This summer I found a new mountain home from home – the welcoming Alpine town of Kitzbühel in the Austrian Tyrol. This part of Austria’s mountainous heart is best known as a mecca for snowsports lovers, but it’s a wonderful place to explore in the summer, too, when the hills are alive with amazing hiking trails, hidden swim spots and welcoming mountain huts to refuel at. Being this lively town’s ambassador for 2022 is my dream gig – and to misquote from the Sound of Music, these are a few of my favourite things about Kitzbühel from my first visit. Pack your walking boots and your swim kit, work up an appetite for freshly-made pancakes and make a beeline for this magical corner of the mountains.
Adventurous reasons you should visit Kitzbühel in Austria
Hike yourself happy
I’m always happiest when I’m out on the trail, so I felt very spoilt indeed in Kitzbühel, where over 600 miles of walking routes start right from the valley floor. There are well-signposted walks to suit all abilities, but if you’re up for a challenge, you shouldn’t miss the Nine Summits, an 11-mile ridgeline route high in the Saalbach Hinterglemm mountains. I tackled four of its famed peaks with local guide Carina Brunner, climbing to the summits of Gamshag, Kleiner Schütz, the Schützkogel and Tristkogel (here’s my Komoot route if you fancy following in my footsteps). This is tough trekking, but you’ll be rewarded with views of green mountains and tucked-away lakes so outstandingly gorgeous that it’s all worth it.
Feel free as a bird
What’s the closest you can get to flying? I think paragliding might just be the answer, and I’ve never seen a more beautiful backdrop for soaring through the air under a parachute than the peaks that crowd round the town of Kitzbühel. My guide from Element 3 Paragliding, Thomas, and I hurled ourselves off the steep side of Hahnenkamm mountain to get a bird’s eye view of the mountains, their peaks crystal clear in the sunshine. An adventure I’ll never forget.
Swim in the Schwarzee
Lovers of wild swimming are in for a treat in this corner of the Alps – a dip in the cool, calm waters of Lake Schwarzsee. Its name means Black Lake, which I think is to do a disservice to this beautiful body of water, which is actually an inky green, surrounded by peaceful forest and danced over by dragonflies. This is Kitzbühel’s home ‘beach’, with wide grassy banks to sunbathe on, stand-up paddleboards available and a diving platform you can swim out to. The mineral-rich water is even meant to be good for the skin – free spa day while swimming, anyone?
Give golf a go
I’ll admit it – I’d never tried golf before I found myself in Kitzbühel, and I’d never felt tempted before – I was previously of the Mark Twain school of thought that golf was a ‘good walk ruined’. I was, it turns out, completely wrong. Golf (especially the way they play it here) is a good walk made even better. Kitzbühel is home to no less than 16 golf courses, including the Golf course Kitzbühel-Schwarzsee-Reithee, where I got to whack some balls about with the Wilder Kaiser mountains serving as a dramatic backdrop. Golf is addictively fun, even if you’re as bad as me – and even the pros will find a challenge waiting in Kitzbühel. Each summer the town hosts the notorious Golf the Streif, an event that turns golf into an extreme sport, with holes played down the steep side of the Hahnenkamm mountain, which in winter is the battleground for the town’s notoriously tough annual ski race, the Hahnenkamm races.
Explore medieval streets and the history of skiing
Kitzbühel is a world apart from most ski-focused Alpine towns – this is a proper town, which a history dating back at least to the 12th century. The charming medieval centre is a rainbow of brightly-hued old houses, inns and eateries as well as a fascinating museum, all tucked inside the ancient city walls. Ski lovers should also definitely make a pilgrimage to the town – it was here in 1893 that local Franz Reisch decided to strap two pieces of wood, each two metres long, to his feet and slide down the snow-covered side of the Kitzbüheler Horn, completing the first alpine ski run in Austria and becoming a pioneer of skiing as he did so.
Get active in the Alps
Mountain biking, running, skiing, climbing, canyoning – however you like to get your heart rate up, Kitzbühel’s mountain playground has got you covered. 745 miles of local trails that criss-cross the surrounding mountains are perfect explored on two wheels. Everyone seems to zip around on a bike here, whether they’re off to tackle terrifyingly steep single track (and yes, you can bike down the side of the Hahnenkamm) or just cycling to the pub. Trail runners will find endlessly winding tracks waiting in the hills – and come winter, they’re dusted with snow and perfect for working up a sweat on cross-country skis.
Stay in a slice of history
Ski lovers should definitely make a pilgrimage to Kitzbühel – it was here in 1893 that local snowsports pioneer Franz Reisch decided to strap two pieces of wood, each two metres long, to his feet and slide down the snow-covered side of the Kitzbüeler Horn, completing the first alpine ski run in Austria. Das Reisch Hotel, has been the place to stay in town since 1912, when it was founded by Franz Reisch himself (it’s now owned by his great-grandson). With views of the imposing Streif, Das Reisch’s mountain-themed bedrooms make the perfect base for skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
Go chasing waterfalls (and perfect lakes)
From the rushing Sintersbacher Waterfall to peaceful Jochberg forest swimming pool and the popular four-lake hiking route, Kitzbühel is dotted with jewel-like ponds and wild waters. My favourites to reach on foot are the twin Seidlam Lakes, fringed by bright wildflowers in summer and an unbelievable jade green in colour. The glacial water here is so still that you can see snow-capped mountains reflected in the surface.
Kick back at a mountain hut
I do love an old-fashioned Alpine mountain hut, and handily for me, Kitzbühel has dozens of them dotted across the hillsides. My favourite from my first visit was the Bochumer Hutte. Once used as a bunkhouse for copper miners and now offering beds for knackered hikers, this friendly mountain base is refreshingly simple and rustic, with chickens scratching contentedly in the yard and a sunny terrace to relax on. I stopped here after a hot summer hike for ice-cold bottles of local beer and platters heaped with local meats and cheeses, along with homemade bread and butter – supper doesn’t get better than that. And on chillier days, there’s one comforting dish typical of Kitzbühel that you’ll find at its rustic huts. Kaiserschmarrn (torn up pancakes served in a heap – the name translates as ’emperor’s mess), served with dollops of cream and home-made plum jam, is the ultimate comfort food after a long day’s hiking in the hills.
Photos by Robert Grew