The early bird gets the Glühwein

GluehweinIt’s no secret that the Germans and their Austrian neighbours know how to do Christmas. World-famous markets in Cologne, Nuremburg, Munich, Vienna and other cities attract thousands of British visitors each year, and rightfully so. Cities are transformed as row upon row of wooden stalls take over the historic heart of the city, spreading outwards in a labyrinth of handcrafted Christmas decorations, intricately detailed nativity scenes, yuletide sweets, and an abundance of alcoholic beverages… the sort that warm from the inside out.

But it’s not only major cities that are transformed into a Christmassy wonderland each December. Market towns and villages throughout the Alps have their own festive markets and unique traditions. And those in the Austrian Tirol offer a special chance to get into the Christmas spirit – and score a few early-season turns at the same time. The closer to Christmas, the more terrain is typically accessible at each ski area, and the better chance of snow.

Here’s a selection of Tirolean Christmas markets that would soften even the most hardened scrooge – and offer the best chance of good early season snow.

Christmas market in Kitzbuehel

Christmas market in Kitzbuehel

Kitzbühel

Early season in Kitzbuehel

Early season in Kitzbuehel

The medieval heart of Kitzbühel makes for a picture-perfect setting for the festive season. Painted facades are lit up with coloured lights, and luxury boutiques showcase their wares alongside handmade crafts. Kitzbühel’s market is at the foot of the famed Hahnenkamm World Cup course, so (snow conditions permitting) you can almost slide in for a Glühwein straight from the slopes. Nearby St Johann in Tirol, which is an ideal resort for families and intermediates, also has its own advent market on Fridays and Saturdays. Music, open fireplaces, culinary treats… remember that this part of Austria is renowned for its food!

And the skiing?
Kitzbühel needs little in the way of introduction. Early-season conditions are to be expected, however substantial investment in snow-making equipment in recent years, plus upgrades to lift infrastructure mean that you’ll not be left high and dry in the lead up to Christmas. The areas around the Hahnenkamm and Pengelstein are typically the first to open, but given the chance it’s worth exploring the Kitzbüheler Horn across the valley, or across to Pass Thurn.

Innsbruck

The largest (some would say only) city in the Tirol region, Innsbruck has a distinctly cosmopolitan air, but remains conveniently close to some of the best spots in the Alps for early-season skiing and riding. The spectacular jagged peaks of the Nordkette mountain range dominate the skyline, high above Innsbruck’s brightly coloured houses. 195 stalls and seasonal events make this the most happening and lively of all Tirol’s markets. Explore the nooks and crannies of the compact centre, then head up the Furnicular for spectacular views back down over the city. For a change of pace, head a few kilometres down river to Hall, where imaginative lighting brightens up this attractive medieval village.

And the skiing?
Stubai glacier is less than an hour from downtown Innsbruck, and is conveniently served by public bus. It’s an extensive area that typically opens plenty of non-glacier terrain pre-Christmas, and the snowfall is reliable. Much closer to town, Patscherkofel and Axamer Lizum – both of which have an Olympic pedigree – are smaller but good for a weekend getaway.

Seefeld

Advent in Seefeld

Advent in Seefeld

Olympiaregion Seefeld is a world-class cross-country skiing destination, with family friendly ski slopes and an attractive village nestled among some of Austria’s most spectacular mountains. This is the place to head if you want to explore traditional Tirolean customs, none more unique than those in nearby Leutasch valley. A visit to Seefeld and its surrounding villages definitely a surefire Grinch-killer.

And the skiing?
With 279km of cross-country ski trails, Seefeld was a natural choice for the Nordic events during the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games. There’s also a respectable downhill resort, with the most varied skiing around in the Rosshütte area. The sheltered slopes near the village also make this a great destination for kids.

Lake Achensee

About as far from a typical Christmas market as imaginable, step aboard a steamship for a Christmas cruise around Tirol’s largest mountain lake. Departing from Pertisau every Saturday night in the lead-up to Christmas, the boat visit four jetties around the lake, and there’s even a small market onboard, so you won’t be left wanting for warming beverages!

And the skiing?
The Christlum ski area at the north end of Lake Achensee is now included in the Tirol Snow Card, and opens in December. It’s a small but varied ski area, set in the same stunning valley as Lake Achensee. Another option for skiing nearby is to head across to the Ziller Valley, where Hintertux Glacier promises year-round skiing.

"Seeweihnacht" on Lake Achensee

“Seeweihnacht” on Lake Achensee

Now, if you prefer your festive season with a healthy dose of dread and fear along with the sweet and charming, visiting Tirol for a Krampuslauf could be your thing… but that’s something for a whole different blog post.

For more information: www.tyrol.com

All ski areas mentioned in this blog are covered by the Tirol Snow Card – 91 ski areas, 1100 lifts and 4000km of pistes.

Chris Taine
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