Hard-core skiers and the rich and famous are attracted to this ski region. Such a dense network of lifts covers the Kitzbühel Alps that they're Austria's largest skiing area, with a series of superlative runs. The action centers on the town of Kitzbühel, but there are many satellite resorts that are much less expensive, including St. Johann in Tyrol. Kitzbühel is, in a sense, a neighbor of Munich, 130km (81 miles) to the northeast: Most visitors to the Kitzbühel Alps use Munich's international airport.

Edward, Prince of Wales (you might remember him better as the Duke of Windsor), might have put Kitzbühel on the international map with his 1928 "discovery" of what was then a town of modest guesthouses. Certainly his return a few years later with Mrs. Simpson caused the eyes of the world to focus on this town, and the "upper crust" of England and other countries began flocking here, placing a stamp of elegance on Kitzbühel.

At the time of this 20th-century renaissance, however, Kitzbühel was already some 8 centuries old by documented history, and a settlement existed here much, much longer than that. Archaeological finds have shown that during the Bronze Age -- and until the 9th century B.C. -- copper was mined and traded in nearby mountains. The settlement Chizbühel is first mentioned in documents of 1165, the name derived from the ruling family of Chizzo. Kitzbühel was a part of Bavaria until 1504, when it came into the hands of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Austria and was annexed to Tyrol.

A second mining era began in Kitzbühel in the 15th century -- this time copper and silver -- and the town became fat and prosperous for many decades. Numerous buildings from the mining days are still here, as are remnants of the town walls and three of the gates. In what used to be the suburbs of Kitzbühel, you'll see some of the miners' cottages still standing.

Kitzbühel is not a cheap place to stay, but to make things easier on your pocketbook, the local tourist office has come out with a Guest Card for summer visitors. This card is valid after being stamped at your hotel or guesthouse and entitles you to discounts, some quite substantial, on the price of many activities, plus some freebies.