The Travelers: Myself, DH, DD, and DDog, ex-pats appreciating their life in Austria
Lodging: Hotel Seppl Familie & Spa, just outside Innsbruck in the village of Mutters
We left 2°C Vienna on Friday morning and arrived in 16°C Innsbruck in good order. Blue skies and sunshine, and a light dusting of snow on the Alps—the Tirolean Chamber of Commerce pulled out all the stops for us. We had reserved a suite at the Hotel Seppl (more later on the lodging), and after checking in and leaving our bags we headed for the Hungerberg Christmas Market.
This was our first visit to Innsbruck, and, in fact, our first “holiday” in Austria despite having lived here for two years. Earlier in the summer, en route home from our summer holiday in Provence we spent a brief night in western Tirol and left with a big crush on the region. This short getaway completely won our hearts.
Christmas Markets: Myths and Realities.
The Hungerberg market as described by the Innsbruck Tourism website was to be “A Christmas Market with magnificent views over Innsbruck, a huge range of culinary delights and all kinds of Christmas souvenirs…”
Our Verdict: We most certainly had the magnificent views over Innsbruck! In fact, the views alone are worth the visit. The culinary delights, well, not so much. The market had perhaps a dozen stalls, with two serving Glühwein; one or two stalls offering large puffed fried cakes with sweet toppings; and the remainder indeed offering Christmas souvenirs and gifts. Our advice: come for the view, and a mug of Glühwein and roasted chestnuts, but plan to eat lunch/dinner elsewhere.
It being after 16:00, and our road food lunch long having worn off, we were a bit dismayed with the market culinary offerings. Thankfully there was a nearby Gasthaus open just a few steps from the market. Our weekend package at Hotel Seppl included a five-course dinner each evening, so we all opted for “something light” from the Gasthaus menu. Ha! My simple order of “Speck Brot” (dark bread with Tirolean bacon) could have fed an invading army! Ditto for DH’s order of “Bauern Toast,” two hearty slices of dark bread topped with Tirolean bacon and melted cheese, with a Cheesecake Factory-size salad (or so it seemed)! DD ordered a simple Schnitzel sandwich and just laughed at us. The uneaten largess was thoughtfully packaged for us to take back to the resort.
Saturday began with a swim in the resort’s indoor 32°C pool before breakfast, then it was market time. The first Christmas market of the day was the Christmas Market at Marktplatz, which also happens to be the location of Innsbruck’s weekend Farmer’s Market. The Christmas Market description reads: “This traditional, cozy, Tyrolean village-style market is an experience the whole family will love. The huge range on offer, including a puppetshow, storytelling, pony rides, petting zoo and nostalgic carousel is sure to impress visitors young and old alike. The real eye-catcher though is the glittering, over 14 metre-high Swarovski crystal tree, which this year welcomes a new star. More than 60 stalls selling Christmas products and a variety of delicious delicacies add to the market’s appeal and make it a popular meeting place.”
Our Verdict: Absolutely delightful! The setting along the Inns River; the giant Swarovski tree twinkling in the sun; and the crowded lanes offering foods and gifts so different from the markets in Vienna filled us with Christmas cheer. The market’s location, adjacent to the Farmer’s Market, also allowed me to dilly-dally at the Bretagne Stall (and fill my tote with sweets and cheeses) and to purchases sausages to bring home. DH and DDog were most happy to remain outside basking in the sun, though DDog really wanted to visit the ponies. Had we just been visiting on a regular weekend, my visit to the Farmer’s Market would have resulted in much, much more to drag home.
Leaving the market we found ourselves entering the “Fairy Tale and Giant’s Alley” of “Innsbruck’s Traditional Market,” set in the Old Town. The tourism website writes, “On a stroll through the market with over 70 stalls, you will find Christmas tree decorations, arts and crafts and a few curiosities. A visit to the viewing platform over the hut rooftops or the enchanting “Fairy Tale and Giants‘ Alley” is an absolute must.”
Our Verdict: The crowds along the old medieval lanes were dense. Neither we, nor DDog, appreciated being jostled and bumped and pushed as we tried to enjoy the stalls and the decorations. All we recall are Speck and Käse huts, a Schneeball stall (yum!), handmade and typical glass ornaments, and several stalls offering woolen items. The viewing platform was a mob-scene, and to be honest, probably makes for better viewing in the evening when the lights are twinkling. The food stalls were four-persons deep to order wurst, so we moved along through the Hofburg, past a small flea market (where I failed to bargain successfully for an old set of cow bells, alas.) in search of something else for lunch. It being that we live in Austria, a paper plate with sliced wurst, mustard, and bread is a bit, “been there, done that.”
By mid-afternoon we had made our way to the fourth market, Innsbruck’s “Modern Christmas Market,” described as “… an avenue of glittering illuminated trees, with modern lighting design and vivid mountain crystal, giving this Christmas market a very special flair. At the 30 stalls you will find an exciting array of international Christmas products and all manner of delicious treats. It’s clear to see the world comes to Innsbruck! “
Our Verdict: We can’t speak to the glittering trees, as it was daytime; though, there were several metallic trees wrapped in twinkle lights waiting for twilight, no doubt. This market offered, by far, the most international offerings in terms of food and gifts; many unusual items in wood, glass, and leather that we thought would delight even the pickiest gift recipient. Walking about was blissful, as the market is set up along a wide pedestrian shopping street; we could walk all abreast, and DDog had a clear view of the fiakers that ferried visitors around.
At this point we were tired and laden with a few parcels, so we cheated and went back for the car to drive the few blocks to the market I was most anticipating, at Wiltener Platzl. Described as, “Treats from Sardinia, a puppet theatre, organic glühwein and mini concerts – the Wilten Christmas Market is as varied as life and as contemplative as the Advent period! The assortment offered by the market stalls at Wiltener Platz provides a welcome break from the fast pace of the holiday season: here you will find real handicrafts, the finest cuisine and a handpicked cultural programme, all in a very small setting.”
Our Verdict: I think we found an alternative, or parallel, Wilten Christmas Market! There were seven stalls, five of which served Glühwein and powdered cakes; the remaining two stalls offered an odd assortment of wood etchings and upcycled tchotchke, none of which seemed to be Sardinian in origin. Either we stumbled upon the wrong market, or the Innsbruck Tourism website completely mislead us.
By this point it was approaching late afternoon, yet there was warm sun and waning daylight to be enjoyed. Remembering something I had read about Hall in Tyrol, just a few kilometers from Innsbruck, we drove over to the pretty and rather charming village for a look-see, which just happened to have its Advent Market set up inside the old city walls! Lucky us! I found holiday cards, handmade wreaths for the house, Italian cheeses and sausages, and a few ornaments for our tree. There were pony rides through the town (DDog loved sniffing noses with the ponies!), and even a “camel,” though we did not spy the dromedary. Add to that the aroma of roasting chestnuts and Glühwein, and it was a beautiful finish to our day. By this point we were thoroughly exhausted, and the call of the hotel pool (for DD) and Finnish sauna (for us) was strong. We made haste for Innsbruck and enjoyed some downtime before dinner, agreeing that the weekend had been great fun.
Lodging Notes. The Hotel Seppl was perfect for us. Located a few minutes outside of Innsbruck, and with a convenient train stop almost at the doorstep to whisk one into the city. We opted to drive simply for convenience and because DDog was with us. Our weekend package included a small suite with a balcony overlooking the mountains, and an “extended half-board” of breakfast and a five-course dinner each evening. Use of the pool, sauna, and an “Emperor’s Grotto” was complimentary and most appreciated. With the weather being so pleasant, we slept with a few windows open, and savored the morning cup of coffee on the balcony. What a treat for late November.
The Food. Each night the first course salad was buffet, with simple and very fresh offerings typical of Central Europe (beets, cucumbers, eggs, potato salad, and so forth). The second courses were a consommé with bacon dumpling and kurbiscreme suppe (pumpkin crème soup). Both presentations were beautiful; the flavors light but satisfying. The third courses included a Tirolean style ravioli filled with leeks and a light cheese, and salmon roulades atop my favorite Vogerl salad and other field greens. The Tirolean ravioli was outstanding. On our first evening the main course was a choice between cumin roasted pork and salmon with pumpkin risotto. DH had the salmon, and DD and I chose the roast pork. The second evening entrée choices were saddle of pork with peppercorn sauce or venison roast with juniper sauce. DH and DD chose the pork; I selected the venison. Everything from the presentation to the portion to the flavor was in perfect balance. We passed on dessert the first evening because of our late “light” lunch; on the second evening the dessert was another appropriately sized dish of chocolate mousse and small cut of strawberry cake. In addition to the quality of the food, I was impressed with how the chef created an everlasting meal throughout the weekend: the unused pumpkin from Friday evening’s risotto became pumpkin crème soup the following night; and the leftover smoked salmon appeared at breakfast the following morning, with caper berries and lemon, and so forth. Impressive.
We departed Innsbruck on Sunday morning, bemoaning what we hadn’t time to see or do, and with plans to return. We (heart) the Tirol!
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Innsbruck, How We Loved Thee: A Long Christmas Market Weekend
The Travelers: Myself, DH, DD, and DDog, ex-pats appreciating their life in Austria