Set in the heart of the Alps, the Tirol is arguably one of Austria’s most spectacular regions and an area that attracts tourists all year round. The summer brings nature lovers, walkers and water sports enthusiasts, while in winter it becomes the territory of snow sports aficionados, who flock to the slopes during the day, and to the lively resort bars and restaurants at night.
With a staggering 15,000km of marked trails traversing the landscape, Tirol is a paradise for walkers, both seasoned and novice. There’s something to suit both adventurers and families, the common factor for all being the area’s magnificent scenery.
Running 413km from east to west, the Eagle Walk is separated into 33 sections, offering something for every skill level. Those after a shorter and gentler walk can try Stage 3 – Hintersteinersee to Kufstein. This stage is great for nature lovers, taking you through lush countryside with an abundance of wild flowers, and has plenty of mountain huts and restaurants along the way where you can stop for refreshments. Stage 14 is also a little less strenuous, starting at Innsbruck and finishing at Solsteinhaus Lodge. It’s a three hour trail that leads through forest and pastures with a few steeper gradients along the way.
Those up for a greater challenge might pick Stage 4, a seven hour hike that covers 17km and climbs 1,330m. It begins at the pretty town of Kufstein and ascends steadily through old-growth forest before revealing stunning views across Inntal Valley. There’s also a chance to explore the Hundalm Ice Cave, discovered in 1921 and filled with bizarre and fascinating ice formations. Stage 17 is also a strenuous but rewarding hike, offering spectacular views of Alpine lakes and sunny plateaux. You’ll walk on a stretch of Roman road that dates back to 15BC and discover the charming Fernstein Castle along the way.
Combine a little Tirolean culture with walking on the Culture Hiking Trail in Seefeld. Starting at Reith, this beautiful countryside route reveals ten historical and cultural curiosities as it heads towards Leithen. Walkers will learn about the impact of World Wars I and II on the region, discover the legend of the giant Thyrsus and visit a traditional Tirolean tavern serving local cuisine. A gentle walk of only an hour, it’s ideal for introducing children to the region.
The more intrepid may dare to enter the Tirol’s spirit realm, the gateway to which is accessed from the Leutasch Gorge. It’s a 3km trail that’s said to cross the shadowy domain of the Spirit of the Gorge, home to goblins and water sprites. Thundering waterfalls, strange rock formations and bottomless whirlpools present a breathtaking example of Alpine majesty – and a worthy abode for a supernatural creature.
A mountain region inevitably has its freshwater lakes, fed from springs and snow melts, which glitter against the stunning backdrop of snow capped peaks and sheer rocky faces. Lake Achensee, Tirol’s largest lake, gleams like a jewel in the Achental Valley, edged with beautiful beaches at Eben and Pertisau. Its refreshing temperature and clear waters make it popular with bathers, sailors and surfers. A light southerly wind prevails in the morning, and a stronger northerly wind in the afternoon, providing great conditions for water sports beginners and experts. Sailing, surfing and kiting schools are dotted around the lake, enabling visitors to hire equipment and book lessons.
Achensee is also popular with divers thanks to good visibility and rising fish stocks. One of the top dive sites for experienced divers is Hechenberg, where the wreck of a boat can be found. Nearby Schwarzenau is ideal for beginners, with three Volkswagen Beetles that can be explored at a depth of just 8m.
Located west of the village of Natters and south of Innsbruck, Lake Natterer See is an especially good location for families, thanks to its wide variety of facilities. Swimming is the primary sport here, but visitors can also play water polo or try canoeing and windsurfing. Children will love the Happy Swing, a 66m long slide that deposits kids with a splash into the water. There’s even more to do on land: archery, trampolines, beach volleyball and boccia are all available.
Those looking for a quieter, scenic place to engage in water sports will love Frauensee, a small lake hidden in Lechaschau, close to Reutte. It’s an idyllic lake with waters that reach 24 degrees in the summer, and reserved for swimmers. Although only reaching a depth of 6m, nearby Lechausee is popular with divers thanks to its excellent visibility. All sorts of aquatic plant life can be found beneath its surface, and it’s a great place for beginners to start discovering the underwater world.
Biking is one of the Tirol’s signature summer activities. From gentle, creekside tracks to challenging mountain terrain, families, beginners and thrill seekers will all find a trail to try. Offering up 920km of cycle paths and a number of rental shops where both regular and electric bike can be hired, the region is a magnificent place to ride, with plenty of trailside inns serving delicious cuisine along the way.
Road cycling is a popular way to see the area, with a range of flat and gently undulating terrain proving perfect for leisurely cycles. An ideal warm-up circuit is the Spertental Valley ride, a 30km trail which climbs 645m and delivers some gorgeous Alpine scenery. There’s also enough to excite experienced road cyclists, who might choose to head for Rettenback Glacier, the highest point that can be reached by road bike, or tackle Kitzbühel Horn Peak, Austria’s steepest climb. The latter is 23km ride that features a continuous ascent of 8km, sure to work up a sweat.
The real adventure, however, is in the mountain biking routes that cover Tirol. Traverse ridges and mountain passes that reveal an unbroken stream of epic landscapes. Beginners may prefer to use a bike lift to reach the top of a trail before plunging down slopes that belong to skiers in winter, but seasoned enthusiasts will relish the toil of a climb before reaping the reward of the downhill stretch. The Paznaun Valley’s Ischgl alone has 40 different routes, ranging from simple trails that wind through wild flower meadows, to tough, rock-strewn rides that will set the heart racing.
The Nordkette single track trail is one of the ultimate rides, being one of Europe’s most difficult downhill stretches. Take the gondola up, then let loose on this fast track with its tight bends and rock drops for a truly exhilarating mountain bike experience.
In the winter, the Tirol becomes the realm of snow sports enthusiasts. Fresh, powdery snow covers the slopes and visitors flock from all over Europe to enjoy the pistes and resorts. The primary activities, of course, are skiing and snowboarding, for which there are countless resorts both large and small.
Among the biggest and most lively is Kitzbühel, which has been hosting ski races since the 19th century. With a variety of pistes for all abilities, as well as snowboarding fun parks and off-piste routes, it’s a great place to get immersed in the ski and snowboard culture. After a day on the slopes, there’s plenty to entertain in après-ski, from intriguing boutiques for keen shoppers to restaurants, bars and clubs for the party animals.
With a kids’ ski zone, a well maintained terrain park and a natural track for sledding, St Anton is another excellent resort for all ages. There are workshops and private lessons available, as well as professional guides to create a fun day in the backcountry. Once again, après-ski is a big part of the experience, with slope-side entertainment, live music and much more to entertain.
Those looking for a less developed place to enjoy the snow will love Grän Ski Resort, a mountain playground with a friendly feel. It’s great for those of intermediate ability, with wide trails and a designated speed course where you can set a personal best or race your friends. There’s also some free-skiing terrain for the more advanced.
If you’re after something a little more sedate, there are plenty of places to try snowshoeing and winter walking. It’s the perfect opportunity to take a break from the buzz of the resorts and indulge in magical winter scenery. Venture on a hike in the picturesque Reutte Nature Park or take a guided snowshoe walk in the Kaunertal Nature Park and savour the unspoilt landscapes and the peace of the surroundings.
For detailed information on outdoor activities in Tirol and where to find the best trails, resorts and locations, visit www.tyrol.com.