Thursday, 24 October 2013

Jerzens, Tirol

I spent the past week in the Tirolean Alps with the family. It was my first time being in Austria and Tirol, and, although I'd been the Swiss Alps a few years ago, this time was completely unique because the entire village and basically that whole area of the Alps were deserted save for a few of the locals. Everyone is taking a much needed break after the summer tourism season is over, and the winter one won't begin for another few weeks.

We flew to Memmingen airport, which Ryanair dubs 'West Munich'. This is a lie, it is over 100km from Munich, but was the best way for us to access Tirol coming from Ireland. My parents and I rented a car and before we knew it we were sailing down the autobahn, with the beautiful farmland and countryside of Bavaria whizzing on either side. Bavaria is one of my favourite places; I spent some time in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Würzburg and of course München the year before last, and I have beautiful memories of that part of Germany.

Ruefully, we drove on, and although I would have loved to just stay in Bavaria our destination was somewhere equally idyllic; Austrian Tirol. And I soon realised it was just as great as Bavaria. Gently sloping farmland with sparsely dotted trees gave way to inclines, slight and then steeper, pines, Alpine lodges and eventually dramatic views and extreme winding roads.

We stayed in a family-run hotel called Landhaus Raich which is run by the bubbly and caring Birgit and her husband, who is incidentally the mayor of Jerzens. Small world. On our first evening she invited us for cakes and coffee, and some schnapps she made herself from the berry of a pine tree that grows locally.

She told us that, because of the huge amount of snow they'd had the week before, her friend over in Italian Tirol needed help harvesting her apples right away, so she would be going the next day to harvest, and two days after we could have some of her freshly made apfelsaft. The woman knows how to host, I'm telling you!

On the grounds of the hotel (I use the term 'hotel' lightly, it was more like a series of self contained apartments, each decked out in typical Tirolean style, within her huge house) there were stables for about 7 horses, a chicken coop, a play area for kids, a tiny swimming pool and a goat. It was heaven, and my 5 year old nephew, Adrian, certainly agreed with me.

In the chicken coop were boxes, one for each room, with a special lock belonging to the occupant of the room. In your very own box you could find eggs, freshly laid, for breakfast every day. It was a really lovely touch.

We enjoyed horse riding, swimming, hikes and adventure activities, Adrian and I spent a good bit of time in the playroom playing games and it was good to spend time together as a family. My brother and his family have lived abroad for a few years now, first in Germany and now in Switzerland, so I've come to take for granted that I'll see them once, maybe twice a year.

In the self-created busyness we tire ourselves out with, it was so grounding (is that a pun, considering the altitude?) to make time, to be in the fresh air, drinking Alpine water, feel consistent but mild vertigo, and appreciating life at a different pace, in a different style, with my very own family. Experiences like this make all the difference, rare moments of true beauty and calm. We all need to take more time to realise how lucky we are.

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