Whisper it, but Tirol may be the most beautiful part of Austria. The facts speak for themselves: it’s home to the highest mountain in Austria, the pleasingly pointy Grossglockner, plus more than 500 peaks over 3,000m, 80 ski resorts and more than 600 glaciers.
Across this mountain landscape are thousands of kilometres of hiking paths and mountain biking trails, secluded mountain lakes and deep, gushing gorges. Cold snowmelt streams irrigate Alpine meadows, and wildlife populates the landscape from soaring eagles to bouncing marmots. In short there are few more magnificent places for hiking and mountain biking on the planet than Tirol.
To make it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts, however, the land needs to be more than a consequence of its geography and tumultuous geology. Thanks to its position as home to the world’s best skiing – it is considered the birthplace of alpine skiing – there is an impressive transport infrastructure across the region: from state-of-the-art ÖBB trains that dart through meadows and tunnels to dozens of cable cars, many of which are open in summer, to take walkers, families and cyclists high into the mountains. A comprehensive system of Alpine huts and lodges provide accommodation on long-distance trails, while the towns and villages of Tirol are a wealth of welcoming guesthouses, classic hotels and spas. The food in Tirol celebrates the best of local ingredients, often adding a modern twist to the Austrian classics.
A final mention, and perhaps the most important, should go to the people themselves. Tiroleans have a reputation for friendliness and hospitality. Tirol is a region where nothing is too much trouble, where local knowledge is readily imparted, and after a long day in the mountains, there’ll always be someone with an easy smile and a coffee.
Even within this compact region, each of the Tirol destinations we feature in this guide has its own character. St. Anton, where it is thought alpine skiing first began, offers some of the highest mountains in the region and has a wealth of activities on offer from Via Ferrata to road cycling, as well as walking and mountain biking.
On the border with Germany is Tiroler Zugspitz Arena, a place where life slows down and there’s a focus on nature trails. Mountain bikers are spoilt for choice on more than 100 trails.
Kitzbühel is well known to skiers, but in the summer this stunning area, loaded with myth and tradition, has more than 1,000km of signposted trails. Add to that another 1,200km of spectacular road bike touring, and you have the perfect outdoors holiday here.
The Wildschönau Valley in the heart of the Kitzbühel Alps sits below vast mountains but offers a gentle escape through colourful meadows for every level of walker. This valley is also a culinary hotspot, offering foodie-themed walks.
Even in Austria, not short of beautiful villages, pretty Alpbach stands out for its enviable position in this verdant green landscape criss-crossed by more than 900km of mountain trails for all levels of ability.
St. Johann in the Kitzbühel Alps marks itself out as one of the key destinations for lovers of the high mountains. Climbers, mountaineers, long-distance hikers and mountain bikers are attracted to the summits around St. Johann, but it’s also ideal for more leisurely walkers and cyclists.
In 1829, writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said of Tirol: ‘Here I have finally found a place of quiet, a place of peace, the like of which I could have only wished for.’ Nothing has changed.
Photo: ®Tiroler Zugspitz Arena • U. Wiesmeier