The discreet charm of Kufsteinerland

A visit to the small gem in Tirol, halfway between Innsbruck and Salzburg. A small village with big records

03-06-2019

You often need to get off the beaten track to find the unexpected. You’re not even looking for it, but then it’s there, a passionate land still holding tight to its roots and ancient traditional recipes. It doesn’t take long to notice that while everyone knows Innsbruck, only a minority knows of the existence of Kufstein which, with its 20 thousand inhabitants, is the second largest town in Austrian Tyrol.

An important crossroads, halfway between Innsbruck and Salzburg and 90 km from Munich. You can get there easily from Italy, driving from Brennero (it’s 120 km away) or by train using the rigorous Db, the German railway company, from Verona and Bologna.

In Kufstein there’s everything: the mountains in the background, the beautiful lake, the slow river Inn flowing by, and the steel pact made with other 7 minuscule villages, one after the other, forming Kufsteinerland, whose name already gives you an idea of a magical land. It’s when you pass across them that you notice how from Ebbs to Erl, from Langkampfen to Schwoich, from Niederndorf to Thiersee, from Bad Haring to Niederndoferberg, there’s a strong liaison: one for all, and all for one. 

A LAND OF PASSION 
This is confirmed every summer by the Passionsspiele, a top event in the cultural calendar. It’s the representation of the Passion of Christ and attracts visitors from all over the world who compete for a place in one of the 25 shows in the theatre built especially for this show in 1958. The work involves some 300 local extras who follow strict rules, the most curious of which is that men cannot shave their beard for 6 months.

In 2012 they built another marvellous state-of-the-art theatre, the Festspielhaus Erl, whose programme includes opera, theatre and dance shows of the highest quality. An investment with multiple zeros, but it’s already fantastic just to visit it, with its brilliant layout, perfect acoustics, a play on wood and a refined design. There’s also an internal costume designer, something one wouldn’t event expect from La Scala, with all the creations shown in a parade of colours, materials, sizes and accessories. 

The fortress and the organ at the bottom 

The fortress and the organ at the bottom 

You first taste Kufstein in small doses, and then it becomes natural to gorge yourself on it, always feeling safe thanks to the fortress towering over the town. According to the literature, it was already present in 1205 and was considered one of the most important Medieval strongholds protecting Austria. The passing of time has left it in its place, with a few additions, like the lift and an incredible organ which earned the World Guinness Record for the largest outdoor organ. The organ of Heroes, built in 1931 in memory of the victims of World War 1, has 4,948 canes and 65 registers. Every day at noon it is actioned, played by Hans Berger in turn with his son: a dominating sound that can be heard up to 6 km away.

800 LABELS OF GIN 
There’s another “piece” of Kufstein that holds a Guinness: it’s the Stollen 1930, the gin bar with the largest selection, with over 800 different labels. Even just entering the place is an experience. It’s a cave hand-carved in the mountain. In the past, it served as a cellar for beer. Dim lights, loud music, a chattering that becomes louder as people drink more and more gin, a large horseshoe shaped counter and, all around, bottles coming from all around the world.

Stollen 1930

Stollen 1930

The idea of the place came to two friends, Richard Hirschhuber and Martin Gasteiger, who in London in 2012 on a night soaking in whisky, thought of giving an alternative to the offer of aperitifs. After two years their dream came true and they turned into gin hunters with a bottle still to be caught: one coming from the Arctic Circle. A few metres from the Stollen 1930 there’s another record-place, so it comes natural to wonder how can it be that there’s such a concentration of uniqueness in such a miniscule village in Austrian Tirol. 

A GUINNESS DINNER
You’ll be charmed, when you look up at the Auracher Loechl, the most ancient restaurant in Kufstein, with a spectacular feature: it’s the smallest hanging restaurant in the world. A restaurant within a restaurant, since Auracher Loechl is a network of rooms with typical wood furniture and a menu that doesn’t betray the culinary fame of Tirol.

The idea of the Tiroler Tapas (for at least two people) is brilliant. It includes, in a sort of Spanish-style tasting, the best local specialties in generous portions. Goulash, spaetzle, knödel, the classic cutlet, ribs and pork shin, as well as local cheese and cured meat. But the real “specialty” of this place, is the romantic restaurant hanging over Romerhofgasse, inside an arched bridge that joins two Medieval buildings.

Auracher Loechl 

Auracher Loechl 

Only one table, with a long waiting list. Here couples come for a candlelight dinner, often paired with a wedding proposal. Every detail is romantic, and an old record player plays the best soundtrack... One of the doors at one end leads to the bedroom, usually booked together with the dinner. 

But before that, there’s always a glass of schnapps to ease digestion. And as in Austria there’s no monopole when it comes to spirits, there are dozens of craft options with products of proud quality. Indeed, homemade schnapps in Tirol is something easy to be authorised: you just need a garden with an orchard, you must register in the specific office and guarantee the production will not exceed 100 litres.

HOME DISTILLERIES 
Indeed schnapps is considered the gold of Kufsteinerland, presented to tourists with guided tastings and tasting classes where they can learn this ancient art. We tasted the schnapps from Albert Schmider, an ex-engineer from Siemens who when his father died, decided to follow the family passion in a house which is a jewel nestled in the 16th Century.

Schmider’s schnapps laboratory 

Schmider’s schnapps laboratory 

Here you can taste all sorts of schnapps, from the classic ones with apple, pears, plums, apricots, gentian to the more daring ones, with exotic fruits. For the upcoming summer, Kufsteinerland has focused a lot on local delicacies, on a series of food events that will make many tourists joyful. Here are some options.

Natur.Küche Kufsteinerland (from May 3rd to September 13th)
Once a month, in Kufsteinerland they organise an unusual dinner, the Natur.Kuche, in a magic place with a special menu. It can be in an ancient mountain house, in the fortress, in an attic: it’s never a traditional restaurant. The location (and menu) are revealed only at the last moment to only 20 participants. A 4-course dinner, including wine, with typical local ingredients, is offered for the price of 65 euros.

Wine Festival Kufstein (July 12th-13th)
White, red, and rosé wines, fruity, velvety, flowery. The Wine Festival is located in Kufstein, surrounded by the mountains of Kaisergebirge and the austere fortress. The added value is that in Kufstein there’s the most famous factory of glasses in the world: Riedel Glass Kufstein. Hence the wine is served in the perfect glass, with a shape specifically designed to enhance its scents, including the wines brought from twin cities like Langenlois and Rovereto. Free entrance, starting from 5 pm, at the City Park Kufstein with live music.

Behind the scenes (September 2nd) 
Traditional Tirolean specialties, alpine recipes and the aroma of bread. The 12th of September is the occasion to enter the small workshops of Niederndorf and see how they make their various handcrafts. Every entrepreneur searches a "culinary ally" to surprise visitors with regional delicacies on top of their production. So it may well happen that there’s a gourmet chef cooking in the workshop of a carpenter. A festival showcasing the gastronomy and craftmanship of the eight villages of Kufsteinerland.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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