Tyrol is a land of ice and mountains, dark forests and alpine meadows full of spring wildflowers, Hansel and Gretel villages, summer holidays, and winter sports. One of the greatest sightseeing attractions in Europe is the Tyrolean Alps, and the mountain scenery is beautiful and panoramic at any time of year. In addition to being famous for its skiing, this spectacular alpine region offers travelers a host of other outdoor activities year-round, such as wonderful hiking and mountain climbing, glacier tours, and trout fishing. July and August bring the most visitors to the province, many of them North Americans, so reservations are essential.
If you're heading for Tyrol and want to travel around the region, Innsbruck is the best place to situate yourself. Several major roads (A12, A13, and 171) merge at Innsbruck, and you can easily reach most of the major ski resorts, as well as the Ötz Valley, Arlberg, and the Kitzbühel area. Parking is rarely a problem in these places, and, unless otherwise noted, you park for free. In addition to offering visitors a great location, Innsbruck has a great deal to offer, including a wonderful Alpenzoo, home only to animals indigenous to the Alps, and several great palaces, including Hofburg and Schloss Ambras.
Tyrol and its capital, Innsbruck, were centers of power at the end of the Middle Ages, when the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, ruled from here. Many of the wonderful castles that were scattered across the medieval countryside are only ruins today.
With a population of more than half a million Austrians occupying some 12,489 sq. km (4,822 sq. miles), Tyrol was a much larger district until South Tyrol was lost to Italy in 1919. South Tyrol was a large wine-producing area and the wealthiest part of Tyrol; its loss was a great blow for the Tyrolean people who remained in Austria, as it separated many of them from relatives, friends, and sometimes livelihood.
By the same post-World War I treaty, East Tyrol, whose capital is Lienz, was divided from North Tyrol, where Innsbruck is the capital. The two are separated by the portion of Tyrol given to Italy, which connects with a strip of Land Salzburg border. East of North Tyrol, the larger portion of the split province, lies Land Salzburg. To its west is the Austrian province of Vorarlberg, to the north is Germany, and to the south are Italy and a small part of Switzerland. East Tyrol is bordered by Carinthia on the east, Land Salzburg on the north, and Italy.
Tyrol lies at the junction of several transcontinental links. The Valley of the Inn River cuts across the northern part of the province, and there are many other valleys connecting with that major artery. In addition to its famous mountains, the province is known for its deep-blue alpine lakes, such as the Achensee and the Walchsee. The Drau River, rising in the Höhe Tauern Alps, runs through East Tyrol. The Kaisergebirge is a nature reserve of Tyrol, with coniferous forests and meadowlands. And the Ötz Valley extends for 56km (35 miles) from the south bank of the Upper Inn.
Tyrol is a province of colorful folklore and customs, including Schuhplatter (a folkloric style) dancing, brass bands, and yodeling. Today Tyrol is a popular tourist spot, especially favored by Americans who, to an extent, have supplanted the once firmly entrenched British vacation crowds. It didn't become a mecca for American tourists until shortly before World War I, when rail magnate J. Pierpont Morgan spent time in Innsbruck and publicized the area upon returning home.
Tyrol is Austria's most frequented winter playground, and many prefer its ski slopes to those of Switzerland. Skiers and snowboarders flock here from mid-December until the end of March (when reservations at the most fashionable resorts are tight). And Seefeld, near Innsbruck, is one of Austria's "Big Three" rendezvous points for the international ski crowd. Kitzbühel ranks as one of the world's most fashionable ski resorts, and at the Kitzbühel Ski Circus, it's possible to ski downhill for 80km (50 miles). Skiers also head for St. Anton am Arlberg, the birthplace of modern skiing techniques.