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Footloose in Innsbruck

Strolling Backward Through Seven Centuries

November 01, 1987|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

INNSBRUCK, Austria — This was Maria Theresa's favorite city. That should be temptation enough for any Hapsburg buff interested in taking a stroll backward in time through the seven centuries during which this redoubtable clan more or less ruled Austria and much of Central Europe with unbridled splendor and panache.

The briefest of walks through narrow streets of the Old Town will unfurl innumerable glories of the empire's progress: medieval arcades of its 13th-Century Romanesque beginnings; the 16th-Century "Little Golden Roof," the town trademark that's Gothic in style but rising in Renaissance frivolity; a Baroque cathedral, and the 18th-Century facade of Heiblinghaus, so rococo that it makes a wedding cake look dowdy.

Innsbruck is now the capital of the Tirol, a separate country from 1248 until 1363, and its residents still have the independent nature of mountain folks.

Innsbruck has succeeded in maintaining a dual personality: all the smart shops, cultural events, fine hotels and dining of a modern city, yet with radiant geraniums spilling from window boxes in an Alpine-village fashion, and ski slopes minutes away in mountains that seem to hang precipitously above the town.

Here to there: Fly Pan Am, TWA or several foreign carriers into Munich. From there it's little more than an hour by car or bus down the autobahn to Innsbruck. Or fly to Vienna and take Tyrolean Airways onward.

How long/how much? Give the city two days, a week if you're using it as a center for skiing slopes made famous by the 1964 and 1976 Olympics. Lodging and dining prices are moderate for a top resort.

A few fast facts: Austria's schilling recently traded at 12.75 to the dollar, worth about 0.078 each. Visit any time of year--snow begins to fly in October, skiing soon after. Walk the Old Town and Maria Theresien Strasse, the main street, excellent bus and tram system throughout town and to neighboring slopes.

Getting settled in: Weisses Kreuz (Herzog-Friedrich Strasse 31; $61-$70 B&B double) is under those medieval arcades at center of Old Town, beginning life as an inn in 1465. Young Mozart and his father stayed here three centuries later and left praising the "nice atmosphere." That it is, being about as Tirolean as you can get in decor and feeling. Good dining rooms with typical food, sidewalk cafe.

Gasthof Weisses Rossl (Kiebachgasse 8; $66 B&B double) opened half a century earlier than above and has a modest lobby with a few antiques, small, simple and bright bedrooms and a kitchen renowned all over town for its gemutlichkeit menu. The owners couldn't be friendlier.

Gasthof Weisses Lamm (Mariahilstrasse 12; $41 B&B) is a simple place at town center with a fine view of the Inn River. Rooms neat and adequate, sparkling baths, a lobby-restaurant with local sports team pictures on walls, Tirolean country music on the radio, sturdy daily menu for $7.

Schwarzer Adler (Kaiserjagerstrasse 2; $63-$110 B&B double, depending on season) has charming rooms in Tirolean style, tiny inner patio for a quiet coffee, wonderful antique furnishings and two excellent restaurants. It's a member of the Romantik Hotels group and certainly merits the honor.

Regional food and drink: We've often wondered why Wiener schnitzel in Austria was a totally different dish from breaded veal elsewhere in the world, and it took a Hungarian countess to straighten us out. It must be fried only in lard, never butter or oil, she said, and on Sunday mornings you can hear the veal being pounded into tenderness all over Innsbruck. So treat yourself and don't count calories.

Grostl, a mixture of beef and fried potatoes, is another Tirolean diet buster, while the region abounds in fresh game during season, blue trout from mountain streams and a steady flow of knodlen, the dumplings gracing half the plates on any menu. Dig yourself into a bauernschmaus, a "farmer's feast" loaded with three or more kinds of meat, sauerkraut and delicious dumplings, and you may never dig yourself out.

Austrian beer goes well with everything, dry white wines quite good but still a bit fruity, the reds making progress from days when we lived in Austria and thought little of them.

Moderate-cost dining: Hotel Goldener Adler (Herzog-Friedrich Strasse 6) has four atmospheric restaurants and stuben plus an outdoor cafe, all highly regarded for their kitchen and broad menus.

You'll find Tirolean fare as well as Italian cucina casalinga and Swiss fondues. Fillets of venison, chamois, brochettes of stag with juniper and spatzle or wild duck are best bets for game dishes. Goldener Adler, opened in 1390, has bedrooms at high-moderate cost.

Bergrestaurant Hinterhornalm (12 miles from town on the scenic Gnadenwalder Hohenstrasse) is the perfect place for a mountaintop lunch topped with a short walk to a mountain hut for a glass of wine.

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