As a first-time visitor to Austria, I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to travel to than the Alpbachtal Valley in Tyrol. This proved to be the quintessential image of Austria I had dreamed up in my head complete with green valleys that gave way to snowy peaks, cute villages where every single balcony was overflowing with the brightest blooms, and the sound of cowbells ringing through the fields. How’s that for idyllic!
In total, I spent three days in the Alpbachtal Valley, staying in the town of Reith im Alpbachtal and taking a few side trips to Brandenberg, Alpbach, and Kramsach. Over the course of my stay, I got to sample Tyrolean cuisine, hike down trails once frequented by Emperor Franz Josef, tackle some peaks with gondolas and e-bikes, stay in a traditional farmhouse, and even watch a parade celebrating the cows’ end-of-summer return from the Alps. It was a wonderful mountain escape and the perfect introduction to Austria, so if any of this sounds like your idea of fun in Tyrol, read on for my itinerary.
Stay in a traditional Tyrolean farmhouse
The first thing we did after arriving in Reith im Alpbachtal was check into our guesthouse; and this wasn’t your average guesthouse, no! We stayed at Ferienhaus Weberhof, a renovated farmhouse with cows for neighbours – quite literally! Halfway through our stay, our host dropped by to say hello and when she opened the door just off the kitchen, we all poked our heads in to discover a barn with cows – we had been sharing the roof with cows and didn’t even know it!
This is where I admit that I was a little too preoccupied trying to befriend the cows that were roaming out in the “backyard” (a massive field that ran down into the valley), that I didn’t’ take any photos of my farmhouse, but it looked quite similar to these other ones I saw during my stay. The one up top was down the street from us so that’ll give you a taste of the place. It was quintessential Tyrol and I loved coming back to this place after a long day of sightseeing!
Learn how Prügeltorte is made
Our first stop that day was Kaiserhaus Gasthof, a guesthouse where we had lunch and also attended a Prügeltorte demonstration. This cake is a local specialty and what makes it unique is that it’s not even cooked in an oven.
The batter is made with eggs, butter, sugar, flour, a pinch of salt and lemon zest, which gives it its distinct flavour. Once the batter is ready, it’s then spread on a spinning cylinder which slowly cooks the cake over a fire. Layers are added one at a time and these slowly build up to about 1.5-2 centimetres in thickness. Once ready, they slide the cake off the cylinder and then fill the rings with cream and a berry sauce.
But that’s not the only reason to visit Kaiserhaus Gasthof. It turns out this was a favourite vacation spot for Emperor Franz Josef and his wife the famed Empress Sissi. They stayed at this farmhouse on their Tyrolean escapes and you can even visit the bedroom where they slept. Spoiler alert: it was surprisingly modest for an Emperor and Empress, especially having later visited the palaces in Vienna.
Go hiking along the Kaiserklamm
After all that Pruegeltorte, we needed a bit of exercise so we went hiking along the nearby gorge, Kaiserklamm, named after the very same Emperor.
There was a beautiful trail that ran along the canyon, taking you over bridges and through tunnels, while the waters of the Brandenberger Ache River flowed directly below the trail.
We were there in late September so it wasn’t peak foliage quite yet, but the leaves were starting to turn.
My only piece of advice for this one: wear sturdy hiking shoes! It can be a little slippery and wet along the way, so you’ll want something that offers good grip.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this alpine hiking trail is only open from Easter to late autumn.
Tackle the Alps by e-bike
Moving on to the next day, no trip to Tyrol would be complete without spending a bit of time in the mountains, and in order to tackle these steep slopes, we signed up for an e-bike tour.
I had never ridden an e-bike before so I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive, but it turned out to be a dream. It basically works the same way as a regular bicycle, except it has a motor that kicks in once you start to pedal, giving you that extra push when you’re on an incline.
We did a 22-kilometre loop that started in the town of Alpbach, and then had us riding through the forest and up the mountains until we reached Farmkehr Alm, a mountain-top restaurant which was a most welcomed sight after a morning of biking. Even with the e-bike helping us conquer steep slopes, we were starting to feel a little bit tired and hungry, so this place came at just the right time. I still can’t believe some people hiked all the way to this restaurant!
Of course, when in Tyrol, we had to order some local specialties! I went for the Tiroler Speckknödel, which is a boiled bread and bacon dumpling served in a light broth, and Sam went for a sausage that was the size of his forearm! Needless to say, we devoured every last bite.
But the journey wasn’t over after lunch; at that point, we had only biked to the halfway mark and we still needed to get back to town. With bellies full, I took my sweet time riding down the face of the mountain, and then once we were back in the valley, we took an alternate route back to Alpbach stopping at a few scenic lookout points along the way.
Learn the history of Tyrolean Farmhouses
That afternoon, the adventure continued over at the Museum of Tyrolean Farmhouses, which I personally found fascinating.
The place is set up like an open-air museum, where former farmhouses have been relocated and rebuilt to showcase the architectural diversity found in Tyrol.
Also, considering we were staying in a real farmhouse, I found it interesting to see how people would have lived centuries past. Today it’s easy to look at these traditional Tyrolean buildings and think “oh, that’s a cute holiday cottage”, but these structures were barns first.
The museum showcased different types of construction from around the region; some farmhouses were made entirely out of wood, others entirely out of stone, and others combined the two elements. But my favourite farmhouse in the whole museum was the wooden one from Alpbach dating back to 1675 pictured below.
Sample Tyrolean desserts with schnapps
I don’t know if desserts and schnapps are a thing, but we sure made it one!
Just across the street from the Museum of Tyrolean Farmhouses, we found a cute restaurant called Rohrerhof and we couldn’t resist an afternoon pick-me-up! We ordered cappuccinos first, that was followed by dessert, and then I mentioned I had never tried schnapps before, and before I knew it, all of this arrived at the table. Yeah, that’s for one person!
This platter of sugary goodness is called the “Dessertteller Rohrerhof” and it featured Apfelradl, an apple fritter; Grießstrietzln, fried semolina sticks; Krapfen, poppy seed doughnuts; and Zimteis, cinnamon ice cream. And yes, I was able to finish all of this on my own – if that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is!
Ride the gondola to Wiedersbergerhorn
After a really active e-biking tour the previous day, our legs were begging for a bit of a break, so instead of tackling a big hike, we opted to ride the gondola to Wiedersbergerhorn.
This is a mountain in the Alpbachtal Valley with a height of 2,127 meters. The gondola starts in the town of Alpbach and it drops you off at 1,811 meters, so it’s a fairly easy walk to the summit and you’re rewarded with some pretty amazing views of the valleys below and the surrounding peaks off in the horizon.
It was kind of strange starting off in a green valley where things still looked fairly summery and then finding snow on the ground once we reached the top, but those are the Alps for you!
My favourite part was the log cabin restaurants they had atop the mountain. We ate at Dauerstoa Alm, which had a nice outdoor terrace perfect for coffee or drinks al fresco. They also had lots of lounge chairs with sheepskins, and the views from the terrace were breathtaking. We lucked out with clear blue skies, so even though there was snow all around us in September, we were hanging out in our t-shirts. It eventually got too hot for the windbreaker I had on in the photo below!
On the way down the mountain, we noticed a luxurious gondola go by complete with curtains and a table with a breakfast spread fit for a king. We then learned that you can ride a special breakfast gondola called the Genussgondel. Breakfast is €32,50 per person, and the best part is that there’s no rush to get off your gondola once you reach the peak; you can keep going up and down until you finish your breakfast. How cool is that?
Feast on hearty Tyrolean cuisine
And speaking of food, another must do in Tyrol is to sample the local Austrian cuisine. I purposely tried to order a new dish at every meal so I could get a taste of the region. These were some of my favourite dishes:
Kasspatzln – This dish is cheesy goodness! The name translates to “little cheese sparrows” but this is a bit of a misnomer. Kasspatzln actually consists of noodles that have been mixed with ooey-gooey melted cheese and then topped off with crispy onions. You may have heard of something by the name of Käsespätzle if you’ve travelled in Germany, which is basically the same dish with a different spelling.
Speckknödel – I briefly mentioned this one earlier since it’s what I ate on my e-bike tour, and it was another favourite. The star of the dish was the big, round, boiled, bread and bacon dumpling. It can be served in a light broth or on a bed of sauerkraut, and it may not look like the most appetizing thing on a plate, but I found it delicious!
Tiroler Gröstl – This next one is a fry up that’s meant to use the previous day’s leftovers, and it’s yet another hearty Tyrolean dish you’ve got to try. It typically includes potatoes, onions, bacon (or some other form of meat), and it can also have a fried egg on top. I was served a giant pan of it, which was enough for two!
Those are just a few of the Austrian dishes to enjoy.
Watch the cows come home
And now for a bonus activity that you can only catch if you visit at the right time: the Almabtrieb!
Every year, when summer comes to an end and the temperatures begin to drop, farmers bring their cattle down from the Alps and back to town. This calls for a big parade celebrating the “cows coming home”, and yes, the cows are dolled up with flower crowns and bells for the occasion.
The dates for the cow parade vary from town to town across Tyrol, so you’ll want to double check those before your visit, but if you’re going to be travelling in the region between mid-September to early-October, you might just be in luck!
And that concludes my 3-day escape to the Alpbachtal Valley. The verdict? Three days was not enough, and boy, did I not want to leave! I’m a mountain girl at heart, so I fell head over heels for this slice of Austria and I can’t wait to return one day.
Tips for visiting Alpbachtal
If you’re flying in, the closest airport is Innsbruck. Otherwise, there are train connections throughout Austria.The best way to explore the Alpbachtal Valley is by car, however, you can also make use of the bus network that connects the towns around the valley.As an overnight guest, you are entitled to an Alpbachtal Seenland Card, which is issued by your accommodations upon arrival. This gives you free access to the regional bus service, plus a few museums and activities.There are numerous towns to stay in across Alpbachtal. I stayed in Reith im Alpbachtal, but the most popular of them all is Alpbach (this was actually named the most beautiful village in Austria).For more info on the region, you can visit: www.alpbachtal.at/en
Have you been to Alpbachtal?
What’s your favourite place in Tyrol?
I visited Tyrol as part of a project managed by iambassador in partnership with the Tirol Tourist Board and Alpbachtal Seenland. As always, I maintain full editorial control of the content published here.