A SUMMERY ESCAPE TO THE ALPS

Sprawling into picturesque valleys and climbing onto snowy peaks, Alpbach, a village in Tyrol, Austria, and neighbouring villages are popular among skiers. In summer, a political forum attracts thousands of delegates from around the world to discuss ideas against a peaceful alpine backdrop. Voted as Austria’s most beautiful village in the 1980s for its consistent architectural style and colourful floral decorations, Alpbach looks built for tourism. Travelling there from Malta, one can only marvel at all the trees, lush meadows, houses surrounded by trees trees, chilling mountain springs that provide a free source of quality water, mountain paths enclosed by scores of trees, fresh air… and did I forget to mention trees?

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

Alpbach is situated around 1,000 m above sea level and was largely cut off from Austria’s road infrastructure until about a century ago. Now breathtaking mountain views and challenging skiing opportunities attract many holidaymakers from around the world. Locals, many of whom proudly wear their traditional drindl and lederhosen in their daily life, mentioned making friends with some of the people who keep returning every year. Farming is still common, and a Guardian article about Alpbach even claimed that “you might end your ski run next to a pile of fresh manure or find that your ski instructor works as a dairy farmer in summer.” Still, many of those large stone-and-wood houses serve as bed-and-breakfasts, with families living on one floor and renting the other one.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

The harmony of Alpbach’s architecture is not a coincidence. The village has some of the strictest building regulations in Tyrol, making sure that nobody is too tempted to build a skyscraper hotel or anything inconsistent with the traditional postcard look. Households are also encouraged to compete in making floral decorations, so it is not unlikely that you will spend your first hours in Alpbach instagramming around your accommodation. Tradition is well respected – not only waiters and waitresses will most likely wear their traditional outfits, but even local magazines for women and men offer advice on designers’ drindl and traditional male costume.

In summer, the area is great for hiking, and the tourism office will offer a map with trails of various intensity. The weather can be rather unpredictable, so it’s best to be equipped with sunscreen for the sunny days as well as a windbreaker and waterproof clothing for those times when a cloud or two decide to rest on these peaks.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

Various shops sell useful travel gear at good prices and double as skiing schools or bike rentals. There is an option to rent electrically assisted bikes for those who are wary of the mountain challenge. Alpbach is a place for enjoying outdoors, although many hotels offer a sauna and there are lively cafes for the particularly gloomy days.

Wiedersbergerhornbahn, a six-seater gondola that takes you to the Wiedersbergerhorn mountain in only 15 minutes, is one of the ways to experience the mountains without steep walks. There is a family-friendly entertainment area at the top of the mountain, with various creative games that involve catching, sliding, aiming and other skills.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

Local products are fresh and delicious – from goat’s cheese to herbal infusion, everything tastes rich and delicious. Unfortunately, not all restaurants take advantage of the mountainous area’s riches, and if you’re not careful, you may end up with a plate of sad undercooked pasta, awash with sunflower oil and sprinkled with some defrosted peas. Among the restaurants we tried, Zur Post offered the best value for money and had the friendliest staff. Authentic cuisine includes Speckknödel (bread dumplings in broth), Gröstl (baked potatoes in a fragrant mix of local herbs, topped with bacon and egg), and Kasspatzln (short egg noodles with grated cheese), but many places offer pizza, pasta and other dishes originating from Austria’s neighbours. Vegans may struggle finding local food that meets their needs.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

Travelling to Alpbach from any international airport, be it Munich or Vienna, will take a while, and the village is unlikely to be a stand-alone destination for most travellers apart from skiing enthusiasts. However, it makes a lovely stop on a road trip around alpine areas or in a journey by train around this part of Europe.

The author’s trip to Alpbach was financed by Thomson Reuters Foundation.