EUROPE: INNSBRUCK TO THE MAX

Innsbruck, the Cap­i­tal of the Alps and a won­der­land in win­ter, is just as beau­ti­ful in the sum­mer months.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY BRIAN JOHNSTON

Innsbruck, the Cap­i­tal of the Alps and a won­der­land in win­ter, is just as beau­ti­ful in the sum­mer months.

Innsbruck to me has al­ways been a city in black-and-white, seen in the win­ter when snow decks the rooftops, old-town al­leys are deep in shad­ows and fab­u­lous ski­ing draws me into the sur­round­ing moun­tains. Ar­riv­ing in sum­mer is like be­ing born again, into a new world of sun­shine and colour: orange para­sols on café ter­races, pink gera­ni­ums on window ledges, fat toma­toes and peaches tum­bling on the Mark­thalle’s food stalls. The Inn River is milky blue and, above town, mead­ows ex­plode with yel­low flow­ers. My smile is as big as a rain­bow.

Innsbruck has al­ways been one of my favourite small cities: easy to get around, pop­ping with his­tory and cul­ture, lively and edgy thanks to a large univer­sity-stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, and with enough star­tling mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture to fit firmly into the 21st cen­tury. But sum­mer brings a dif­fer­ent vibe. Bak­eries spill cake-gob­bling cus­tomers into the sunny streets, cloth­ing lay­ers are thrown off to re­veal hairy hik­ing knees, and much longer days mean I have time to en­joy the out­doors, even long into the evening.

That means giv­ing Innsbruck more of the at­ten­tion it de­serves. The city be­came Aus­tria’s cap­i­tal in 1420 and, be­fore the turn of the cen­tury, had reached the height of its po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural im­por­tance. It’s a plea­sure reac­quaint­ing my­self with its his­toric high­lights. The vast cream-and-yel­low Hof­burg Palace in the mid­dle of town is an en­ter­tain­ment of squeak­ing par­quet floors, wob­bly-chinned Haps­burgs in por­traits and a fres­coed splen­dour of bare-breasted nymphs and dim­pled cherubs. Nearby is Max­i­m­il­ian Chapel, where full-size stat­ues of the Haps­burgs line the nave like a cho­rusline turned to bronze.

Innsbruck’s eclipse by Vi­enna did the town no good but pre­served its his­toric me­dieval and Re­nais­sance core, safe from the ex­pen­sive ren­o­va­tion res­cues of busy­body baroque ar­chi­tects. Maybe in win­ter I had my shoul­ders hunched against the cold or my eyes ob­scured by woolly hats, but warm weather al­lows me to ap­pre­ci­ate the old town at a slower pace. Streets are lined with yel­low and orange build­ings, punc­tu­ated by church spires and mon­u­ments to bat­tles and plagues. In the cen­tral square the Golden Roof winks in the sun as if trans­mit­ting sem­a­phore. The gold-plated tiles on this Gothic build­ing once shel­tered a royal box from which em­per­ors watched tour­na­ments. Now it looks down on happy tourists in cafés, fork­ing up nut strudels topped with an ex­trav­a­gance of cream.

Innsbruck isn’t just about old things, however. Chic de­part­ment stores line Maria-There­sien-Strasse, which even­tu­ally becomes Leopold­strasse and leads me to the newly hip district of Wil­ten, with its bou­tique eater­ies and

“Nearby is Max­i­m­il­ian Chapel,

where full-size stat­ues of the Haps­burgs line the nave like a cho­rus-line turned to bronze.”

fash­ion shops. I also track down new, high-tech mu­seum Au­diover­sum, which delves into the sci­ence of hear­ing and sound. I join kids mak­ing mu­sic by jump­ing up and down touch-sen­si­tive stairs, be­fore hav­ing a good scream in­side a sound­proof box that records deci­bels, and later dis­cov­er­ing that it’s pos­si­ble to hear through your el­bows.

Two top at­trac­tions sit just out­side town. Lumpen white Am­bras Cas­tle sits on a crag at sub­urbs’ edge and hides fab­u­lous art, an­tiq­ui­ties and cu­riosi­ties col­lected by Arch­duke Fer­di­nand II, while Swarovski Crys­tal Worlds has stun­ning and oc­ca­sion­ally weird in­stal­la­tions made from the glit­ter­ing crys­tals of the world-fa­mous local com­pany. I en­joy this un­ex­pected, en­chant­ing king­dom im­mensely as I wan­der from a crys­tal-en­crusted tree to an Ice Pas­sage and a gi­ant float­ing jel­ly­fish of wink­ing crys­tals.

Out­side, sun glit­ter­ing on a Crys­tal Cloud in­stal­la­tion re­minds me that, in sum­mer­time in Innsbruck, I shouldn’t de­vote all my time to mu­se­ums and ur­ban land­scapes. One thing I know from win­ter vis­its is that the best char­ac­ter­is­tic of this city is how easy it is to get into the moun­tains. I do the same now, hop­ping onto a train and cable car from the very centre of the city. Just 20 min­utes later, I’m on the 2,256-me­tre sum­mit of the Nord­ket­ten, light­headed with an ex­trav­a­gance of alpine views.

Across the val­ley on the other side of town sprawls a sunny alpine plateau dot­ted with stands of pine trees and flow­er­scat­tered mead­ows. Get­ting there is just as easy: I sit on a rat­tling red tram and am soon alight­ing in the vil­lage of Igls.

“Across the val­ley on the other side of town sprawls a sunny alpine plateau dot­ted with stands of pine trees and flower-scat­tered mead­ows”

The land­scape is as happy as a child’s draw­ing: moun­tain peaks, scar­let gera­ni­ums, sun­flow­ers as tall as peo­ple, and houses with snug red roofs. Walk­ing paths lead off into the coun­try­side backed by moun­tains, as if I’ve just gate-crashed a Sound of Mu­sic movie set.

Up behind Igls, Patscherkofel as­suages my sud­den urge to climb ev­ery moun­tain. I’ve been up this in win­ter on ski lifts, but in sum­mer a few hours of hearty hik­ing bring me wheez­ing to the top. I re­turn the next day to tackle the seven-kilo­me­tre Zir­ben­weg path that leads around the sum­mit in un­der three hours, through clumps of cen­turies-old pine trees and moun­tain ridges, where panoramic views of the Inn Val­ley and the Alps greet me at ev­ery cor­ner.

Innsbruck is down be­low, snug and se­date. My hol­i­day hap­pi­ness is found, sit­ting here on a gor­geous moun­tain­side know­ing that, be­fore the day is out, I’ll be back down in one of Europe’s pret­ti­est cities, tuck­ing into an out­ra­geous schnitzel and well-earned beer. •

Open­ing im­age: The rooftops and Golden Roof of Innsbruck’s old town. Left: The ro­cocco in­te­rior of the Hof­burg Palace.

From be­low to right: Stat­ues of Haps­burg roy­alty in the Max­i­m­il­ian Chapel; A quiet cor­ner of Innsbruck’s old town.

Op­po­site page, from bot­tom: There are many places with great views over the city; Wooden pup­pets for sale in a sou­venir shop. From left: The vil­lage of Igls;

The Nord­ket­ten cable car high above Innsbruck.

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