the not-so-fit. After a lunch stop in a local mountain restaurant we headed back to our hotel keen to make use of the exceptional spa facilities to soothe our aching bodies.
A member of Relais & Chateaux, the Jagdhof Spa Hotel is in the village of Neustift just 20km from Innsbruck, capital of the Tyrol. Family run since 1977, with emphasis on personal service, gourmet food and spa facilities, the hotel is built in traditional Alpine style with warm wooden interiors and a pleasing mix of cosy furnishings and antique pieces. The rooms and suites are all individually styled, many with large balconies overlooking the gardens, river and mountains. The ever-helpful staff wear traditional Austrian dress, the women particularly resplendent in their colourful dirndls – still worn by many locals in South Tyrol and much in evidence when walking around the area and Innsbruck.
Unusually for a hotel of its size, 70 rooms/suites, the spa and relaxation facilities are particularly extensive with ample space and facilities to cater for all their guests. No towels on beds at sunrise needed here. The Jagdhof Spa is reputed to be the best in Austria and the quality and range of treatments offered are impressive. My anti-aging facial worked wonders leaving my skin with a glow not seen for quite some years. With a staggering 20 saunas and steam rooms, tepidarium, indoor and outdoor pool, three themed relaxation rooms with individual booths, family daybeds as well as a panoramic tea bar lounge (with even more relaxation beds, both inside and outside), no guest would ever have a problem finding somewhere to lie down. Getting up and leaving this heavenly relaxing cocoon, however, is another matter. This spa is superb.
Like most European spas guests in the ‘wet’ areas wander around naked, but for the more retiring types amongst you there is also an area where bathing suits are allowed. For anyone with extra cash to splash or perhaps wishing to put some va va voom into their romance a private couples spa suite complete with two massage tables should do the trick.
‘Gourmet’ is a word often over-used and undeserved. Not so at the Jagdhof. The recipient of many awards, including three Michelin stars, the hotel’s kitchen serves delicious food with the emphasis on local produce including meat from their own farm. With a large quality buffet available at breakfast and dinner, 5-course evening meals offering three choices for each course, there is plenty of variety and something for every palate, including special diets. A mouthwatering snapshot of a few dishes to tempt your taste-buds include: Parmesan cheese soup with roasted king prawn; Swordfish carpaccio with fennel, orange emulsion and pomegranate; Classic prime beef with roasted potatoes, spinach, apple horseradish and chive sauce; Pumpkin parfait on cherry compote and strudel leaves. And then there was the cheeseboard. A stunning choice of perfectly ripe local cheeses accompanied by home-made chutneys and fruit. The hotel’s fine wine cellar houses around 20,000 bottles of over 1,000 different wines and whilst I didn’t try all of them I can report that the wine I did enjoy each evening was excellent. The Jagdhof is a genuine gourmet delight for foodies and wine-buffs, but unless you intend to make use of the hotel’s tennis courts or run up and down the mountains more than I did, I suggest you pack some loose clothing!
In between all the eating and languishing in the spa it’s definitely worth exploring the area as there are many activities on offer and much to see, with a good choice of excursions offered by Inghams. Approximately 40 minutes drive from the hotel Schloss Tratzberg is a 500 year old Tyrolean castle which sits atop a massive rock ledge with commanding views of the valley. The castle has been owned by the same family for 300 years and is home to the current Count Ulrich Goess-Enzenberg who was on hand to show us around his ancestral home. He is rightly proud of the preservation of the priceless antiquities, all of which have been used by his predecessors and displayed in a series of rooms rather than in cabinets, including original fabrics and tapestries. Each room is brought to life with an engaging audio commentary – living history very well presented and definitely worth a visit.
For more information about the Austrian Tyrol visit www.visittirol.co.uk
The Jagdhof offer a complimentary Stubai card during the summer months that covers all transport on the buses and mountain railways. They also provide mountain guides such as the lovely Eustachius, who took us on two different mountains. Plans for a hair-raising descent on the Mieders summer toboggan run – a real highlight by all accounts – was unfortunately cancelled due to rather damp conditions. Next time. Another hair-rising activity – and we were just spectators – was the Olympic ski jump in Innsbruck watching potential future Olympians picking up speeds of 95 klm as they hurtled down the run. Just looking down the slope was enough to set off a vertigo attack. Children start training between the ages of 6 – 9 years old, apparently any later is too late, so no hope for Silver Traveller participation this time. Phhew.
Innsbruck, the capitol of Tyrol, is not to be missed and I would recommend a full day here. With a wide range of summer and winter activities, a backdrop of natural beauty, old world charm and ambience, this beautiful small city has a lot to offer. The compact old town, Altstadt, with its mixture of Gothic and Baroque buildings, churches and museums, is flat and easy to get around on foot or by electric tram and a great place to while away a few hours people watching in one of the many cafes. Apfelstrudel anyone?
One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Golden Roof building, was completed in 1500 to mark the wedding of Emperor Maximilian I and decorated with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles and is now the Registry Office for civil marriages. It was wonderful watching wedding parties in their traditional dress gathered outside the building as I sipped my coffee whilst listening to a brass band playing in the square. Very atmospheric. A short walk away is the Hofkirche, a mausoleum built to commemorate the same Maximilian by his grandson to house 28 large bronze statues – the heaviest weighs 2 tonnes – that his grandfather had commissioned before his death to ensure a fitting memorial. Having made such advance plans one would have expected his final requirements were detailed to the last letter. However – and for those of you yet to put pen to paper let this be a warning – his instructions were unclear and with nowhere to put the said statues his grandson built the church to house them. Surrounded by the statues there is a stunning decorative, but empty, sarcophagus as Maximilian’s remains are buried elsewhere due to the lack of clarity. Best laid plans and all that. The church also houses the tomb of Andreas Hofer, Tyrol’s national hero who led the locals in their battle for independence.
Another must-see is the Innsbruck Panoramic Painting depicting the famous battle between Napoleonic troops and Tyrolean rebels, led by Andreas Hofer, in 1809. The battle is immortalized in the giant painting of 1000sq meters displayed in the Kaiserjager Museum, built on the site of the famous battle and just outside the city centre. Specifically designed to give a 360 degree view, the painting is so realistic you almost feel you are part of the battle. Painted over 200 years ago by a 27 year old artist and four assistants, unbelievably in only three months, the painting is an exceptional piece of historical artwork.
From the old town you can travel by funicular railway to the Nordkette cable car system to whisk you up to the towering mountain peaks above Innsbruck. New stations designed by world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, beautifully reflect the Alpine glaciers of the city and on the way up you can hop off to visit the Alpine Zoo, home to mountain animals. The views of the city and surrounding mountains are spectacular and a great spot to enjoy some lunch at the 2,256m Hafelekar restaurant serving local specialities such as weiner schnitzel, cheese and spinach dumplings washed down with local beer. A great finale to our trip.
For more information about Innsbruck visit www.innsbruck.info
The Jagdhof Spa Hotel more than ticks all the boxes for a very special, memorable, stay. Such luxury doesn’t come cheap, but you only live once and with an inclusive package from specialists Inghams – 80 years in the business and still counting – a stay at this superb hotel becomes more affordable and is highly recommended.
Julie Andrews, herself a Silver Traveller, would love it.
The Jagdhof and the Austrian Tyrol, perfect for Silver Travellers who appreciate the finer things in life.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams Lakes & Mountains