The Austrian alpine city of Innsbruck may not be the obvious choice for a budget holiday, but it’s a very good starting point for a low-cost hiking trip.
The area offers breathtaking walks in some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe and reasonably-priced stays in the pretty villages surrounding the Tyrolese capital.
More serious hikers might opt to stay at the welcoming huts that can be found throughout the Alps, where you can sleep soundly and eat very well, generally at low prices.
The unstable weather in the Alps — there are frequent heavy showers even during summer — is not an obstacle for a nice day out in Innsbruck. The pedestrian-only historical centre, the Altstadt, has entire streets packed with shops as well as coffee shops, restaurants and bars with tables in the open air.
This former imperial city thrives on its strategic location, as well as its excellent winter sports infrastructure and summertime nature activities. Surrounded by mountains, it hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976.
Cable cars take you from the city to several peaks with altitudes above 2,000 and 3,000 metres, so you can start your walk in the heart of the mountains. During the week Austrians of all ages stroll rhythmically along the mountain paths, and on the weekend they’re joined by local families. Inns located at key points make it easy to refuel and it’s common to see groups of Tyrolese people in cheerful reunions around a table covered with beer glasses after a walk up the mountain.
Start your hike in the heart of the Tyrol on the 2,250-metre-high mountain of Patscherkofel, just south of Innsbruck. After a cable car ride up from the Alpine village of Igls, the walk starts at the Zirbenweg path.
Along the route you’ll see rare flowers including the Alpenrose (similar to the azalea) and the Enzian, a symbol of the Alps. The paths are well delineated with the international mark, just like the Austrian flag: Two red stripes and a white one.
Once up there, with clear weather, there’s a view over a valley several kilometres wide, with Innsbruck down below as well as verdant slopes, rocky mountains and peaks where the snow never melts.
The award-winning Zirbenweg path is considered to be one of the best-kept and has some of the best panoramic views of the Tyrol.
Wooden signs throughout the tracks appeal for good behaviour, reminding people to not throw garbage or shout; and to respect animals and the environment.
Every so often you’ll also find small religious altars with ex-voto or crucifixes. There are also small waterfalls, ideal for walkers who need to refresh.
If there’s no snow it is possible to reach the top of the Glungezer, at 2,677 metres, and have a meal there. Other options are the Tulfeinalm hut or the hospitable Rinneralm, although it is more remote.
The Alpine inns are welcome after a long hike, with high quality meals and simple but cozy accommodation.
• For more information on the area see www.innsbruck.info.
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