I fell for Kitzbuhel on sight, there are only two main streets but they are made up of medieval houses, lovely mountain cabins mixed in with pastel-colour burgher houses, so clean, so tidy and so neatly set in the Tyrolean landscape. The population jumps to some 20,000 during the busy ski season January to April, and is at it’s worst (or best if skiing is your thing) during the famous Kitzbuhel Super G and slalom race on Hahnenkamm, when over 70,000 spectators crowd round the slopes, late January every year. However for me and my new companions, Kitzbuhel comes into its own in the summer – when the snows are all but gone and everything is a verdant delight, a celebration of sunshine, fresh air and solitude. I adored the colourful Alpine flowers, but can’t name them! I was staggered by the breathtaking panoramic views of the Kitzbuhel Alps and Loferer Steinberge mountain ranges.
Our group was mixed, a 50+ German guy and a couple of girls from France and a 22 year old from Sweden, a married couple – also Brits in their 40s – and me. There were others on the German language course I’d joined, but these were the hikers – the ones who when the grammar was learnt and the lessons were done, wanted to hit the paths and trails, not the shops and cafes of Kitzbuhel!
I went to hike and to improve on my school girl German language skills. The German and Swedish guys were dedicated hikers with expensive boots and the hiking sticks that are popular locally, made of lightweight carbon fibre with shock absorbers (especially handy when going downhill). I wore trainers, good ones, but they still marked me out as a hiking amateur, along with the French girls.
After classes on the first Monday we were given a guided tour of the town, internet cafes, banks, bars, supermarkets and boutiques. Thursday and Saturdays were group hikes lead by college staff. On the first hike up we were taken up the Horn. Some went the whole way, led by the College Director. Others (myself included) took the gondola half way and hiked the rest. We stopped at the Alpenhaus restaurant which had the most amazing terrace and breathtaking views. Some of us carried on up to the absolute top of the mountain, others got our cameras out and ordered another round of drinks!
I enjoyed going off hiking with one or two other students and then we’d pick an easier route, one time going along the “Schleierwasserfall” route. “Schleier” = “veil”, “Wasserfall” = “waterfall”, this is the spectacular middle point of the hike. You can actually stand under the waterfall and watch it crash down in front of you (if you’re brave enough to get behind it!) Another afternoon we decided to stay in the valley and enjoy a much easier hike to a village called Aurach. The coffee shop is typical of the local style, with lots of wood and has the most delicious “Esterhazy” cakes.
It was a great two weeks. Relaxing, energising, entertaining AND educational. I’ve returned to London having polished up my German and feeling healthier than I’ve done for ages. It was good to escape the noise, pace and pollution of the city and just wind down, chat, eat and chill.
Hiking recommendations from the College:
1/ Take the Hahnenkamm gondola for an amazing sunset walk (it stays open until 11.00pm on Fridays, from June to October). There’s a great route down along the race track, which takes around 2 hours. CESA & College staff, recommend that you hike up it and get the lift back down – much easier on the knees!
2/ One of the best walks is from the middle station on the Horn. You get the lift half way up the mountain, then walk the most fabulous ridgeway for about an hour and a half, until you get to a Tyrolean mountain hut. The lunches here are the traditional hikers’ platter with locally produced meat and home-baked bread. This is something you can really enjoy, having built up an appetite after all that stopping and taking of photos!
3/ If hard-core hiking isn’t for you – the college organise (or can advise you about) a range of easy walks for novices, all of which are well-marked walks around Kitzbühel. A popular destination is Lake Schwarzsee, one of the warmest bathing lakes in the Alps. This takes about 40 minutes from the school, but is almost entirely on the flat. This lake is a perfect mirror, getting its name (the Black Lake) from its peat floor. It’s a favourite place for those looking for natural cure water and outstanding relaxation.
4/ If you want to save some pennies, May and September are great times to go out – you should get a good deal in one of the local hotels (even the luxury ones), as it’s off peak season (for skiing and hiking), although check carefully to see that they are open as quite a few close in the low season. This is also a good time for those looking for peace and quiet – not so many tourists!
5/ Think before you hike!
Sensible Gear for 1-Day-Hikers to pack
Light or Matches
Fleece jacket or pullover
Money and Credit Cards
Health insurance number and documents
Mobile phone or emergency communication systems
GPS system, altimeter and compass (if hardcore)
Food and Water
Hiking map (scale 1 : 25,000 or better) and guide book
Raingear (water proof jacket, hood for the backpack, trousers)
Sun glasses and hat, sun blocker
Torch or head torch
Paper & pencil
Pocket knife or similar tool (I prefer Leatherman)
Watch and alarm clock
Medication for individual needs (check in advance with co-hikers)
Lines and bandages
Distress signals (flares, flags, hooter)