The sound of alpine silence

We head into the Austrian mountains to discover peaceful resorts with a side of luxury


The hills were alive with the sound of music - odd, as when I stopped to listen, there was only the faint tinkle of a distant cowbell.

Welcome to the Austrian Tyrol - land of glorious contradictions. That sense of music filling meadows which are actually distinguished by the blessed sound of silence is only the half of it.

There's the fact that the mountain resorts are feted as a dazzling white winter wonderland, yet in summer, when their peaks are verdant and spilling with wildflowers, they are the most beautiful place on earth. And that locals who seem so sophisticated on the surface are almost certainly hiding shmaltzy lederhosen, dirndls and feathered hats in their closets to bring out for traditional celebrations.

Even the Hotel Tannenhof, St Anton's most luxe hostelry, is a contradiction. A chalet with typical carved wooden balconies on the outside, inside it has been converted into a palace fit for oligarchs. Indeed, Russian oligarchs do frequent this hotel where there are no rooms, only a few sumptuous apartments kitted out with every imaginable luxury except a kitchen.

That's not needed because chef James Barron, a Brit trained at the Fat Duck, is turning out Michelin-star quality food downstairs in the restaurant.

Getting there

easyJet flies direct to Innsbruck from London Gatwick, with returns starting from around £58 in October.
Double rooms at the Hotel Tannenhof start from €550 (around £465) per night, including breakfast, use of spa and in-suite coffee and snacks.
Visit for more information about Innsbruck's synagogue


I spent a great deal of time marvelling at the toys in my apartment - a corner fireplace in the huge sitting room freshly laid up with logs every night, the free-standing bathtub in the limestone bathroom, which also had a walk-in rainfall shower, the enormous bedroom with valley view, the coffee corner with not only an espresso machine but a bevy of home-made treats from the chef - before turning my attention to the greatest wonder of all, a balcony with chairs and table from which to enjoy the stunning mountain vista and the odd cowbell.

Not that the Tannenhof encourages undue lolling; in winter it is a hive of skiing activity, with everything laid on from skis to cable-cars, and in summer it promotes both hiking in the mountains with a guide and mountain top yoga on the terrace of the hotel's own "mountain hut" - actually a fully-furnished duplex hideaway which would be perfect for honeymooners.

The hotel itself has a sumptuous spa, featuring an outdoor and indoor sauna, each with a valley view, an exquisite indoor pool with a wave machine and excellent therapists who deliver massages not least an exclusive treatment using local silver quartzite, a stone reputed to have healing qualities.

St Anton is apparently popular with Charedi families in summer, who come from all over the world to introduce their offspring to each other - curious, as there is no synagogue. However, there is a small but beautifully-formed shul in Innsbruck, the gateway town just an hour away by road or train, one of the most scenic rail journeys it's possible to make, and therefore great that Austrian Railways still field old-fashioned observation cars with huge panoramic windows.

Innsbruck itself is a perfect chocolate-box town of colourful buildings and charming squares, with sights of the mountains down every street.

Jews worked here in the 13th century as toll-collectors (the town is very close to the borders of both Switzerland and Italy's South Tirol region). But it was not until 1914 that the modern community established a prayer room on Sillgasse, a tiny house of worship which was tragically short-lived.

Four members of the board were murdered in the 1938 pogrom and the building destroyed, although its key was hidden by a gentile neighbour who had faith that this would not be the end of the Jewish presence in Innsbruck.

He was right; few of those deported returned, but one who did was Rudolph Brull. This community elder survived the war with his wife, although tragically their daughter Ilse, who travelled with kindertransport to Holland, died in Auschwitz and is thought of as an Austrian Anne Frank.

Brull, who became president of a new post-war community, silver-plated Ilse's shoes for posterity and they are among touching exhibits in the new synagogue, established in 1993 on the site of the shul which was destroyed. Thanks to Jews moving into the surrounding mountain resorts, the Innsbruck community now numbers 150 members and secretary Anna Pfeifer is happy to show visitors around.

While Innsbruck is a lovely place to stroll around for the day, stopping every now and then for coffee and strudel, its Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art is also worth a visit. Exhibits, which focus heavily on the arts, crafts and costumes of the area, include amazing carved pop-up scenes in miniature and recreations of the cosy wood-panelled parlours which were the heart of the Tyrolean home.

The costumes are gorgeous too; you may never laugh at the concept of lederhosen again, and are bound to come out humming Rodgers and Hammerstein like a regular Von Trapp.

For the Austrian Tyrol is so rich in colour, joie de vivre and that feeling of cosy wellbeing the Austrians call gemutlichkeit, it's no wonder that the hills really do seem to be alive with the sound of music.

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