I TAKE a long, deep exhalation and, following orders, I fold myself in two – or at least I try to. I’m in a morning yoga class with local teacher Tania Wimmer, at the edge of the Gieringer Weiher Lake in the lower Kitzbühel Alps.
The morning sun heats my back and birdcall and insect chatter can be heard among the trees. The lake is in stillness. The breeze is fresh and the landscape, ensconced in snow-topped mountains, is inspiring. A feeling of utter serenity embodies me. Until, that is, a chorus of moans and groans interrupts my Zen moment. The men in the class are falling over and calling out in pain as they try to touch their toes. Yoga is not for everyone, I realise, however exquisite the surroundings may be.
This is just one of a handful of activities that filled my summer visit to the medieval town of Kitzbühel in the Austrian region of Tyrol. In winter, it’s a world-leading ski resort with an exclusive clientele and home to the legendary Streif downhill racecourse. The Streif is the most famous 2.6km stretch of snow in the world and every January, the very best skiers compete to beat speeds on this most feared of courses.
In summer, however, the area takes on a different mood altogether. It’s all about hiking, biking and enjoying the produce and culinary traditions of the region.
It is a fabulous destination to try summer wines and locally produced artisan products, such as the Grüner Veltliner whites and pungent mountain cheeses… and to eat ice creams at outdoor tables and peruse the farmer’s markets at weekends.
It’s 11am on Sunday and I find myself at the stall of a local wine producer and however hard I try, they’re intent on ensuring I try more wine than I buy. At 11.20am I leave, tottering down the road with the accompanying clunk of two bottles in my bag.
For eating out, the delightful Rehkitz(right) restaurant is where we enjoyed dinner at dusk, watching a misty sun sink behind snow-capped peaks. Dumplings in a rich wild mushroom sauce and a fruit pancake dessert are highlights. This little gem found half way up a mountain slope is one of Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite haunts. The sunny season, I find, is also the perfect time to explore the surrounding hills and mountains and Kitzbühel’s lake district. On that note, I’m pumping uphill not daring to watch the incline grow steeper in front of me. I am ascending steep hills that were once an impossibility, thanks to an E-bike. This clever vehicle has an engine that kicks in when you pedal and makes cycling uphill utter fun.
The next day, we take the Hahnenkamm Cable Car up to where the Streif course begins. I watch the town disappear into dots on the landscape as we soar above it. The view from the top is an expansive, undulating wave of peaks and dips and looking down at the racecourse is a stomach-flipping sight. The hike down is steep and unrelenting – we pass walkers using Nordic sticks who are hiking the whole way up – down is definitely my preferred option. To cover the route by foot takes us around 2.5 hours, yet it takes the skiers about 1min 59seconds.
According to documents, Franz Reisch became the first man to ski down from the Kitzbuehel Horn in 1893 and in 1894/95 the first ski race was held here. Summer tourism began in around 1850 and in 1875 the construction of the railroad brought the rise to international tourism.
With more 5 star hotels than anywhere else in the Alps, the picturesque centre gleams with designer boutiques, restaurants and smart cafes, confirming its status as one of the world’s most exclusive resorts. Since the cable car opened in 1926 Kitzbühel has been an important winter tourist destination, drawing the great and the good from royalty to film stars to holiday here.
We take a guided tour with local "veteran" Pepi Treichl who introduces the area’s history through the key buildings in the compact town. The first hotel, the Grande, was built in 1903 and is still an exquisite sight. This majestic vernacular alpine house, with mansard roof, shows its design date through the curvaceous patterns on the art nouveau balconies. It now trades as a learning centre.
This little patch of Europe has bred a plethora of sporting champions. In the churchyard we visit the graves of its famous sons such as Peter Aufschniter, the mountaineer whose adventures were depicted in the 1997 film, Seven Years in Tibet.
My stay at the Hotel Jägerwirt is a pleasure due, in part, to the charming attention of the owner Alexander Bartenstein. The food is fantastic and he is never far away from the restaurant, popping in regularly to greet his guests. This family-run business is perfectly in keeping with the traditional style of the region and the female staff even wear the traditional dirndl dress.
The regional cuisine is hearty and the portions are substantial. Heavy on meat, the classic dumpling dishes swim in so much butter and cheese my body screams out for walking, cycling and yoga sessions, which luckily are available on tap.
Yoga practitioner Tania Wimmer is a native New Zealander and was drawn to this area by the landscapes and quality of life, reminiscent of her home country. Alongside her special lakeside sessions she teaches regular classes at her studio at the luxurious Hotel A-Rosa.
Though skiing in the region is still its biggest draw, it makes a perfect summer destination too, with plenty to keep even the most active occupied. And if eating and drinking are your preferred pleasures you’ll be kept busy here, too.
Thomson Lakes and Mountains (0208 939 0740; www.thomsonlakes.co.uk) has 7 nights at the 4* Hotel Jägerwirt in Kitzbűhel, with prices starting from £459 per person on half board, including return flights to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Regional flights are available from Birmingham (+£39), Manchester (+£19), Glasgow (+£59) and Newcastle (+£51). For more information about Tirol visit www.visittirol.co.uk or Kitzbühel visit www.kitzbuehel.com.
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