Tyrol & Vorarlberg

Both provinces, in the far west of Austria, are predominantly winter sports regions, although they also offer excellent facilities for summer activities. Among the popular and famous tourist centers of Tyrol are Kitzbühel, the area around the Arlberg Pass, and the hinterland of Innsbruck. The latter has twice played host to the Winter Olympic Games, in 1964 and 1976. The capital of the smaller Vorarlberg province is Bregenz, a somewhat sleepy resort located in a romantic spot on the eastern shores of Lake Constance (Bodensee).



The capital of the Tyrol region, Innsbruck grew up at the crossroads of the old trade routes between Germany and Italy, Vienna, and Switzerland. One of the city’s finest pieces of architecture is the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof ), commissioned by Emperor Maximilian I, who chose Innsbruck as his imperial capital at the end of the 15th century. Made of gilded copper tiles, the roof was constructed in the 1490s to cover a balcony used by members of the court to observe events in the square below. Beneath the balcony is the Museum Goldenes Dachl, which focuses on the life of the Habsburg emperor, who ruled from 1493 to 1519. Innsbruck’s Hofburg (Imperial Palace) dates from the 15th century but was rebuilt in Rococo style in the 18th century by Empress Maria Theresa (ruled 1740–80). Built in 1555–65, the Hofkirche contains the impressive mausoleum of Maximilian I, which features 28 bronze statues. The highlight of the Domkirche St. Jakob (1717–22) is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting of the Madonna and Child, which adorns the high altar. Innsbruck’s many museums include the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, which has European art from the 15th to the 20th centuries, and the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum, with exhibitions of local folk art and crafts. The Schloss Ambras, on the southeastern city limits, was once the symbol of Tyrol’s power and glory. In the 12th century, it was the seat of local rulers. Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse is one of Innsbruck’s loveliest streets. Its main historic sights include the Rococo Helblinghaus (No. 10), the Gothic old town hall, dating from the 14th– 15th centuries (No. 21), and its adjacent Stadtturm (city tower), with a viewing terrace.


Achensee is the largest lake in Tyrol, about 6 miles long. Surrounding ski slopes provide great views of the lake. The town also promotes a range of alternative winter sports, including snowshoeing, cross-country trails, and tobogganing. Achensee can be reached by a cogwheel train from Jenbach. Worth seeing in this village is the church of St Wolfgang, a late-gothic structure built in 1487–1500 by Gilg Mitterhofer from Schwaz; its Baroque tower is a later addition. Although repeatedly rebuilt, it still has its late-gothic side portals and ogival windows. One of the side altars has a late-gothic statue of the Madonna.


One of the most charming and upmarket of the Tyrolean ski resorts, the town of Kitzbühel has quaint cobbled streets leading out into gentle summer pastures filled with cows. Every January, however, the town is filled by daredevils arriving for the Hahnenkammrennen, the most dangerous downhill ski race in the world. But Kitzbühel is more than a sporting resort; untouched by wartime ravages, it has many historic sights. The Andreaskirche was built in 1435 on the site of a Romanesque church; in 1785 it was rebuilt in the Baroque style. Inside are late-Gothic columns and 15th-century traceries and frescoes. There is also an interesting main altarpiece, by Simon Benedikt Faistenberger. Adjacent to the parish church is Liebfrauenkirche (church of Our Lady), with a square tower. The main altar is also by Faistenberger. The 14th-century St Catherine’s church in the city center is now a monument to those killed in the two world wars.


The Zillertal, the valley of the Ziller river, extends from Innau to the border with Italy. Initially a wide upland, beyond Mayrhofen it splits into four narrower valleys that cut into the mountain ranges. Artificial lakes and large dams were built into most of the local rivers to provide a power supply for the entire region. Especially popular with skiers are the Hintertux glacier runs, where snow is guaranteed. Accommodation is of high quality throughout the region and Mayrhofen has a particularly good nightlife. The well-marked trails in breathtakingly beautiful countryside lure ramblers here in the summer, and there are many attractive cycling routes.


At an altitude of 4,508 ft, the Brenner Pass is the lowest passage across the Eastern Alps, and as such one of the most easily accessible routes connecting northern Europe with Italy. Lying between the Stubai Alps and the Zillertal Alps, the pass was originally used by the Romans as a trade and military route. A highway suitable for carriage traffic was built in 1772, and the first trans-Alpine railway line was opened here in 1867. Today the motorway across the wide saddle of the Brenner also boasts the highest and most impressive road bridge in Europe, the Europabrücke, 2,674 ft long.


St Anton is something of a skiing mecca. Consistently ranked as one of the top five skiing resorts in the world, it is certainly number one in Austria, and is one of the most snow-sure resorts in the Alps. Runs range from those for beginners to the challenging Valluga peak, which is restricted to expert skiers accompanied by a guide. The après-ski is enthusiastic, with the nightlife continuing into the early hours of the morning. The resort is often heralded as the “birthplace of skiing”; it was here that Johann “Hannes” Schneider conceived the “Arlberg method”, a step-by-step transition from the snowplow to the Christie. Taught through a series of films and books, the method is still in use today. Besides snowy slopes, St Anton features a charming village, complete with a 17thcentury onion-domed church, a fascinating Alpine museum, and a plethora of traditional Alpine houses. In addition, the village has a number of luxurious spas, while on the slopes is the Arberg 1800 hotel resort, which hosts art displays and concerts.


The Arlberg Pass in the Eastern Alps is part of the European watershed between the catchment areas of the North Sea, the Black Sea, the tributaries of the Rhine, and the Danube. Arlberg used to be completely cut off from the rest of the country, oriented more towards Germany and Switzerland, until the railway tunnel was built in 1880–84, connecting Vorarlberg with the rest of Austria. The tunnel, at an altitude of 4,298 ft, measures 33,589 ft in length and was for many years the longest in Austria. Today, the Arlberg region has some of the country’s most exclusive ski resorts.


The Bregenzer Wald (Bregenz Forest) occupies the northern part of Vorarlberg and extends along the Bregenzer Ache valley. This region has maintained much of its individual character. Its inhabitants cherish their traditions, and the architecture, the national costumes, and the dialect spoken here differ from those found in the rest of the country. The Bregenz Forest has many picturesque resorts with excellent facilities for visitors. Apart from Bregenz itself, two larger urban centers have become established on its borders – Dornbirn and Feldkirch, the “gateway to Austria”, with its beautifully preserved old town.


The capital of Vorarlberg since 1923, Bregenz is strategically – and attractively – situated on the eastern shore of Bodensee (Lake Constance), at the edge of the Rhine valley and the foot of the Austrian and Swiss Alps. It is a meeting point of four countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the Principality of Liechtenstein. The Romans established the settlement of Brigantium, and later it became the Alemanni town of Brancantia. In 1451 and 1523 Bregenz came under Habsburg rule, and during the Thirty Years’ War, it was destroyed by the Swedes. Attractions in Bregenz include walks on the nearby Pfänder massif, and boat trips out on the lake. The Vorarlberg Museum holds collections of prehistoric relics, artifacts dating from the Roman time of the settlement of Brigantium, and objects from the days of the Alemanni settlers, all found in Bregenz and its vicinity. The Hohenbregenz fortress, whose ruins stand to this day on Gebhardsberg, was built in the 10th century. In 1338, the recorded owner of the castle was Hugo de Montfort.


Bodensee, or Lake Constance in English, is one of the largest and best-known European lakes. It divides its waters between the three countries surrounding it: Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Austria actually only claims a very small part of it: the total area of the lake is 208 sq miles, of which only 14.7 sq miles is Austrian. Bodensee is 44 miles long, the largest lake in the Alps. Once the lake was much larger, but with time, deposits carried by the Rhine have reduced its size. The Rhine flows into the lake in a broad delta, wholly in Austrian territory. Having passed through the entire length of Bodensee, it emerges in a waterfall as a turbulent mountain river near Schaffhausen, in Switzerland. The countryside around the lake benefits from a pleasant, moderate climate. Today, Bodensee forms not so much a border as a link between the countries that lie on its shores. For Austria, it is a highly convenient transport route to western Europe, while for the inhabitants of the surrounding towns and villages, as well as for the visitors that arrive here from neighboring countries in great numbers every summer, it provides excellent facilities for water sports and relaxation. Once one of Europe’s most polluted lakes, Bodensee is now one of its cleanest, after extensive efforts were made over several decades to control pollution. The mountains around the town of Bregenz extend right up to the water, creating a picturesque setting for the countless artistic events that take place here, such as the Bregenz Spring dance festival (Mar) and the internationally acclaimed Bregenz Festival. Many performances take place on the famous Seebühne, or floating stage. A number of interesting towns line the shores of Bodensee, including Lindau, Konstanz with its island of Mainau containing flower-filled gardens, an arboretum and butterfly house, and Friedrichshafen on the German side, which can be reached by ferry or pleasure craft sailing from Bregenz.