My previous visit to Kitzbuehel could hardly be regarded as an unqualified success. Opting to stay on the edge of town albeit in an elevated position on the edge of forest sounded to be an idyllic setting, and whilst the aspect from my ‘forest view’ room afforded some pleasing glimpses of local wildlife, the terrace to the rear of my room was in effect one long patio which was could be used as a shortcut by any of the patrons with a room at the back of the hotel. It also proved to be a popular place for the chambermaid to have a smoke…

Furthermore, the alleged opulence attributed to the hotel was not reflected in the service received in the dining room, with haphazard waiting staff thinking they could remember orders without writing anything down but three years on, I am still waiting for an omelette… With robotic, matter of fact never-the-same-twice receptionists and some on the catering side misbehaving at the rear of the hotel whilst on cigarette breaks, my stay at what was meant to be a luxurious bucolic retreat within easy (downhill) walking distance to Kitzbuehel zentrum became somewhere I dreaded returning to each day. Being abstract from bustling Kitzbuehel proved to be a mistake, not a plus point.

It is my understanding that the Schloss Lebenberg has since improved its offering, and is now operated by a different company. It is though somewhere I would never choose to stay again.

A walk that links the Schwarzsee with the Lebenberg area of Kitzbuehel.

The negative experience of my 2019 visit to Kitzbuehel was not limited to accommodational shortcomings. Having stayed in the likes of Galtuer, Obergurgl, and St. Anton I knew which resorts and valleys were the definition of high alpine, with the variegated difficulty of hiking they offered. Now, I am not suggesting I expected Kitzbuehel to be in the same bracket as the remote aforementioned areas of the Tirol, but hoped that its ‘legendary’ status would still give me the alpine kicks I expect from such a vacation.

I was not though overly enamoured with the hiking I undertook. Walking above Kitzbuehel is not characterised by hiking along ridges that gradually gain height and increase in difficulty. In fact, several of its cableways whisk patrons up to points that are the pinnacle of the mountains in question, similar to the Hohe Salve above nearby Hopfgarten. In such examples of mountain topography any subsequent walking can prove to be downhill all the way, making the it better to travel on a cable car, gondola, or chairlift than arrive at their respective top stations. It can be said that the Kitzbueheler Horn and Bichlalm cableways offer walking that isn’t really my cup of tea, but in mitigation the panoramic views from the former are worth the admission price alone.

As a town Kitzbuehel is not what you are going to encounter in an Obergurgl that in the summer is in almost hibernation, nor in a sleepy Galtuer or Bovec. The vast majority of tourists visiting ‘Kitz’ in the summertime are not alpinists but of the camera-wielding type who point at buildings, window shop in its many high end boutiques, and undertake a tour of duty of the town’s many coffee houses and wine bars. There is from this description not a hint of criticism, but as an alpine destination it certainly takes some time to becoming accustomed to – especially when I have been so used to silence being golden in most of the other mountain resorts and villages visited.

It could therefore be reasonably asked – why return to somewhere that did not previously provide the type of experience I look for from a mountain holiday? Prior to doing so I frequently asked myself just that, but the novel coronavirus pandemic perhaps reshaped my expectations albeit without a desire to compromise on standards, but I ultimately felt giving Kitzbuehel another chance was the right thing to do. And so it proved.

It was after such a long time away from an airport really good to be back, and whilst Manchester’s Terminal 2 has changed beyond all recognition from my last visit I at least did not suffer the interminable queues and delayed baggage reclaim which many have endured this spring and summer. Reaching Kitzbuehel in the early evening my hotel, the Tiefenbrunner, in the very centre of town immediately felt like the right place to be staying – both from a locational sense and the standards and friendliness which my accommodation rigidly adhered to.

The mighty Hotel Tiefenbrunner.

With staff who were unfailingly polite, and food both plentiful and always edible, my stay was a complete success. Being happy with one’s accommodation cannot be underestimated when determining the success or otherwise of a vacation, and although the walking above Kitzbuehel is not what I would get in Soelden or even the Wildschoenau, I viewed the town in a completely different light now that I was staying right amongst the action instead of being cut off from it. Yes there was noise but none of it was objectionable, and even though I am not an acquisitive, materialistic person the sight of so many shops where only Croesus could consider shopping in did not this time fill me with resentment or annoyance, but vague curiosity and arm’s length interest. For somewhere considered to be chic, and especially in the winter out of reach to all except those with the deepest of pockets, I only encountered friendliness, good service, and a clean, well-ordered town.

Looking back towards the winter-only lifts at Pengelstein.
The imposing and technically challenging Schwarzkogel.
A dreamscape towards the imposing Wilder Kaiser range as viewed from the Hahnenkamm.

The walking I undertook melded some familiar routes with those new to me, with the Gaisberg chairlift and eponymous walk above the neighbouring village of Kirchberg being particularly demanding. One regarded as ‘old familiar’ was the walk from the Hahnenkamm top station to Pengelstein, with accompanying tremendous views towards Jochberg and Aschau. It is undoubtedly true that the walk to Pengelstein is pockmarked by a profusion of winter-only mountain lifts but this time I viewed the area in a more sympathetic light, perhaps being mindful after two bouts of Covid I was fortunate to be travelling anywhere.

A view from the Gaisberg above Kirchberg, with the Kitzbueheler Horn dominating the background.

My ‘go to’ on days too hot for much else or if back early from higher reaches would be the Schwarzsee – the black lake. I am not normally someone who likes to linger around bodies of water but this certainly warrants not only a visit, but also to dwell in a shady spot listening to cuckoos and chiffchaff. Simple pleasures, but ones I unashamedly appreciated. The Schwarzsee is a busy place, especially on hot days, but my recommendation to walk around it during torrential rain is not as crazy as it sounds. In such circumstances it is not unrealistic to have an atmospheric lake framed by peaks near and far almost if not entirely to yourself.

All roads lead to the Schwarzsee.

For a longer holiday Kitzbuehel is in an ideal location from where to explore the wider Kitzbueheler Alps, with the hiking areas above Brixen, Westendorf, Hopfgarten, Ellmau, and Soell all within range on public transport. I am happy to say that my opinion of Kitzbuehel has changed for the better and whilst it isn’t purely a walking destination, there is as promulgated by the local tourist association something ‘legendary’ about the town. Would I visit again? Just try and stop me.

All photographs are the copyright of Charles Bowman, and may only be reproduced with express permission from and full acknowledgement of the rights-holder.