Innsbruck (Oct 3-6)

This wasn’t our typical city..

To start with I knew that we were onto a good thing when we were met at the train station by a driver, who escorted us to his car – a comfortable Audi with dual zone back seat passenger climate control (though I am really not sure what would happen if I turned my side up, and Greg turns his side down, but still).  Our journey took us briefly on a motorway out of Innsbruck, and then quickly onto more minor roads and we began to wend our way up into the mountains.  Greg explained that our next hotel was rather special, and had been recommended to him for many years by a work colleague as their favourite hotel in the world.  I got a flavour of this when we arrived – the hotel itself is an amazing design, three wings coming out from a central hub and rooms lining the wings with balconies strewn with beautiful flowers.  The view was short lived however as the car kept on driving into the garage with us, and to my surprise drove up to an indoor lobby, where we got out inside the hotel onto carpet and bell boys swarmed over our luggage. We were shown into the lift and whisked up the the main reception.  Check in was very quick and we were soon shown to our room.

Greg later told me that it was the second-smallest room layout offered, but it was still huge.  Not only was the bathroom vast, with both a generous shower and separate large bath, there was a beautiful writing desk, a chaise-long, a sofa area, a dining table with seating, and a large balcony.  Oh, did I mention the walk in wardrobe complete with a spare bed? (just in case you brought your butler or valet I wondered!).  We then spent an hour or two wandering around the hotel and being continually delighted at what we found round each corner.  In particular the garden was truly wonderful and it was exquisite walking through it under a beautiful blue sky with breathtaking mountains all around us. In fact the whole setting was magical – the hotel was located in a small forest on a hilltop, and commanded amazing 360 views. It was a very fairytale vista, quiet apart from the real world.

That evening we’d booked an excursion consisting of a short walk to a local rustic restaurant followed by typical Austrian food.  To be honest we didn’t really get on with this experience (the only disappointment of the visit).  Not least the destination was changed, and we were driven there instead of walking which rather missed the point for me.  We were however rather amused to see a lot of posh cars in the garage – all recently cleaned and valeted and with one section dedicated to same model Audi’s with consecutive number plates – it appeared that the Audi Alpen Tour 2013 was visiting for the evening;  very Fast and Furious my brother described it as! (We later found out that they had commandeered the restaurant that we were meant to have gone to!)

The next day we went to breakfast to be greeted with a vast array of sections replete with tempting food.  Bear with me while I try and give you a list, as it had to be seen to be be believed.  A dozen or more types of bread and bread rolls,  with 10 different homemade fruit spreads, a similar number of diabetic ones, plus 6 varieties of local honey, and Nutella of course!  A whole marble sideboard covered with cold meats (more than 20 kinds, being continually topped up by a lady slicing assorted joints at one end).  Next a wide variety of teas (along with a good selection of coffees and hot chocolate).  Fruit juices (6 kinds) and smoothies (4 kinds) and sparkling wine for the diva in you.  There was an extensive fresh fruit section, a dozen or so types of breakfast cereal (with skimmed, semi skimmed or full fat milk or an array of types of yoghurt presented in huge tureens).  If you fancied a pastry there were about 8 or so each day, all lovingly crafted by the in-house bakers.  If your taste was more to the full english there was the normal array of bacon, sausages, hash browns, tomatoes, beans, etc.  No eggs?  Nothing could be further from the truth – there was an egg bar where eggs were cooked in any fashion you chose, boiled, yes, scrambled, yes, omelette, just tell us what array of fillings you want – the cheese was fabulous), poached, no problem at all, fried, yep – how firm do you want it?  If you have any room at all left after that there was the crêpe station – which kind of undersells it.  Crêpes with a wide variety of fillings were made to order – Greg was a fan of Nutella and assorted fresh berries, there were also American style pancakes and fluffy waffles.  Lets just say we rolled out of there each morning and didn’t particularly need any lunch!

After breakfast I had signed up for a guided hike, and together with some fellow guests I waited in the lobby for our guide.  20 guests had signed up for the hike, but in the end only 5 of us appeared, the remainder having been put off by the rain currently falling heavily outside.  I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather for walking, rather simply the wrong clothes.  So armed with the right clothes the smaller group headed to the van, and were driven about 30 mins to our starting point. Our guide turned out to be a friendly guy, who had grown up locally and worked for the hotel primarily as a gym instructor.  He was a keen hiker, and proved to be an excellent guide.  He knew the local area well and was enthusiastic about the local terrain.  He’d previously scaled the local mountain, but today was leading us on a more modest route (though he did seem to me to glance up at the nearby peak rather longingly from time to time!) .  We proceeded up reasonably steeply from the valley floor, through very variable weather.  At times we walked through light drizzle, but mostly it was dry though with large banks of fog swirling around and making the trek very atmospheric.  When the fog did break were were rewarded with spectacular views over forest and faraway hilltops.  After our climb we proceeded along a fairly horizontal path which ran along the side of the hillside, reasonably level and undemanding walking.  The path was somewhat narrow in places with reasonably steep drops to side, but nothing like Greg and I survived in Lichtenstein.  My fellow hikers were interesting people, and I particularly enjoyed chatting to several members of a family who were staying in the hotel for a few weeks and had enjoyed a previous hike the day before.  After about 3 hours we descended slightly and entered a valley with a small mountain hut restaurant where we were due to have a pit stop.  We welcomed the opportunity to sit down and have a drink and bite to eat – I opted for some very fine hot chocolate and a local dish with pork and dumplings which was tasty, although too big for me to finish!  From here we descended further on a wide track back down to where we started, about 7 miles later, and returned by bus back to the hotel – just as heavy rain started to fall!

Greg had opted for a different style of day, and had stayed in the hotel to enjoy the extremely impressive facilities.  He had spent some time by the hybrid indoor/outdoor pool; imagine you can swim in the 50 meter indoor pool – with swim in areas with dramatic showers – then swim to the the automatic sliding doors and out into the large outdoor pool with jacuzzis in the corners and bubbling chaise longue along the sides. He then enjoyed the spa village which consisted of several steam rooms and saunas of different styles, before a stop in the spa café.  He had also taken a few minutes to chat to the customer services manager about our evening disappointment, who proved very responsive and an excellent listener, and as a result there was a bottle of champagne chilling in our room.  I met Greg in the spa village after my hike, and we enjoyed an aufguss together.  The saunameister was particularly impressive – after initially explaining the ritual in both German and English he heard a visitor translating into Italian for a colleague, and immediately added fluent Italian to his spiel! This particular aufgauss involved a honey skin treatment, had a midway break where we went outside to be sprayed with cold water to cool down, and ended with a glass of Prosecco – very civilised!

After the spa it was time for dinner, which was our first at the hotel.  They offered an a-la carte experience, but like most guests we opted for the set menu, which was included in our room tariff.  It proved to be an impressive experience with 5 excellent courses.  We took our champagne from our room with us, and enjoyed it with dinner.  The starters were very well executed, as were the soup and main courses.  We then enjoyed a cheese course, for which we helped ourselves from an extensive buffet with more than 40 types of cheese – a fantastic range from various European countries including some of my personal favourites, such as Colston Basset stilton and Époisses.  Dessert was a similarly impressive dessert selection, though I have to admit that I was rather full by that point and so didn’t sample many options, but enjoyed the ones I did try. Overall it continued the excellent standard that breakfast had established.

Our next day was deliberately designed to be an easy day with a few selected spa treatments booked for each of us.  I particularly enjoyed the wrap treatment, which involved being covered in mud and wrapped up in a warm blanket and floated in warm water. Very relaxing. I was also impressed that even though the weather was bad, and many guests will have stayed in the hotel, it never felt busy or full. The space and facilities just ate the people up, and it always felt relaxed. I also took the opportunity of a break in the weather to explore some of the nearby forest and wondered the trails for an hour or so enjoying the scenery and the late afternoon light. Breakfast and dinner that day were as good as the previous day, and Greg enjoyed chatting with the same waitress we’d had from the day before. When he declared that he was trying to practice the language she happily obliged by making him order his food in German, helping and correctly any mistakes. Though he did stump her by asking what Ma’am was in German, for which there appears to be no single direct equivalent.

Overall we had an amazing experience at the InterAlpen.  It managed that elusive combination of many great factors – amazing setting, great facilities, and a wonderful ambiance. Often upmarket places can feel posh but not welcoming and both of us felt that wasn’t the case here at all; the atmosphere was very relaxed, almost homely. In fact, with the hotel so good we completely failed to manage any excursions to Innsbruck proper! We left the hotel vowing to go back (and in fact I’ve already started saving so that we can return when The40Project is complete).

With a fond farewell we left the hotel the next day, and were driven back to the train station. From there we caught a train to Frankfurt, then on to Bristol in a tiny cigar of a plane where seat allocations were rearranged on boarding to make sure it balanced properly (we were told we couldn’t sit in the front 8 rows!). Frankfurt airport is hands-down the most confusing to find your way round with terrible signage. We were however amused when we were boarded onto a bus which did a scenic tour across the entire expanse of the airport for more than 20 minutes – I guess an effect of checking in Terminal 1 (departures section A) and the plane is on a remote stand way beyond Terminal 2 (departures section E). We did stop in Munich for a nice lunch at NordSee which we had previously enjoyed eating at during one of earlier adventures of the 40 project. We found Munich to be surprisingly busy – explained when we checked the dates and discovered that it was the last day of Octoberfest! Good thing we had booked seats on the train.. 🙂

So, 26 down and 14 to go… !

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