Walking while tipsy is generally not recommended. But in Austria it feels just right. The series of mountain huts dotted liberally in the alps is just what you need while hiking. And hiking is a good way to work up an appetite for Apfelstrudel served with lashings of cream and a schnapps. Don’t mind if I do.
It’s not just because of the gluwein that Austria’s Stubai Valley is hands-down the best place I have ever hiked. This area, which stretches from just outside Innsbruck to the Italian border, offers mountaintop hiking, forest meanders, short or long trails, a glacier, Tirolean architecture, public transport and, in summer, a revolving door of cultural festivals.
We based ourselves in Neustift, around half an hour by bus or taxi from Innsbruck. Innsbruck itself has good public transport links, and from Singapore it was straightforward to fly to Munich and catch a two-hour train to Innsbruck. The best way to explore the Stubai is to purchase the inexpensive Stubai Card, which offers free public transport on the bus that travels the valley either direction every half hour, free access on each one of the five chairlifts in the valley and a range of other discounts in local shops.
We caught the bus to a different chairlift each day and did one of the myriad of walks from there. The beauty of hiking in the Stubai is that you are never far from a hot drink and mountain snack, not just crowdpleasers like Apfelstrudel and goulash soup but we also tried Tirolean antipasto – mountain cured meats, local cheese, mustard, kraut and crusty bread.
If the weather is bad or you want the day off, it’s only half an hour in the bus to bustling Innsbruck. Or another half hour in the other direction to Eisgrat chairlift, a state-of-the-art gondola (one of the most expensive in the world) which whisks you up to the ice cave at Stubai Glacier. The ice cave is a heap of fun for all ages and houses an impressive display of ice sculptures. Or another nice thing to do if it rains is to catch the cable car to a mountaintop café and while away the afternoon looking out at the mist in the valley below while sampling local fare. Most good hotels also offer a wellness centre (spa, sauna, infraray beds) – a hit with the euro crowd.
We had fairly bad weather in the Stubai the week we were there (it was cool and quite rainy) yet it remains one of my favourite hiking areas on the planet. We simply shuffled our itinerary around to suit the weather and spent a little extra time in mountain huts. I would love to go back one day and recommend it to anyone who enjoys hiking, eating and drinking – and not necessarily in that order. Prost to that!