Austria reminds me a lot of my Switzerland, but it distances itself from it in detail: the delicate interlacing that decorates the facades (like doll’s houses from the last century), the people who greet us in the village with a shy “Servus” rather than a shy “Bonjour”, identical flowers and different flowers, small valleys under mighty mountains, a gentle, peaceful rhythm, the force of nature all around you, a titmouse lurking around you (half hidden behind a trunk), wooded houses adorned with pink rather than red flowers, a German with a curious sound…
The Kufstein region, in the heart of Tyrol, is as mysterious as it is unusual: It has, for example, the last valley in Austria to have road access (still inaccessible to the rest of us), a parade of roaring cows, the largest organ in the world, the bar with the most gins in the world, the Last Supper played by the locals (where Jesus is a local rock star), the smallest bridge restaurant in the world (to be discovered below) and, of course, an abundance of sauerkraut. Come on, I’ll take you there!
Unterwirt: a gourmet base camp
I’m dropping my bags off at the Hotel Unterwirt. I feel here as if I am balancing between the centuries. A perfect blend of modern elements and old-fashioned charm, it is easy to feel that this building, which has twenty-two rooms, has history. I get lost in the woodwork, in the rustling of the large garden.
In the small elevator that takes me to the lobby, I smile at the curious accents of the guests who can be heard setting the mood at the bar. Then, sitting at the oval solid-wood table next to the bar, I order something simple to gently get into the subject: come on, a Schnitzel. The meat melts on the tongue, the taste is delicate, lemon is superfluous (and yet I’m the kind of person who puts lemon everywhere).
A little digestive walk around Unterwirt brings just the right change of scenery: from the little chapel under the Alps to the wooden chalet adorned with its prettiest balcony flowers.
Sabrina is only twenty-nine and very talented, runs Unterwirt with a velvet glove, helped when necessary by her sisters and parents. This family home was built around the year 1400 and has been in Sabrina’s family since 1840. At that time it was a farm and a tavern. Her father would later reduce it to its essentials: get off the farm, long live the tavern. Unterwirt has been proudly wearing his GaultMillau hat (14 points) for twenty-seven years now, concentrating on something that often bears fruit. We’ll have the opportunity to try it on that evening.
No sauerkraut here, but a gourmet meal at a little too much, the kind that makes you regret having eaten breakfast (let’s not even talk about lunch!) so much so that it’s hard not to finish the exquisite Provençal that continues to flock to your china, taunting your palate: “Come on, just one last bite. Oh, and that wine that goes so well with it? We all know more or less how it ends: with a great desire to exercise, to hike, to climb mountains even. And that’s a good thing, because if you’ve been following it correctly, we’re in the heart of the Tyrol.
The meal begins with a series of savoury spreads, including Verhackertes, made from chopped raw bacon to be applied abundantly on good home-made bread. A little surprise from the chef (a fried dumpling with cheese and apricot) then introduces this six-course gourmet menu: we’d ask for more, unaware that we are! Cuts and dishes follow one another relentlessly.
Kufstein, the heart of Kufstein
It couldn’t be simpler: Kufstein is the capital of Kufstein. The town of just under 18,000 inhabitants is dominated by an impressive white fortress, the Festung Kufstein, built in 1205 and located on one of the five hills that dot the town. From there, you can admire the breath-taking 360° view (depending on where you are on the Festung): follow the turquoise silhouette of the river Inn as it flows into the sun, admire the peaks, get lost on the small roofs of the city…
Kufstein’s colourful facades are adorned with fine paintings and details that people are happy to dwell on: a historical desire for elegance and prestige. And then there’s Römerhofgasse, the world’s smallest bridge restaurant (yes, it’s something, bridge restaurants!), the Auracher Löchl, which serves only two people, and the bar with the world’s largest selection of gins, the Stollen 1930.