When you travel, don’t you yearn to walk through the door of one of the houses to immerse yourself in the local way of life?
One evening last November, we were ushered into the home of Simon and Brigitta Klaushofer in Faistenau, Salzburg, where on their farm the couple make bread, cheese and jam, keep bees, maintain a herb garden, indulge in carpentry, and give cooking lessons.
That’s not all. The enterprising duo also welcome tourists and cook them dinners as well as hold parties for children.
Simon said it helped to augment their income, especially in times of crisis such as that recently encountered by European farmers – reduced production because of drought, fodder shortages and lower prices.
Under Trafalgar’s “Be My Guest” tour programme, we met the friendly hosts, first being briefed by Simon about their resident bees. Oh, did I mention the couple, parents of two grown-up daughters, also operate a bee therapy facility?
“More and more people are asthmatic so this helps. But it’s just a supplement and not to replace proper medical care,” he was quick to add.
Dinner was a hearty home-cooked meal for our party of 46 in their cosy cottage-like home with pine wood-panelled ceilings and walls.
Over beer and wine, we chowed down on farm-fresh salad, Kaspresssuppe (soup with eggs, milk, onion, cheese, potatoes and bread), turkey escalope, pork roast with dumplings and cheese strudel.
This city in the Alps, with a population of 130,000, is noted for skiing and hosting the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. While there, we didn’t experience snow. Our guide told us they had the warmest summer in 100 years last year.
> Its key landmark is Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) in the Old Town built in 1500. A total of 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles went into making the “over-the-top” three-storey structure to mark the union of Emperor Maximilian I and Bianca Maria Sforza. Today, the pedestrian-only cobblestone street is lined with shops.
> Maximilian I’s palace Hofburg, built in 1465, is one of the three most significant cultural buildings in Austria. The rococo-style edifice was home of the imperial Habsburg family for centuries. The stately residence underwent massive renovations under the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Habsburgs. Of her 16 children, the second youngest was the infamous Marie Antoinette.
> At the 16th-century gothic Hofkirche (Court Church), 28 life-size bronze guards – eight of them women – stand guard over the tomb of Maximilian I, never mind that the emperor’s remains are not here but interred near Vienna!
> Climb the 133 steps of the City Tower, which is close to 570 years old, to the 31m-high platform for a bird’s eye view of Innsbruck, and imagine you were one of the tower guards of yore keeping watch over the town.
For a superb vista of Innsbruck, hop on the funicular train that takes you up to the Bergisel Ski Jump, an architectural marvel designed by the late Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid and completed in 2002. Or you may opt to ride the cable car up to the Nordkette, part of the Karwendel, the largest mountain range of the Northern Limestone Alps.
> All that glitters is ... crystal! Do make a detour to Wattens, 20km east of Innsbruck, to the Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Kristallwelten), spread over a vast green tract in the Alps.
It’s a museum, park, playground all rolled into one, watched by a grass-covered giant head. With gleaming eyes and water spouting from his mouth into a pool, the behemoth has come to be the face of the facility built in 1995 to mark 100 years of the founding of the Austrian crystal dynasty by Daniel Swarovski.
In the anatomy of the iconic feature are 17 Chambers of Wonders showcasing interpretations of the crystal by a host of prominent artists. The intriguing exhibits challenge your notion of form, function, fashion, fantasy.
Yayoi Kusama’s “Chandelier of Grief” – a rotating chandelier of Swarovski crystal whose lustre is sparked by a mirror-lined room, creating the illusion of being in an endless space – anyone?
Shoppers will go wild in the spacious gift shop while others can relax with a cuppa and macarons at the cafe.
Shop, shop, shop
Not far from Munich city, Ingolstadt Village, accessible by car, train or bus, boasts more than 110 boutiques offering German and international brands.
Castle in the hills
You do not want to miss being among the yearly 1.3 million people who go to Neuschwanstein Castle, the fairytale retreat in the hills that inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, near the tourist town of Fussen.
You can walk up or hop onto a horse-drawn carriage from Hohenschwangau village up to the most-visited palace in Germany, the 19th-century New Swan Castle commissioned in 1869 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The Romanesque Revival-styled castle was famously a tribute to Richard Wagner, the celebrated German composer revered by the monarch. Sadly, the ruler did not live to see the completion of this grand edifice that he paid with his own funds and loans.