A town that has been praised in song, a historic fortress, frescoed facades, centuries old inns and restaurants and one of the last one-passenger chair lifts in the country: Steeped in history and character, the small town of Kufstein was hotly contested through the ages.
Singing along to Karl Ganzer who sang the praises of Kufstein in his hit yodelling melody ‘Perle Tirols’ (The Pearl of Tyrol), I embark on my one-day visit to Kufstein, the second largest town of Tirol. Recently, I read an article titled “Kufstein has little to see but a worldwide hit”. I am quite sure that this headline does no justice to this amazing place: Resting at the foot of the mighty Kaiser Mountain Range and crowned by a fortress, Kufstein’s backdrop is picture-book stuff. With its 30,000-year-old history and rich cultural roots, the town is fascinating in its own right. Over the centuries, Kufstein found itself intermittently disputed by Bavaria, Tirol and the Habsburg Empire. Warfare visited on and off for hundreds of years, leaving the town its most visible landmark, the prominent Kufstein Fortress.
The remarkable Kufstein Fortress dominates the landscape of Kufstein as much today, as it did centuries ago. Being Kufstein’s most famous sight, the fortress towers high above town and is definitely worth visiting. In 1504, the town and the fortress were besieged and conquered by Emperor Maximilian I.
Kufstein has an extensive and fascinating history. There are sites of historic interest to discover around every corner. Many buildings have been lovingly restored to full splendour with details that speak the visual language of the 21st century architectural style.
The Cultural Quarter of Kufstein is home to historic sights and a modern neighborhood. Two years ago, the former historic building named “Laadhaus”, which was home to a soapery and an imperial and royal tobacco factory, was replaced by a contemporary structure that houses the new ARTE City Hotel. Guests enjoy their breakfast at the adjoining “Vitus und Urban” Bar, a hip and stylish place. Luckily, their wonderful breakfast is available to outside guests as well for the price of Euro 15.
Apart from hotel and bar, the Cultural Quarter at the Upper Town Square is also home to a bank, a perfume store and various specialty shops along with the new Municipal Theater. The contemporary theater will seat up to 175 visitors.
Not far from the Cultural Quarter, a classic saunter leads along gingerbready Römerhofgasse, a reconstructed medieval lane with overhanging arches, lanterns and frescoed facades. Even the crowds and souvenir kitsch detract little from its appeal. Moreover, this is where you will find the famous Auracher Löchl Restaurant and Batzenhäusl Schicketanz, deeply steeped in legend. Murals of merry wine-guzzlers welcome you to Batzenhäusl, Kufstein’s oldest wine tavern. Burrowing into cliffs below the fortress, this 530-year-old haunt is packed with curios like 16th-century cannon balls. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed for the time being, despite this very promising poem written on its wall:
“The Batzenhäusl Schicketanz is to Kufstein what the Leaning Tower is to Pisa and the bait is to the fisher”.
Few lodging properties can match up to the long pedigree of “Auracher Löchl”, which has welcomed guests for more than 600 years. Savour the taste and variety of their hearty fare, such as “Kasspatzln” – literally ‘little cheese sparrows’, a kind of soft egg noodle or dumpling mixed with grated cheese, oven-baked and sprinkled with fried onion. Served in quaint, timber-panelled parlours this and more Tirolean staples are a savoury delight to remember! Karl Ganzer, composer of the world famous Kufstein Lied, loved this place, too, and spent many an hour there, singing his famous song.
From one parlour, visitors can catch a glimpse of “Stollen 1930”, a stylish temple for night owls and gin enthusiasts. 823 varieties of noble spirit are available in the tunnel bar—and soon there will be 888.
There’s even more to discover at Auracher Löchl: A tiny bridge spans Römerhofgasse Lane, connecting Auracher Löchl to Hotel Träumerei #8 (the former Auracher Löchl Hotel). It has the world’s smallest restaurant built into it and is surely one of the most romantic bridges in the world—and the perfect spot to propose over a sumptuous 5 course dinner menu. If you wish to do so, reserve a table at least one month ahead, as the bridge restaurant is much in demand.
Next to the Auracher Löchl Inn is where you will find the memorial dedicated to one of Kufstein’s most famous sons: In 1946, Karl Ganzer composed the praises of Kufstein in his worldwide hit yodelling melody ‘Perle Tirols’ (The Pearl of Tyrol).
From Römerhofgasse, it’s a short stroll to Kufstein Fortress. Since 1931, the Citizens’ Tower at Kufstein Fortress has been home to the world’s largest outdoor organ, named the Heroes’ Organ. The sound created by this remarkable instrument is heard for miles.
The organ is played daily at 12 noon (and additionally at 6:00pm in July and August). With its 4,307 pipes and 46 registers, it’s the largest open-air organ in the world. The concert is best enjoyed from the covered forecourt where you can watch organ player Hans Berger at work—and if you ask kindly he will play your favourite song. This very day, he was playing a piece of music especially for a lady from the Netherlands. Since 2009, he has been playing the daily organ concert alternately with his son Johannes and two other musicians. The concert takes about 20 minutes and always is rounded out by “Der gute Kamerad” (“The good Comrade”).
Accessible by a spectacular glassy funicular, the fortress is the town’s foremost attraction, and for good reason. Since the thirteenth century, Austria and Bavaria had been fighting for the fortress. Emperor Maximilian I. finally succeeded in taking possession of the castle. In 1504, he besieged the castle and attacked the Bavarians with two cannons named Purlepaus and Weckauf that were brought to Kufstein from Innsbruck on a raft floating down the Inn River. After the conquest, Emperor Maximilian had the castle converted into the mighty fortress you see today.
In the course of the centuries, the cliff-top fortress was a pivotal point of defence for both Bavaria and Tirol during the struggles and as well served as a prison. Today, the fortress is the town’s foremost attraction, and for good reason. The museum within offers not only eye-opening historical insights, but a stunning view over the town and nearby mountains. Moreover, it is a popular location for exhibitions, concerts and theater performances.
Situated outside the historic old town is the delightful Kaffeehaus Bohne: Located in a 270-year old gatekeepers lodge that has been restored with much love for the detail, this lovely café offers a rewarding refuelling retreat for (window) shoppers. The hidden sun patio is an idyllic location to sit and watch the world go by. By the way, they roast their own coffee beans and it tastes delicious.
Exclusive Riedel glassware adds a dash of sophistication to any table: The Austrian glass company is practically synonymous with finest handcrafted wine glasses, having designed and produced to bring forth the aromas of specific wines. The Riedel Glass Blowing Works in Kufstein is a rewarding and inspiring destination, where visitors get in close contact to the 2,000-year old art of glass blowing.
A Kufstein highlight in the true sense of the word is the “Kaiserlift” Chair Lift: One of the last one-passenger chair lifts in the country was refurbished in 2015 and takes visitors atop Brentenjoch Col in 25 minutes. The ride is a great chance to wind down and recharge your batteries.
Atop the mountain, it’s time to catch my breath (not from climbing), but from watching a continuous reel of premiere showings starring Inntal Valley below and views into Germany. As if that wasn’t enough to slack my jaw, jagged and rugged Wilder Kaiser Mountain Range captivates me. Scanning the horizon I can even see a lake close to Kufstein. Is this the beautiful Hechtsee Lake?
The Kaiser Mountain Range has been a Nature Reserve since 1963. The Kaiserlift is the one and only chair lift operating in the protected area. Walking here means having plenty of wonderful experiences at the heart of nature.
Kaisertal, a striking mountain valley, lies within the Kaiser Nature Reserve and, until 2008, could only be reached on foot. The most frequently used approach route runs from Ebbs near Kufstein into the valley. The Kaisertal was the last inhabited valley in Austria without a road link. For reasons of nature conservation, the road is only to be used by residents and entitled ones. A rewarding place to stop for a rest in Kaisertal Valley is Pfandlhof Inn.
Somewhat beneath the chair lift’s top terminal, situated at an elevation of 1,200 meters, is Brentenjoch Alpine Pasture Hut: A beautiful cabin surrounded by Alpine pastures and meadows brimming with wildflowers, mountains, woodland and gushing streams. Leni Kaindl, who has been running the Brentenjoch Hut for many years, offers me a hearty charcuterie platter. The sound of cowbells adds to the ambiance and I wonder if I should get back there next weekend: Every Saturday, Leni makes her delicious “Kiachl” and “Zillertal Krapfen”.
A scattering of small villages surrounds Kufstein, connecting the Kaiser Mountain Range Nature Reserve in the east with the lakes and rolling hills to the west. Most prominent is the village of Erl, home of the beloved and intimate Tirol Festival Erl, which focuses on the music of Richard Wagner. The festival draws an enthusiastic crowd of classical music connoisseurs during both its summer and winter seasons. A creative culinary experience awaits diners at Gasthaus Blaue Quelle in Erl.