I have long wanted to go to Austria. Perhaps it was the obsession I had with great mountains and culture that painted the screen in The Sound of Music when I was little. Or it could be my adulthood love affair with its peculiar, vibrant wines of Gruner Veltliner and Zweigelt, Blaufrankish and Muskateller. Regardless the source for this firmly fixed fascination, the seed for someday seeing this corner of paradise was planted. Finally… I did.
Though I have yet to be fortunate enough to see the great cities of Salzburg and Vienna, the vast vineyards of Kamptal or the wines of Niederosterreich (lower Austria), I was still able to brush shoulders with this unbelievably gorgeous country by spending several days in the Tirolian Alps. Situated as it is so near to Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia– the cuisine and culture are a mirror translation of this cross-cultural, alpine hub.
Many people joke that we should have just stayed in Colorado if we meant to ski for our honeymoon. But I’ve three quick notes on that topic. For one, we live where we love to be: the mountains (or at least on the fringes). Two, here the village/ski towns aren’t trying to be European. They actually are. Therefore, you really feel the story, the inspiration behind our Coloradan playground. Finally, they have heated seats on their lifts and gondolas. Yep. My friends, that is called evolution. I hope Beaver Creek and Breck are taking note…
It seemed the moment we crossed into Austria from Switzerland, we were on the ascent into the legendary peaks of Tirol. Endless tunnels made our local Eisenhower seem teensy. Each little town had a seemingly iconic church lit up–a major focal point for each separate city. Rounding into Kitzbuhel, I was charmed by its quaint (not kitchy) exterior. I was expecting Aspen or St. Moritz, but the glitz was kept to a minimum. Most people walking around seemed fairly typical–families and lovers on holiday. We hit a weekend, so we had a nice mixture of travelers. Two churches rival for the attention on the main street in this small town: Liebfrauenkirche and St. Andrews.
A history that is largely Bavarian, Kitzbuhel found its roots about 1000 years B.C. as a mining town. Now, its streets were painted with darling bookshops, softly-lit restaurants, shoe shops and boutiques where one can find singular sweaters and socks of boiled wool. To say a recent article in Travel + Leisure tipped us off to this little treasure of a town would only be appropriate. The writer was hardly all hyperbole, either. This really was a place to see.
We dined at a couple incredible spots. We went fancy one night at the Michelin-rated Petite Tirolia in the Grand Tirolia hotel where we stayed. Spendy or not, it was a wonderful show of Tirolian-inspired cuisine taken to an fancified level. The sommelier was brilliant and the food some of the best we had ever had from a highly rated, sought-after Michelin restaurant. The days that followed, we were seeking something homey–something that would put an extra layer on the bones. We were told to go to Wirsthaus zum Rehkitz–a tucked away chalet in the woods. Alas, it was completely full. An alternative we were given was s’Pfandl, a cozy, family-run restaurant built nearly 200 years ago, serving up the region’s most traditional plates. I had to try their Weinerschniztel and share with Jonathan who opted for their signature Pfandlgulash–a spicy peppered beef in gravy served with spaetzl noodles in, well, a ‘pfandl’ or skillet.
The next morning, after a nordic jaunt along the river in speedy cross-country skis, we had a bite at the Huberbrau Stuberl in town. It was a perfect lunch for the road, as we climbed back into our teeny little fiat smart car and drove off to Kals am Grossglockner, in the deeper recesses of the Tirolian Alps…