SIAN ELVIN discovers the beauty of Innsbruck, Austria, and its fantastic Christmas markets
HAVING breakfast then being up the mountains in time for lunch – that’s the motto the people of Austria live by. And who can blame them? I thought, sipping a warm mug of mulled wine and eating dumplings at the Christmas markets under the Golden Roof, when just a few hours earlier I had been at home in Kent.
A quick plane journey away from the UK, Innsbruck is the capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol, fondly referred to as the heart of the Alps, and just a stone’s throw from the Italian border.
Yet, unusually, it is not often the first winter holiday destination for Brits, with Iceland, with Norway and Switzerland at the front of most people’s minds.
But I found Innsbruck to be one of the most magical holidays I’ve ever had. Of course, the main attraction over winter is to the world-famous Christmas markets.
If there are any special decorations or festive trinkets you’re looking for, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find it there.
There is a huge selection of markets in the city to wind your way through while sipping mulled wine or hot chocolate.
You can lose yourself for hours among the painted baubles, wooden tree decorations, handmade stockings and fragrant candles. Oh, and the food, of course.
The great thing about the markets is you can find whatever price range you like. Hanging tree decorations, for example, could cost as little as €1– ranging up to €25 for the hand-carved wooden ones. There are stalls selling alcoholic winter beverages such as red or white mulled wine, warm punch or mulled cider, and plenty of snacks to go round, including raclette, sweet and savoury dumplings and fruit dipped in chocolate.
The drinks stalls allow you to pay a small deposit for a reusable mug to go around the markets with and return it at the end of your visit – or keep as a souvenir.
Foodies certainly won’t be disappointed by a visit to Innsbruck. Aside from the drinks stalls, some of my edible highlights of the city included:
SCHNITZEL: A thin cutlet of pork or veal, breaded and then pan-fried, is an instant winner, usually served with fries or buttered potatoes.
Where to eat it: Piano Bar KNöDEL: Traditional Austrian dumplings, made with bread and served either with cheese or bacon inside and drenched in gravy broth.
Where to eat it: Seegrube restaurant, up the Alpine mountains.
RACLETTE: You can get this in most European countries, but there’s something about eating hot potatoes slathered in melting cheese surrounded by Christmas festivities.
Where to eat it: Street vendors in the Christmas markets
KASSPATZLN: Soft egg noodles coated in spinach and bacon and baked, sprinkled with crispy onions.
Where to eat it: Street vendors in the Christmas markets
SACHERTORTE: One of the most famous chocolate cakes in the world, sandwiched with apricot jam and covered in chocolate fondant.
Where to eat it: Café Sacher, in the Hofburg Imperial Palace
STRUDEL: Thin crispy pastry with savoury or sweet fillings.
Where to eat it: Strudel Café Kröll
WURSTEL: Traditional sausages made from a mixture of beef and pork. Can be eaten on their own or served with curry sauce or mustard. Where to eat it: Street vendors in the Christmas markets.
Aside from the markets and the glorious food, there is plenty to do around the city. I stayed at the Stage 12 Hotel in the centre, which offers incredible views of the Alps from its windows and has the Christmas markets right on its doorstep. The hearty breakfast in the mornings is perfect to set you up for a day in the mountains and the bar is also lively in the evenings. Prices start at €100 a night with most hotels in the area costing around the same.
For fans of winter sports, of course you can go skiing in the Alps, with the season starting in December and ending around March. If, like me, you just prefer to watch, you can head up the Bergisel ski jump and check out the spectacular views from the panoramic café.
The mountains aren’t just for adrenaline junkies – you can take the Nordkette cable car up to the peak of the Alps and enjoy the breathtaking views. Once you’ve had your fill you can visit the Seegrube restaurant for comfort food, then toast marshmallows over a bonfire while taking in the mountain air. Swarovski Crystal World is a short trip away from Innsbruck by bus. The museum was built in 1995 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Austrian company. There are jaw-dropping exhibits full of glittering crystals and a huge shop at the end for souvenir hunters.
Back in Innsbruck there are many places of historical interest, in particular the Hofburg Imperial Palace which is built in a gothic style and is considered one of the most important cultural buildings in Austria.
You can also climb the city tower and enjoy incredible views over Innsbruck, including the famous Golden Roof and a visit to the Grassmayr Bell Foundry – the oldest family business in Austria – is a must.
An all-inclusive ticket – the Innsbruck Card – gives you entrance to the main attractions in the area and includes public transport too.
And for a glittering finale to your trip, the Max 500 lightshow runs until January 20, 2019 outside the palace and marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I – revered for building the Golden Roof.
It is an incredible collaboration of visual and sound effects which is worth seeing, despite it only being in German.
The stalls at Innsbruck’s Christmas markets overflow with everything from decorations to food
The mysterious entrance to Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds) Stage12 Hotel is perfectly placed to enjoy the markets
The view over Innsbruck
The almost legendary sachertorte