In my penultimate alpine retrospective I focus on Kitzbuehel, the chic Tirolean resort situated within its eponymously named alps.
Having travelled for over 20 years to Austria’s mountainous regions, predominantly throughout the Tirol but also within Salzburgerland and Carinthia, the two resorts seemingly visited by nearly everyone who insist they have stayed in the country are Mayrhofen and Kitz, to use the latter’s abbreviated and apparently trendy appellation. It is perhaps this default ‘go to’ popularity that until recent times put me off from visiting Kitzbuehel, with my last visit to the Zillertal’s most well-known resort being in 2003. A couple of years ago I eventually gave in to curiosity and visited Kitzbuehel; for better or for worse, it certainly wasn’t like any other resort in Austria that I have visited before.
In what may be a controversial assertion, I never felt Kitzbuehel itself to be a great place to stay if one is a hardcore hiker. Yes, the two lifts, Hahnenkamm and Kitzbueheler Horn, situated on opposite sides of the town offer various walking possibilities as does the Bichlalm chairlift a few miles out of Kitzbuehel, but the only satisfaction I found during my ten day stay was from venturing out to neighbouring resorts to get my fix of more challenging and varied routes.
It is therefore ironic that by dint of its steep slopes and sharp turns the Hahnenkamm is by common consensus the most fearsome downhill race in world skiing. This though does not correspond with hiking that offers similar technical demands, unless for some reason anyone would wish to walk up and/or down the mountain when its gondola can do the job in less than fifteen minutes. Once atop the Hahnenkamm the walking is good but not as spectacular as its backdrop and panoramic vistas. I was dismayed that a long anticipated trek to and beyond the Pengelstein peak was undermined by the defacing of the immediate landscape by countless lifts that are only operational in the winter, built no doubt to ride on the coattails of Kitzbuehel’s reassuringly expensive and ‘be seen in’ image.
The town of Kitzbuehel is beautiful, and worthy of visiting even if hiking and skiing are not your thing. Architecture that has been lovingly maintained and restored houses some and juxtaposes with other businesses selling high-end jewellery and clothing, including inconceivably expensive lederhosen. There is despite the overt pursuit of money a pleasant atmosphere, where people-watching whilst enjoying a morning coffee is almost an Olympic sport in itself.
That though isn’t what my trips to the Alps are all about. I go to walk, hike, trek, and even to ski, but not to shop, and gaze at the wealthy and by assumption, the great and the good. The 1990s singer Haddaway apparently has a home in Kitzbuehel, and during the annual January Hahnenkamm jamboree espying the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bernie Ecclestone comes as standard. It is though possibly the only alpine resort I have visited in Austria where I have felt out of place wearing my hiking gear.
My accommodation was the Schloss Lebenberg, a 4-5 star hotel that incorporates a modern building housing the majority of its guest rooms with the original but somewhat dwarfed 17th century ‘schloss’. Situated within Kitzbuehel but on a hill that makes the town a walkable distance through pleasant residential areas, this 10-15 minute downhill stroll does though become a strenuous 20 minute drag when heading back to the hotel. To give credit where it is due, the hotel did offer a regular shuttle service to and from Kitzbuehel centre, although waiting outside a branch of McDonald’s for the ride back might not be everyone’s ideal experience whilst on a walking holiday…
At the time of my stay the Austrian hotel operator Trend held the Schloss Lebenberg’s reins but in recent times the Harisch Hotels group took over responsibility, and have obviously overseen a refurbishment of the dining areas. For what little it now matters I found the service to be erratic, and the quality of food to be good rather than great. This was a good hotel to experience almost complete anonymity in, but some solo travellers may feel overlooked and have little interest shown in them, particularly by reception staff who never seemed to be the same personnel twice.
What follows is a representative selection of my personal photographs taken whilst staying in Kitzbuehel:
Schloss Lebenberg: http://www.daslebenberg.com/
Harisch Hotels: http://www.harischhotels.com/en/
Kitzbuehel Tourismus: http://www.kitzbuehel.com/en/
Inghams Lakes & Mountains: http://www.inghams.co.uk/destinations/austria/austrian-tyrol/kitzbuhel
TUI Lakes & Mountains: http://www.tui.co.uk/destinations/europe/austria/kitzbhel/holidays-kitzbhel.html