Surrounded by spectacular cityscapes and charming holiday villages, framed by the majestic Alps, Innsbruck is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol in western Austria.
An internationally renowned winter sports center and home to the Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976, Innsbruck, with a population of around 130,000, is also the cultural and economic hub of the region as well as a university town with an enrollment of 30,000 students.
Our non-athletic, senior-friendly sightseeing adventure began with checking into the Penz Hotel, located in the heart of the city, near the Italian border. Ranked #11 of 80 local hotels, the reasonable rates includes a breakfast buffet fit for royalty with an extravagant assortment of gourmet foods, teas, jams, breads, and a vast selection of exotic fruits. The restaurant is a culinary and visual delight as it offers a panoramic view of the majestic mountains and the townâ€™s picturesque skyline. The rooms are modern, immaculate and quite spacious by European standards.
Since most of our group did not downhill or cross country ski, snowboard or toboggan, our trip was designed to experience the sightseeing wonders of the area without the aforementioned skills. Our first stop was Igls, a quaint little town surrounded by woods and meadows. Guided by our certified mountain guide, a most delightful Heinz Hortnagl, each of us received a lantern for a moonlight stroll through snow-covered winding paths surrounded by trees whose branches bowed under the heavy weight of snow. It was an easy, but exhilarating walk and arrangements can be made for these free winter and summer guided hikes through the Innsbruck Tourist Office.
Having worked up a good appetite, we were off to a local restaurant where we were entertained with folk songs played on the accordion by Manni Manfred and sung by his wife, Franzi.
Elisabeth Grassmayr, 14th generation owner of the famous Grassmayr bell foundry, and an expert on Innsbruck, was our guide. Eighty percent of Austrians ski and this 68-year-old pixie of a woman, with boundless energy, does several ski runs almost daily.
The greatest tourist attraction and emblem of Innsbruck is the Golden Roof, (Goldenes Dachl) a classic Austrian hybrid of late-Gothic and Baroque architecture. Built in the early 15th century by Archduke Friedrich IV, it was constructed for Emperor Maximilian in honor of his second marriage, to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan. The roof is decorated with 2,657 tiles of gilded copper and is considered to be one of the crowning achievements of this style of architecture. It is interesting to note that in order to not alienate friends and allies developed as a result of his first marriage to Maria of Burgundy, Maximilian had his image, flanked by the two women, painted on the balcony.
No visit to Innsbruck would be complete without seeing three other major sites: the Grassmayr bell foundry, the awesome new Bergisel Ski Jump, and the amazing Swarovski Kristallwelten, (Crystal Worlds.)
Mrs. Grassmayr guided us through her family foundry, which also houses a museum and sound room. Casting bells since 1599, Grassmayr is the only bell maker in Austria, with 90 percent of their custom made bells manufactured for export worldwide.
In an effort to keep our little group on schedule, the enthusiastic Mrs. Grassmayr would use such charming phrases as â€œTime is not growing,â€ or â€œTime is running,â€ and so we were whisked by van to the new Bergisel Ski Jump, towering high above Innsbruck on the wooded Bergisel Hill. Less then 20 minutes from the center of town, this new jumping and viewing stadium is yet another of the historical, cultural and architectural wonders in Innsbruck.
After a spectacular ride up the mountain in the funicular, which moves up to 350 people per hour, the tower elevator then took us to CafÃ© im Turm, from where we found a breathtaking 360 degree view of the Inn Valley and the Alps surrounding the Tyrolean capitol. If youâ€™re in great shape, climb the 455 steps to the top of the tower and feast your eyes on as close to heaven as youâ€™ll get in this life.
Swarovski, the worldâ€™s leader in precious cut crystal, was our last stop for the day and off we went to the magical Swarovski Kristallwelten. Once you pass the giant holding watch at the entry, you enter into a subterranean Chamber of Wonder â€“ a crystal world of sparkling dreams.
Directed by artist Andre Heller, each installation has its own theme and thousands of crystals offer you a kaleidoscope of shapes, colors, and sounds. While every section of the museum is awesome, several are really mind boggling. Waiting for you is the largest crystal in the world â€“ the â€œCentenar,â€ weighing in at 300,000 karats and the almost indescribable geodesic Crystal Dome which has a thousand beams of refracted light bouncing off the facetted walls. Standing inside the dome, you feel as though you are actually inside the heart of a giant crystal as the sea of mirrors gives the impression of infinity. Not to be missed is the Crystal Theatre â€“ a fairy tale world where the sun dances with the moon and angels are made of crystal flowers. Allow a lot of time on the way out as you will absolutely be tempted to stop in the gift shop where thousands of Swarovski creations are for sale.
Innsbruck is very tourist friendly as its transportation system is most convenient. With the purchase of an Innsbruck Card, you gain access to all public transportation and the card also includes free sightseeing and visits to most of the major attractions in and around the city.
As for hotels, there is vast selection, ranging from luxury to tiny guest houses. Fine restaurants abound, including the historic 300-year-old Europa Stubert in the lovely Grand Hotel Europa, the only five star hotel in Innsbruck, and the Mozart Stube in the Hotel Goldener Adler. A violin and bow hang on the wall, said to have belonged to Mozart whom, legend has it, played and ate in this exquisite restaurant.
As they say, if someone like Mozart chose to live and work in Innsbruck, it speaks volumes to what this enchanting, exciting city was then â€“ and still is.