We had been discussing favourites movies. John Buchan’s espionage thriller, The 39 Steps, with appealing antihero Richard Hannay. An absolute classic. I picture him now, running across the Scottish Highlands with German agents in hot pursuit.
39 Steps. I have just checked StepsApp on my iPhone. 12,415 steps. Calories lost – 625. Miles walked – 5.1. Eat your heart out, Major-General Richard Hannay, KCB, OBE, DSO, Legion of Honour. In fairness, my route had been pretty much all downhill. However, like those Scottish Highlands, the rain had been irritatingly persistent, particularly so when one had been trying to take images and video footage. “Peekaboo,” teased the sun as it poked its head occasionally through the clouds. No matter, inclement weather was certainly not going to dampen my spirits here in Austria’s magnificent Stubai Valley.
I am booked for three nights at the 5-star Jagdhof Spa Hotel, situated in the mountain village of Neustift in the heart of the valley. The village is located only 25km from the Alpine city of Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol, and takes around half-an-hour by car. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux hotel association, the Jagdhof has been in the hands of the Pfurtscheller family for the past forty years. Today run by Armin and Christina, quality continues to play a part in the hotel’s success, so much so that Inghams Holidays (www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays) has included the hotel in its 2017 brochure, alongside six other hotels in the village.
Surrounded by towering mountains and pine-forested slopes, Neustift is characterised by the attractive parish church of Saint Georg. The second largest village church of Tyrol, it features an interior complete with magnificent frescos. Over 50 mountain huts are spread hereabouts, and there are four separate walking areas, each with a gondola and a variety of trails to suit all levels, and all linked by a valley bus. Neustift has a reputation as a lively village in high season, with outdoor cafés jostling for business, and regular brass band concerts and Tyrolean evenings being staged each week.
Arriving at the hotel, I am handed the keys to a ground floor suite, one of 70 lavish bedrooms, suites and apartments designed in traditional Tyrolean style. I open the French door to reveal a verandah and a backdrop of lush-green meadows and jagged peaks. Perfect timing, for the clouds roll back to reveal the Stubai Glacier. For many years, the latter ski area has been promoted as the ‘Kingdom of Snow’. I am also handed a Stubai Super Card, which includes free use of the buses between Mutterberg and Innsbruck, free use of the Stubai Valley railway Fulpmes – Innsbruck – Fulpmes, one return journey in the gondolas (Stubaier Gletchser, Schlick 2000, Elferlifte and Serlesbahnen), and a journey/day with the Mieders summer toboggan run.
With time to spare before dinner, I take the opportunity to tour the hotel. The facilities include a lounge with open fireplace and live piano music in the evenings, six dining areas, and one of the largest spa and wellness centres in Austria. The latter is split over two levels with interconnecting indoor and outdoor pools, 20 different saunas, bath and relaxation areas, and a fitness zone.
Dinner on the first evening is a riot of colours and flavours, with a starter of crustacean soup with cognac cream, to a mains of succulent shoulder of lamb. I finish with a dessert of pineapple soup with melon sorbet and pomace brandy. I admit to my eyes widening as they glanced the mains alternative menu, to see 125gm Oscietra Caviar (classic) with a price tag of €220! The hotel’s chef and his team predominantly use regional and home-grown products to create the meals. This extends to the breakfast buffet, where I spy milk products from Tyrolean farmers and cereals from local flour mills. With this kind of ongoing commitment, there is little wonder that the 5-course dinner menus are delivered with such care.
The next morning we head through the Stubai Valley to the village of Fulpmes, which, like Neustift, has a population of around 4,000. We take the gondola up to 2,100 metres and alight at the Panorama Station, the plan being to follow a clearly waymarked trail back down. The station is appropriately named, as the views are staggering, even as we have our heads, quite literally, in the clouds. Our guide had chosen to take one of the 850km of hiking trails in the region, passing lines of spruce, cows grazing on luxurious pastures, and an abundance of beautiful Alpine plants.
Having descended to 1,600 metres, we stop for lunch at the Schlickeralm, a traditional mountain restaurant, where I enjoy currywurst with fries. Heading out once again, the rain was pretty much persistent as we made our way back to Fulpmes. Back at the Jagdhof, I discover that in 1956, Neustift-born Leo Pfurtscheller and his wife Margot opened the 400 square metre Café Gletscherblick in the town. Twenty-one years later, they built the Jagdhof Spa Hotel on the site of the café, and was awarded five stars immediately on opening. The hotel was extended and expanded continuously over the years, including the construction of the Vitality World in 1998. In addition to the 5-star wellness hotel, the Pfurtscheller family have their own lamb farm and game preserve. The latter covers 3,500 hectares in the Stubai and Geschnitz valleys, and provides the hotel’s kitchen with lamb from its own flock and game from its own game preserve… which leads me to dinner on the second evening, where I start with marinated vegetables with poached egg, sauce ‘gribiche’ and a herb salad. For mains, I opt for the ‘Barbarie’ duck breast with Jerusalem artichoke, cherry and pommes risolee, rounded off with a Pumpkin parfait on cherry compote and strudel.
The following morning I am due a massage in Vitality World, which includes 20 saunas and steam rooms, ice and water explorations, and the hotel’s hydro-therapeutic SPA Fountain of Youth, complete with relaxing underwater music. There is also a relaxation area to further recharge the batteries. I opt for the full body massage, which lasts 50 minutes at a very reasonable €65. If I had had more time, I would have snuggled up on one of the waterbeds under a ceiling peppered with stars, but enough of this self-indulgence… time to don the walking boots and head out once more to breathe in the invigorating mountain air.
At 2.718 metres, Serles Mountain, or ‘High Altar of Tyrol’ as Goethe called it, is one of the most popular recreational areas near Innsbruck. A short drive from the Jagdhof, the clustered village of Mieders is located in the anterior Stubaital valley at the foot of the mountain. The Serlesbahnen lift facility, starting from the village, transports visitors to Koppeneck at 1,600 metres, and the Hochserles hiking area.
From the summit station, it is impossible not to be captivated by the magnificent mountain country, complete with clearly waymarked trails snaking past gentle meadows, mountain moorland, rare flowers and colourful blooms. The plan was to enjoy a ride back down to the valley far below via the Mieders Alpine Coaster, but sadly the weather was not playing fair.
Surrounded by 80 glaciers and 109 3,000m mountain peaks, there is little wonder that the Stubai Valley takes centre stage with its five key areas of Neustift, Fulpmes, Telfes, Mieders and Schönberg. Although there are year-round activities on offer, summer in the mountains is clearly a very special time to enjoy rewarding experiences. For, despite its ease of access, the valley has kept its picturesque authenticity, and thanks to its proximity to the Stubai Glacier, the village of Neustift continues to maintain its popularity and recognition as the most visited place in the valley. Nestled in the heart of the region, hotels such as the Jagdhof sit in harmony with nature, offering extreme comfort with a unique Tyrolean flair. Apparently, that sense of harmony has much to do with the use of stone pine wood throughout the hotel.
Also known as ‘Queen of the Alps’, the stone pine is considered to be both energetic and relaxing, the distinctive scent being due to the essential oils contained in the timber. Besides its calming properties, it also has a positive effect on the human organism, and can lower the heart rate. Should that be true, then there are few better places to feel the pulse of nature.
Six of the best attractions
Tratzberg Castle, Inn Valley – Located between Innsbruck and Kufstein, the 500-year-old castle sits atop a massive rock ledge and commands a breathtaking view of the Inn Valley. Today considered as one of the most beautiful late Gothic castles in Europe, Tratzberg was documented for the first time in the 13th century, having been used as a former border stronghold against the Bavarians and as Emperor Maximilian I’s hunting lodge.
During the 16th century, the castle was expanded and changed according to the spirit of the Renaissance age, evidence of which can be seen in the courtyard and parlours. Tratzberg came into the possession of the Enzenberg family in 1847 and today is under the guardianship of Count Ulrich Goess-Enzenberg and his wife Countess Katrin, who reside in private quarters, with the remainder of the castle open to the public. Walk through the decorated Rennaisance courtyard before collecting an audioguide and heading through the many ornate rooms, including the maiden chamber, the great hall and the armament chamber. Access to the castle is either by foot or via the open-air trolley ‘Tratzberg Express’, which snakes its way upwards through lush woodland. www.schloss-tratzberg.at
Mieders Alpine Coaster, Stubai Valley – If you’ve a head for heights and enjoy hurtling along at a dizzying speed, then take a ride on the world’s steepest alpine roller coaster, the summer toboggan run in Mieders. With a difference in altitude of 640 metres and a distance of 2.8km allowing a maximum speed of up to 42km/h, a very fast descent to the valley is guaranteed.
Surrounded by the stunning scenery of lofty Serles Peak, the Mieders Alpine Coaster is the steepest track in the Alps, following a 2,800 metre track through woodland and down the mountain in individual coaster cars. Equipped with rollers and brakes, you will soon feel the adrenalin rush as you veer around 40 hairpin turns. Firstly, enjoy a ride on the Serlesbahnen Mieders gondola as it whisks you to the top of the track at Koppeneck. www.stubai.at/en/skiing-resorts/serlesbahnen/skiing-resort/summer-toboggan-run/
Bergisel Ski Jumping Stadium, Innsbruck – Built by the Austrian Ski Association, the stadium, which opened in 2002, was one of the venues for the Olympic Winter Games. The annual sporting highlight is the Bergisel jump in January, which is part of the Four Hills Ski Jumping Tour.
During the summer, athletes train here daily on the dry jump facility. Take the lift – or walk up 455 steps – to the Bergisel Sky panoramic restaurant, head for the terrace and enjoy breathtaking views of Innsbruck. From the 50m high tower you can also gain fascinating vistas of the championship venue with its 98m long ramp, the take-off table and the landing slope. www.bergisel.info
Tirol Panorama, Innsbruck – The Tirol Panorama, with the Museum of the Imperial Infantry, houses the largest work of art in Tyrol – the Innsbruck Gigantic Panoramic Painting. Covering 1,000 square metres and a breathtaking 360-degree view, the oil painting depicts a scene from the Tyrolean fight for independence on 13 August 1809.
The graphic effect of the painting draws the visitor into the dramatic events of the Tyrolean struggle for freedom. The Regimental Museum of the Tyrolean Imperial Infantry takes up the history of the formation of the Imperial Infantry as part of the old Austrian army, and shows the history of the Tyrolean state defence from 1809 to 1918, with exhibits ranging from paintings of battles and famous personalities in the regiment’s history, to flags, weapons, uniforms and booty belonging to individual regiments of the Imperial and Royal Light Infantry. www.tiroler-landesmuseen.at
The Hofkirche (Court Church), Innsbruck – The Gothic church is located in the Altstadt (Old Town) section of Innsbruck. The church was built in 1553 by Emperor Ferdinand I as a memorial to his grandfather Emperor Maximillian I, whose cenotaph boasts a remarkable collection of German Renaissance sculpture.
The church also contains the tomb of Tyrol’s national hero and freedom fighter, Andreas Hofer. Twenty-eight life-sized bronze statues flank the cenotaph, and include Emperor Maximilian’s two wives, Mary of Burgundy and Bianca Maria Sforza, the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon, as well as aristocrats of other courts of Europe. Maximilian is actually buried in Wiener Neustadt, in a church where the walls and foundations were not strong enough to bear the weight of his lovingly crafted tomb. www.tyrol.tl/en/highlights/sights/court-church-innsbruck/
Nordkette Cable Railways, Innsbruck – Beginning at the Congress, Innsbruck’s Nordkette Cable Railways will take you from the city centre to Hafelekar and Austria’s largest nature park with its stunning 360-degree views, with the Capital of the Alps on one side and the Karwendel Nature Park on the other.
The modern Hungerburg Funicular leaves directly from Innsbruck’s old town with stops at the Alpine Zoo, Europe’s highest lying zoo at 750 metres. Check out the Cable Railway Museum and the Theresien Church, both located at the Hungerburg. Note the impressive stations of the Hungerburg Fenicular, which were designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, who took Alpine glaciers as her inspiration and all four stations, Congress, Lowenhaus, Alpine Zoo and Hungerburg all show extraordinary designs. A short walk across Hermann Buhl Square, named after the world-famous Austrian mountaineer, leads visitors to the cable car station where they can continue their journey up to the Seegrube and Hafelekar. Enjoy lunch at 1,905 metres on the Seegrube restaurant’s terrace whilst enjoying views of the city. www.nordkette.com
Inghams is offering a seven-night holiday on a half-board basis at the five-star Jagdhof Spa Hotel in Neustift, Austria, from £1,439 per person, based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck, private airport transfers, guided walks, hot and cold buffet breakfasts, afternoon cake and five-course evening meals. The package is valid for travel in August and September 2017. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays or call 01483 791 116.