Majestic Mont Blanc in France

MONT-BLANC, FRANCE: Finally, we were lucky to get a glance of the sheer beauty of majestic Mont Blanc right before leaving Europe. Mont Blanc, meaning the “White Mountain”, is the highest peak of the Alps and in the European Union. Situated on Mont Blanc massif in the southern region of France, this is known as the roof of Europe. It stands boldly and solemnly looking over the whole continent.

Looking at Mont Blanc (can't really see the peak because of thick clouds)

Looking at Mont Blanc (can’t really see the peak because of thick clouds)

This is a popular destination for those mountaineers, hikers, climbers, snowboarders, and skiers. I myself is not that brave nor fit for those sports. So I enjoyed looking at Mont Blanc from the peak adjacent to it, Aiguille du Midi…which most of the tourist do here.

There are different levels of difficulties for hiking and mountain biking along many different routes. You can’t really go on top of the summit of Mont Blanc unless you are an experienced climber and high altitude doesn’t bother you.

Mont Blanc massif, layers of majestic Alps in Southern France

Mont Blanc massif, layers of majestic Alps in Southern France

We reached Chamonix from Annecy in the morning, parked near the cable-car station, and went off toward the ticket office from where our thrilling journey to the Alps began.

TIME of TRAVEL: This was our last road trip before leaving Europe for good. Therefore, it’s a memorable trip for our whole family. And we couldn’t leave Europe before visiting the highest peak of the Alps…it would be simply unethical. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp, Belgium also joined us in this trip. We drove from Tervuren, Belgium to our hotel in Annecy on a nice Friday of July 2014. On the 2nd day, we drove another hour on scenic highway to reach Chamonix for this trip.

On the scenic highway from Annecy to Chamonix in France

On the scenic highway from Annecy to Chamonix in France

One piece of advice I want to give all of you who want to visit Mont Blanc, is that wear closed toe shoes and bring enough winter clothes with you for this trip, even if you are here in the middle of the summer. I saw some people they were not prepared and started complaining when they were up on the summit of Aiguille du Midi. You won’t enjoy anything if you are not properly dressed…so take it seriously.

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was not in or near Chamonix. We stayed in Annecy, about an hour drive from Mont Blanc. It was “Sejours & Affaires Pont Neuf – Cran Gevrier” somewhat close to Annecy Old Town. The hotel (which was more like a hostel) didn’t have 24-hour reception service. That was not a problem although we reached there really late at night (they left the keys in a safe-box for us). Good part of this place that we had a small kitchen and a balcony. We also had free Wi-Fi and parking. Annecy, situated by Lake Annecy, itself is a stunning town and is known as The Venice of France. Spare a day if you can for this little town and you won’t regret it for a second.

EATING and SHOPPING: Chamonix is a good place for all your meals and souvenirs at reasonable price. Things are more expensive on the mountain summits. May be it’s not a bad idea to buy some sandwiches and drinks before getting on the cable car. For souvenirs, there was a big store near the ticket office in Chamonix.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We arrived in Chamonix from Annecy around 10-ish in the morning. After spending a whole day on Mont Blanc massif, we were down in the parking lot around 6 or 6:30pm. But then again we spent about an hour in Chamonix too (which will be my next post).

There are two sections of the “Telepherique” that takes you up to the summits from Chamonix: first one was from Chamonix to Plan de L’Aiguille and the next one was all the way up to the upper station of Aiguille du Midi.

Cable car that connects Plan de Aiguille and Aiguille du Midi in Mont Blanc, France

Cable car that connects Plan de Aiguille and Aiguille du Midi in Mont Blanc, France

1) PLAN de L’AIGUILLE: With tickets in our hands we hurried to the line for the next cable-car. We saw couple cable cars leaving with many eager tourists in front of us. Five of us squeezed into that machine when our turn came. I am thinking in my head, hopefully it will take us safely to our next stop, Plan de L’Aiguille. For the next five minutes, we soared over a forest to reach the summit.

Plan de Aiguille on Mont Blanc massif in France

Plan de Aiguille on Mont Blanc massif in France

 

Plan de L’Aiguille is 2317 meters (or 7602 ft) above sea level. From the plain, view of the glaciers, valley, peaks, and endless layers of mountains are truly admirable. Loved breathing fresh air and looking over lush greenery from here. There is a small bar and souvenir shop up on Plan de L’Aiguille where you can get light snacks, hot drinks, and generic souvenirs. Take a look around, if you are lucky like us, you may see some donkeys chewing on the fresh mountain grass. We didn’t see any snow here, nor was it chilly.

Enjoying the valley, mountains, fresh air, and whole surroundings from Plan de Aiguille (Mont Blanc, France)

Enjoying the valley, mountains, fresh air, and whole surroundings from Plan de Aiguille (Mont Blanc, France)

2) AIGUILLE du MIDI: From Plan de L’Aiguille we took another 5 minutes cable-ride to Aiguille du Midi which is another mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. The upper station of Aiguille du Midi is 3842 meters (12,602 ft) above sea-level. Now we were at the heart of high mountains. In 1949, this cabin linked the summit of Aiguille du Midi with the Plan de L’Aiguille for the first time. It holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. The distance between these two points is about 5 km (3.1 miles).

 

Looking up at Aigulle du Midi from Plan de Aiguille (in Mont Blanc, France)

Looking up at Aigulle du Midi from Plan de Aiguille (in Mont Blanc, France)

After reaching Aiguille du Midi, first thing we did was that we ran to a kiosk to buy tickets for Chamonix Panoramic Aerial Tramway. It’s a one hour ride over the Mont Blanc massif. Thanks to this aerial tramway that we were able to cross a massive stretch of snow valley, glacier, deep ice caves, and…hikers/climbers on the ground (yikes). There are some classic climbing routes to the summit of Mont Blanc. Of course you got to be a highly experienced mountain climber or hiker (who is also used to this altitude) to come here and climb the highest peak of the Alps.

Looking at the hikers and climbers on Mont Blanc massif from our tramway

Looking at the hikers and climbers on Mont Blanc massif from our tramway

The best part of this ride is that it takes you to the Italian side of the Alps. It connects Aiguillle du Midi with Pointe Helbronner in Italy without making a stop on the Italian part (yes, you actually cross the French border and take a peek at the Italian Alps). The cable ride opened in 1958. Only 4 people can fit in each cable, making it perfect for our family. Make sure to take this tram-ride over the glorious Alps when you are here in summer…a thrilling and adventurous journey you should not miss.

The panoramic telepherique tramway connects Aiguille du Midi (French Alps) and Pointe Helbronner (Italian Alps)

The panoramic telepherique tramway connects Aiguille du Midi (French Alps) and Pointe Helbronner (Italian Alps)

After some aerial Alps experience, we came back to the Aiguille summit. It has a panoramic viewing platform, café, shop, exhibitions. On a clear day, you can see the Black Forest, central mountain ranges, and other major summits of the Alps from the terrace. Be stunned by the jaw-dropping view of the French, Swiss, and Italian summits. After the terrace, we went to check out “Step into the Void”. “Step into the Void” is a small cube glass sky-walk which guarantees 100% thrills and offers an unforgettable experience with 1035 meters void straight beneath your feet thru the glass box on snow-covered mountains.

Glacier, valley, peaks of Mont Blanc massif

Glacier, valley, peaks of Mont Blanc massif

Make sure to spend at least couple hours here on top of Aiguille du Midi. Ticket per adult from Chamonix to all the way up to Aiguille du Midi (round trip) is 55 euros. The tramway to Pointe Helbronner is 25 euros (if I can remember correctly). The weather changes drastically from Plan de L’Aiguille to Aiguille du Midi. Even in July, it was very cold and windy. We saw thick snow and ice on the ground. Tourists should have plenty of winter clothes for this summit because it’s a lot cold and windy up here.

 

Annecy – The Venice of France

ANNECY, FRANCE: Located in the north of French Alps, Annecy is known as “the Venice” of France. Small canals and streams branching out of Lake Annecy dissect and run thru this medieval town in many parts. Its thriving center is magnificently situated among mountains, lake, old quarters, and historic buildings that never fails to captivate its visitors. Surrounded by the majestic Alps, this place is gaining popularity among those who come to visit Mont Blanc…the highest peak of the Alps.

Appealing Annecy, "The Venice" of France by the Alps

Appealing Annecy, “The Venice” of France by the Alps

Annecy boasts of having a past which goes back much further than that of most other towns in the French Alps. Romans developed settlement here after the mid-1st century AD but the town gained importance after the destruction of older Annecy-le-Vieux. The city fell under the counts of Geneva when they settled here in 1219. The golden age of Annecy started from the 16th century when River Thiou (which runs through the city) became a motor of artisan development. Its town center was built around a 14th century castle.

Other Alpine cities like Geneva or Chamonix are very close. Also check out nearby villages for day-trips…can’t go wrong with them.

TIME of TRAVEL: This was our last road trip before leaving Europe for good. Therefore, it’s a memorable trip for our whole family. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp, Belgium also joined us in this trip. We drove from Tervuren, Belgium to our hotel in Annecy on a nice Friday of July 2014. It was a scenic 5/6 hours of drive.

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was not really in Annecy but in Cran Gevrier. It was “Sejours & Affaires Pont Neuf – Cran Gevrier”. The hotel doesn’t have 24-hour reception service. That was not a problem although we reached there really late at night (they left the keys in a safe-box for us). Good part of this place that we had a small kitchen and a balcony. We also had free Wi-Fi and parking. All the main attractions of Annecy was within walking distance, may be a bit long walk…but it’s doable.

EATING and SHOPPING: There are countless eateries in the old town, may be some of the best ones with some nice view would be by the canals. Many ice-cream parlors, cafes, restaurants of all sorts, and bars make Annecy’s old town a bustling city among the locals and tourists. As for souvenirs, there were plenty of those too. I can’t think of anything particular to buy from here…may be some uniquely shaped beer-glass or Dijon mustard. But t-shirts, key-rings, magnets, post-cards, and other nice trinkets are everywhere.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent a whole day in the old town of Annecy visiting the following sites. While walking we came across lots of historic buildings and monuments left and right. Unlike us, if you have extra days definitely do check out places like Notre-Dame-de-Liesse Church with its 16th century bell tower, former Hotel de Ville, St. Maurice Dominican Church from the 15th century, and surrounding natural beauty.

1) OLD TOWN: This is the main spot to spend time in Annecy and be blown away by its beauty. All the tourist attractions are located here within walking distance from one another. One of the prettiest parts of Annecy is looking at River Thiou running thru the old city. This is one of the shortest rivers in France (only 5 km). Make sure to visit Pont des Amours (Lovers’ Bridge) on Vasse Canal. Electric sluice gates near St. Francois Church control the flow and regulate the level from Annecy Lake. The best picturesque view of the old town can be enjoyed near Palais de I’Ile. Once a prison, the fortified house of Palais de I’Ile resembles a stone boat anchored in the Thiou.

Old Town of Annecy in France

Old Town of Annecy in France

2) PALAIS de I’LLE: Our first stop in Old Town Annecy was Palais de L’Ile. Also known as “The Island Palace”, it was described as a “house in the shape of a galley” in a 17th century manuscript. It was built on a natural rocky island between the canals and is classified as a historical monument of heritage from the Middle Ages. This fortified house was first mentioned in 1325 (the oldest part dating back to the 12th century) and conserved its main function as a prison until 1864. Its current shape of the bow of a ship was doubtlessly built in the 15th Before the palace became a courthouse and prison, it was a coin minting workshop during the 14th century. Walking through the interior of the building, you can discover the history of the Palace on the island and the area around Annecy. Photographs in this museum displays different era of Annecy and surrounding region, mostly in France.

Palais de I'Ille in Annecy, France

Palais de I’Ille in Annecy, France

Visit the dungeons and old hearing room (the oldest part of the building) on the 1st floor. 2nd floor is dedicated to temporary exhibitions in small rooms built with large limestone blocks. The rooms from the coin minting wing illustrate the history of the monetary workshop run by the counts of Geneva. Its internal courtyard has couple tombstones from the early 18th century and forward. The chapel here is very small but has fragments of tomb burial from the 15th century. Many other small details from the bygone centuries on the entrance façade, tower, and staircase also add historic look and feel to this place

Ticket is 3.70 euros per adult for the ticket. We were done in less than an hour.

3) FRANCIS CHURCH: Also called Eglise St. Francois de Sales, was our next stop. It’s a fabulous view and atmosphere as we were walking from the prison to this church. Standing on a bridge (wooden, I think) you get some unparalleled views of Annecy’s old town. Current look of this church is from 1642. In 1923 the church was given to the Italian community of Annecy. It’s free to go in, so don’t miss out visiting a beautiful historic church.

St. Francis Church in Annecy, France

St. Francis Church in Annecy, France

4) QUAI de BAYREAUTH: We crossed a street, walked further down towards Lake Annecy, and there we were standing in Quai de Bayreauth…a magnificent promenade by the lake. Walking alongside the water, looking at the distant mountains, colorful houses, and small communities by the lake were breathtaking. I could spend hours just by sitting there looking at nature and people who were enjoying it.

Quai de Bayreauth - a beautiful place to take a stroll by Lake Annecy in France

Quai de Bayreauth – a beautiful place to take a stroll by Lake Annecy in France

5) ANNECY CHATEAU: It was one hot summer day when we visited Annecy. From Quai de Bayreauth we had to take a break in an ice-cream shop before starting our ascent towards Annecy Castle. This is a historic landmark of the town and a great place to get some panoramic view of Annecy because of its elevated position. The castle ground is not that big and is leisurely doable in couple hours even if you visit every exhibition and read every information board. Standing at one edge of this castle, we got to enjoy a 360 degree view of Annecy, the lake, mountains, and many church steeples.

Entering Annecy Castle which was once the residence of the Counts of Geneva in the 13th and 14th centuries

Entering Annecy Castle which was once the residence of the Counts of Geneva in the 13th and 14th centuries

Classified as a Historical Monument in 1902, Annecy Castle was the residence of the Counts of Geneva in the 13th and 14th centuries. The castle expanded over the next two centuries and gave its current look. Towers were added in the 12th and 14th centuries to strengthen the defensive system. Abandoned as a residence in the 17th century, it was used as military barracks until 1947 and later in 1950s it became a museum.

Ticket is 5.10 euros per person. The castle is up on a small hill and I was a bit tired getting up there on foot (seriously, I was tired from my 10 minutes of hike…bleh).

6) BASILIQUE de la VISITATION: Coming to this basilica was another long walk thru steep and winding paths and climbing many stairs. From the castle, we then walked along Avenue de la Visitation to come to the imposing convent and basilica of the Visitation tower.

Inside Basilique de la Visitation in Annecy, France

Inside Basilique de la Visitation in Annecy, France

Built from 1909 onwards, The Visitation Basilica has been the home to Visitation nuns since 1911. The church was finally finished in the 1930s in Neo-Romanesque style. Inside, stained glass windows illustrate the lives of Francis of Sales and Jane of Chantal. Both were laid to rest in gilt copper sarcophaguses. The esplanade provides lovely views from the top. From here, you can appreciate the beautiful region of Annecy and its development. Inside the basilica is simple but has an elegant altar. Giant marble columns and exquisite stained-glass windows are definitely something to appreciate here.

7) QUAI NAPOLEON III: Parallel to Quai de Bayreauth, this is another promenade by Lake Annecy. We sat down in the park with statues, fountains, benches, and of course breathtaking views of the Alps. My girls were tired…so it was a perfect place to chill and enjoy the surroundings.

Walking along Quai Napoleon III in Annecy, France

Walking along Quai Napoleon III in Annecy, France

The small artificial island in the lake (Ile des Cygnes) looks beautiful with the French Alps in the backdrop. We sat down on the grass for a while. People were padding and canoeing on the blue water while some were enjoying live music in the park (and dancing too). On the edge of the quay a sundial stands from 1822.

A Sundial from 1822 in Quai Napoleon III by Lake Annecy in France

A Sundial from 1822 in Quai Napoleon III by Lake Annecy in France

We walked by the relaxed and beautiful promenade of Les Jardins de l’Europe, crossed Pont des Amours (where you can see love-locks hanging on the bridge railings), and strolled by Promenade Jacquet. Jardins de L’Europe is more like a children’ play area, a landscaped garden planted in 1863. Pont des Amours displays the iron architecture of the early 20th century. It crosses the Vasse canal which gently flows under a romantic vault of planes trees in the direction of a merry-go-round dating from the 1906. It was a late afternoon…the sun was soft. I couldn’t imagine being somewhere else other than here.

Standing on Pont des Amours in Annecy, France

Standing on Pont des Amours in Annecy, France

Highlights of Podgorica, Montenegro

PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO: Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and it has been the capital of Montenegro since the time of Socialist Yugoslavia. Podgorica’s aerial view looked absolutely stunning from the plane as we were getting closer to the airport. We could see Dineric Alps and Skader Lake from the cabin. It was a beautiful landscape overall. But the city itself is not at all a typical European destination that tourists would visit. The lady in our hotel was asking us why we picked Podgorica as there isn’t much to see or do. But there are lots of Montenegrin coastal lines and mountain resorts that attract many tourists in this country. World War II left the city in great destruction and much of its historic Ottoman architecture vanished with bombings. Now it’s a modern planned city with laid back atmosphere.

Looking down at the Alps from our plane before reaching Podgorica Airport in Montenegro

Looking at the Alps from our plane before reaching Podgorica Airport in Montenegro

Podgorica city center is about 45 minutes of drive from the airport. The airport is very small and everything is very conveniently located very close to each other, like customs, baggage claim, and rental car etc. The city doesn’t get lots of tourists since it’s not a typical European tourist destination with many sightseeing spots. Lots of people were looking at us interestingly when they saw we were walking with camera and maps; some groups of kids were very happy to see our daughters and were very friendly with them. They even tried their best to speak in English with us.

Transportation here is very cheap. We had our rental car but since taxi is so cheap, we used that to get to the center all the time, didn’t have to worry about parking and stuff. Food is also cheaper here if you compare with rest of Europe or other Eastern European cities.

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Podgorica during the Easter Break of 2014 in the 1st week of April. Our plan was to mainly explore all the small countries of former Socialist Yugoslavia and Albania.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Hotel BaMBiS in Podgorica. It’s not really in the city center but taxis used to charge use around 2 euros to get to the center point which was about 3kms away. The neighborhood is a quiet one without any restaurants close by. We had to take taxi to the main square for dinners. But it has free parking, Wi-Fi, and excellent breakfast…all included in the price. It’s a 4-star hotel with above average customer service. I would highly recommend to anyone and would stay here again if I ever go back to Podgorica.

EATING and SHOPPING: Since Podgorica doesn’t receive many tourists; we didn’t see any souvenir stores here in the city center or anywhere. I saw in our hotel some beautiful Montenegrin dolls in display but none elsewhere. There are many shops in the pedestrian zone of old town, just be careful when you buy brand name items here, many are not authentic ones.

We had our first dinner in a pizza place by the pedestrian street in old town. There were lots of teenage boys who were asking for food or money from here when we sat down to eat. But the restaurant lady told us not to give them anything; they eventually spend it on drugs. Anyways, our next day lunch was at Carine near Trg Republic. Thanks that it was a pleasant day and we could sit outside. The place had big collection of soup, salad, pasta, and ice cream, cake, and pastries for dessert. Another good place for any meal would be going to Skader Lake. We went there one late afternoon and had some pastry and hot drink by the lake in a restaurant called “Jezero”. You get a very nice view of the lake and mountains.

Chilling by Lake Skader near Podgorica, Montenegro

Chilling by Lake Skader near Podgorica, Montenegro

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Most of the points of interest in Podgorica are near the city center and can be visited on foot. We had roughly a day and half for this city. Without the museums, it took us about couple hours to visit everything in the center. We kept half a day for Skader Lake and that was one good spot not to be missed here.

1) TRG REPUBLIC: It kind of disappointed me but Trg Republic is the main square of the city. It’s a big gathering spot for the locals. Square doesn’t have much to see other than a big fountain in the middle. There are few restaurants at the corners of this square. Haven’t been there at night, may be, the places comes to live at night.

2) MOSKOVSKI BRIDGE and MILLENNIUM BRIDGE: From the pedestrian old town, we walked little bit further towards the river and reached Moskovski Bridge over Moraca River. It’s for pedestrian and people can take the stairs beside the bridge to go down to the river bank. The beautiful modern bridge adjacent to it is the impressive Millennium Bridge. Millennium Bridge looks very photogenic at night when it’s lit up. It’s a nice place to take a stroll at late afternoon.

Millennium Bridge in Podgorica, Montenegro

Millennium Bridge in Podgorica, Montenegro

3) OLD CLOCK TOWER and TURKISH TOWN: The little Turkish town in Podgorica is an old residential place with couple mosques and narrow, curvy streets. An old clock tower also stands at one starting point of the Turkish neighborhood. These mosques are quite old, one we saw from outside was not a working one but the other one was still active. There isn’t much to do here. I was hoping for some Turkish markets but saw nothing other than some old houses and few locals. One local mentioned, about 30 – 40% Muslims of Podgorica live in this neighborhood.

4) SKALINE: This is a really picturesque place and is the confluence of River Ribnica and Moraca. An old Turkish bridge is there over a little stream of Ribnica. There are also some ruins of an old town, some steps, and sitting area near the rivers…a pleasant atmosphere all around. This is definitely a place worth visiting.

Skaine where River Moraca and Ribnica meet in Podgorica, Montenegro

Skaline where River Moraca and Ribnica meet in Podgorica, Montenegro

5) PARLIAMENT and MONUMENT to KING NIKOLA: Montenegrin Parliament is very close to city center. The Parliament building is not that impressive but the park opposite of it is a lovers’ point and a nice place where locals come for picnic or to relax. Monument of King Nikola stands in that park opposite of the parliament.

6) ST. GEORGE’S CHURCH: This Serbian Orthodox church is located on the slope of Gorica Hill where the city got its name from. It’s a 10th century church. Inside is pretty small but nice; loved its peaceful surroundings.

7) WAR MEMORIAL on GORICA HILL: after visiting the church we started climbing the hill little further. It’s a beautiful natural park with lots of trees and bushes. This whole area is a natural reserve, a great place for nature walk, bird watching, and enjoying some moments outside the busy city life. We even saw a little turtle walking on the ground. Little bit more into the park, is a WWII War Memorial. The memorial is not a flashy one; it’s hidden at one side of Gorica Hill where no one really goes. But check out the small hill if you like hiking or taking leisure walks.

WWII War Memorial on Gorica Hill in Podgorica, Montenegro

WWII War Memorial on Gorica Hill in Podgorica, Montenegro

8) SKADER LAKE: This is the largest lake in the Balkans. It took us little more than half an hour to reach a panoramic view point from Podgorica city center. The lake shares its border with Albania too. There is a restaurant called “Jezero” by the lake and opposite of an old monastery. We had some hot drinks and pastries here with an excellent view of the lake and mountains. The restaurant can arrange boat tour on the lake and the visitor center is there too. The water was rough that afternoon, so we skipped boat ride and just sat down by the water for long time enjoying its stunning view.

Skader Lake - the largest lake in the Balkans near Podgorica, Montenegro

Skader Lake – the largest lake in the Balkans near Podgorica, Montenegro

Lessandra Monastery is opposite of this restaurant but we couldn’t make it there because of the road condition. But there are lots of things to do in Skader Lake National Park if you have time and like outdoor activities.

Few Hours in Innsbruck, Austria

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA: Surrounded by the beautiful Alps and its snow-capped peaks, Innsbruck is a place to be at any time of the year. It’s a paradise for winter sports lovers for being surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges. The city is known for alpine sports opportunities, especially in winter. Winter attracts more people in Innsbruck from all around Europe and the world. It hosted couple Winter Olympics before and winter sports are part of this city’s culture and pride.

River Inn running thru Innsbruck with the Alps surrounding the town
River Inn running thru Innsbruck with the Alps surrounding the town
 

For us, we had only few hours here and we stayed mainly in the old town which is an absolute charmer. There are tons of things to do in Innsbruck, especially for energetic athletes. Other than many historic landmarks, middle age buildings in old town, and lively city life, it has the largest ski resort in the Alps.

There is a parking structure very close to the old town where we parked our car. Old town can be covered on foot and you see a lot more doing it that way. If you don’t speak German like me, its ok, all the shops, restaurants, and tourist spots usually have people who speak very good English.

Austrian Alps in Innsbruck
Austrian Alps in Innsbruck
 

TIME of TRAVEL: Innsbruck was the second stop in our winter road trip 2013. We started our journey at the beginning of Christmas break. After visiting two famous castles in Fussen, Germany (first stop of this trip) we crossed into Austrian border the same night, stayed in Mieming (a small Austrian town very close to Innsbruck), and drove to Innsbruck next day for few hours before our next destination to Salzburg.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed about little less than an hour drive from Innsbruck in a tiny town called Mieming. Hotel’s name was Pension Café Seelos. The setting of this accommodation was like right out of a romantic book. Surrounded by the mountains, this homely place is in the middle of a quiet town away from any chaotic environment. It had free breakfast, parking and Wi-Fi with few restaurants within walking distance. We were traveling with my uncle-in-law in this trip. He fell in love with this town and hotel instantly and mentioned few times how he wished he could stay there little longer just to wake up close to the mountains and read books leisurely.

EATING and SHOPPING: There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in the old town of Innsbruck. We finished our lunch in Nord See, which is, I think, a German sea-food chain. It’s more like a fast-food type place with much better options and tastier food. We had some hot dishes but there were many take-away options too, like sandwiches and etc.

Austrian or Tyrolean hats are pretty famous and unique here. They are very elegant looking, sometimes decorated with feathers or ribbons or ropes. Most of the souvenir shops have these hats along with regular t-shirts, key-rings, and other stuff. We saw many unique Christmas decors during our visit. Winter cloth accessories (like woolen gloves and scarfs), Bavarian mugs, cuckoo clocks are some things you can find in the shops here too.

A souvenir shop in Innsbruck old town
A souvenir shop in Innsbruck old town
       

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stopped at Innsbruck on our way to Salzburg and spent few hours just touching only the highlights of this city. Innsbruck has bunch of museums, a zoo, and many historic landmarks within the city limit. If you are more of a nature-lover or like winter sports then you can drive up to the mountains and find some ski resorts. There is also a castle, Schloss Ambras short distance from the city…we haven’t been there but may be worth a visit if you have time.

Innsbruck - a beautiful city by River Inn
Innsbruck – a beautiful city by River Inn
                

1) JESUITKIRCHE (JESUIT CHURCH or UNIVERSITY CHURCH): This was our first stop although wasn’t in the list. The church was erected between 1627 – 1646 with the support of sovereign of Tyrol, Archduke Leopold V, and his wife, Archduchess Claudia de Medici, both of who are buried in the crypt here. It was severely damaged during WWII and looked like a ruin. Much of the interior decoration was lost forever. In 1953 it was newly constructed. Its high dome and white ceiling with detail design are worth seeing.

2) HOFKIRCHE: The Innsbruck Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I is the most important monument in the Tyrol region and the most splendid of all imperial tombs in Europe. It is a product of European courtly art from far more than the German-speaking areas, for which Maximilian I employed the best artists of the period. King Maximilian I’s decorative tomb is enclosed by some real-size bronze statues that show members of different dynasties. It is a gorgeous church with grand interior and a must-see in Innsbruck.

Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I in Innsbruck, Austria
Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I in Innsbruck, Austria
                   

Although we didn’t go to Tyrolean Museum of Popular Art, it is in the same building with Hofkirche. It houses the biggest and most significant cultural heritage collection in Tyrol and offers an insight into the diversity of the arts and crafts from “Land in the Mountains”.

It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 9 to 5 pm and Sundays and holidays from 12:30 to 5 pm. There is a fee to enter the church, but we were there on Christmas Eve and it was free that day.

3) ST. JACOB CATHEDRAL: This is probably the most beautiful church/cathedral in Innsbruck. Few minutes’ walk from Hofkirche, St. Jacob Cathedral is a Baroque style architecture that deserves attention. Its gorgeous ceiling, fancy vaulted dome, ornate high altar, dazzling organ, frescoes, and pulpit make this cathedral one of the most exemplary works of Baroque interior in whole of Austria.

Grand organ and beautiful ceiling of St. Jacob's Cathedral in Innsbruck, Austria
Grand organ and beautiful ceiling of St. Jacob’s Cathedral in Innsbruck, Austria
                 

4) HERZOG-FRIEDRICH-STRASSE and GOLDEN ROOF (GOLDENES DACHL):Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse was the old town’s main street once, now a pedestrian zone. Some artistic old buildings decorate both sides of this cobbled-stone street.

Some beautiful buildings in Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse in old town of Innstruck
Some beautiful buildings in Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse in old town of Innsbruck
                  

At one end of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, is the Golden Roof. It is a historic building from 1420 and was built on behalf of King Maximilian I. It has a beautiful façade with 2657 fire-gilded copper tiles. There is a museum if you want to go inside, we just saw it from outside and loved its marvelous façade.

Golden Roof on Herzog-Friederich-Strasse in Innsbruck, Austria
Golden Roof on Herzog-Friederich-Strasse in Innsbruck, Austria
             

5) MARIA-THERESIEN-STRASSE and ST. ANNA’S COLUMN: Across the street from Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, is Maria-Theresien-Strasse. This is the central pedestrian area and a picturesque boulevard of Innsbruck. What makes this street beautiful is the prominent mountains range in the backdrop and its historic colorful buildings. There was a Christmas market here when we visited. Many shops and restaurants make this place a perfect gathering point for the locals and the tourists.

Maria-Theresien-Strasse - a picturesque pedestrian street of Innsbruck
Maria-Theresien-Strasse – a picturesque pedestrian street of Innsbruck
             

In the middle of this street stands St. Anna’s Column. It was built in 1706 using Tyrolean marble. I loved this part of Innsbruck where hustling city collides with the beauty of Alpine nature…it is an absolutely breathtaking spot.

6) RIVER INN and INN BRUCKE: There is a bridge, Innbrucke, over River Inn few steps away from Zerhog-Friedrich-Strasse from which the city adopted its name. There isn’t much to do here except for enjoying the stunning view of River Inn, the mountains, a flourishing city, and colorful buildings by the river. We crossed the bridge, Innbrucke (it’s for both pedestrians and cars) and came back to old town within few minutes. It is a lovely sight and shouldn’t be missed. It’s a slice of Tyrol’s natural beauty within the city.

Standing on Bridge Innbrucke and enjoying this beauty in Innsbruck
Standing on Bridge Innbrucke and enjoying this beauty in Innsbruck
            

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