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Innsbruck, Austria
Photo by Innsbruck Tourism
The Alps—Town and Country
The name Schwarzwald evokes a dark, mysterious realm, just like its translation in English, the Black Forest, does. Travel the historic forest route and you’ll wonder what otherworldly creatures lurk in the ruins of castles and among the ancient conifers. And it becomes readily apparent as soon as you move on to Zurich, with its mellow urban vibe, how easy it is to transition from town to country in the Alpine region. 

In comparison to the legendary Black Forest, or even neighboring Tyrol, Austria’s western Voralberg province remains little known to outsiders. Settled by Alemanni people and isolated for centuries, the province’s small cities today host a high-tech sector while in mountainous Bregenzerwald traditional architecture and buildings by Austria’s, and the world’s, leading contemporary designers coexist happily. In the summer, its meadows are dotted with cows tended to by locals who are called Wälder—or those from the forest. From the Bregenzerwald, you’ll be in Innsbruck in no time, and ready for another urban experience on the heels of country living.
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    Day 1
    They call it the "little big city." Sure, Zurich is Switzerland's largest city, but its Old Town is eminently walkable and delightful trams make it easy to explore much of it even on a short visit.

    Check in to your hotel before you start exploring. The glass-front, art-filled, Park Hyatt Zurich has a convenient location close to the lake. The historic and welcoming Hotel Adler lies right off the Limmat River in the pedestrians-only Old Town.

    A zunfthaus is a guildhall, and the Zunfthaus zur Waag restaurant with its opulent interiors is in one of the finest weaving houses in this former town of weavers. It's a popular place to try one of Zurich's signature dishes, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (veal in a mushroom cream sauce). If you aren't looking for a meal of veal, or any meat for that matter, the 120-year-old vegetarian restaurant Haus Hiltl is known for its delicious Indian-inflected menu.

    Next to the train station in a park that juts into the Limmat River, the Swiss National Museum recently added a new wing to its historic structure filled with archaeological and historical displays.

    Quaint as old Zurich is, the new post-industrial Zurich West neighborhood is a hit with its Prime Tower skyscraper and the Toni-Areal, a former dairy plant turned mixed-use zone that hosts the University of Arts.

    Tip: At 1,300 feet high, Uetliberg Mountain is not that tall when compared to some other peaks in the Alps, but once you hike to its summit-or take the train if you prefer-you'll be wowed by the views of massive snow-capped peaks that appear to go on forever.
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    Photo By Colombi Hotel
    Day 2
    Black Forest
    If ever a city's name revealed its origins, Baden-Baden is it. The English name of the Baden-Württemberg town on the edge of the Black Forest is Bath, and repeated twice at that. Bath here refers to the area's hot springs, and the town is a good place to carry on a 140-year-old tradition by soaking in the warm waters of one of the town's two thermal springs.

    With stunning views of the surrounding Black Forest hills and the town of Elzach down below, the Elztalhotel is a spa retreat with more than 5,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor pools. In the university city of Freiburg, the luxury Colombi Hotel is named for an old manor house that lies at the edge of the Old Town. The family-run property has an indoor pool along with its solarium and sauna facilities.

    In the German Black Forest town of Baiersbronn, famous for a number of Michelin-starred restaurants, the Schwarzwaldstube in the hotel Traube Tonbach is a legendary three-star Michelin restaurant known for classic French cooking. The casual Drexlers enoteca and restaurant in Freiburg pairs its wines with market-fresh tasting menus.

    Fine craftsmanship lives on in Germany, and the Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach gives tours of their glassworks and glass museum. Near the Swiss border in the southern Black Forest, a tour of the Rothaus Brauerei includes a tasting of their Tannenzäpfle Pilsner with its signature spruce-fir label.

    Tip: A five-mile hike around the wooded Titisee glacial lake should always culminate in a shoreline beer garden stop.
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    Photo By Florian Holzherr Werkraum Bregenzerwald
    Day 3
    In the small province of Voralberg, the Bregenzerwald region has some 22 villages that sit at the base of peaks that reach as high as 7,000 feet. Ample hiking trails allow visitors an intimate peek into daily life as they pass historic fir and spruce farmhouses with traditional wooden shingles. At the same time, a number of leading contemporary architects have been drawn to the region. Their daring new buildings use local materials and respond to the area's vernacular traditions in surprising ways.

    The village of Bezau, in the heart of the Bregenzerwald, is home to the family-run Hotel Post Bezau was originally an inn for postal carriage passengers; the modern renovations have assured that the hotel is comfortable as well as historic. The entire 2,300-foot-high village of Schwarzenberg is a protected landmark, and that includes the Hotel Hirschen Schwarzenberg, a 250-year-old inn with a fine collection of local art.

    The small Restaurant Schulhus in Krumbach, located in an old school house, sources wild berries, fruits, mushrooms, and herbs for its menu, and serves local lamb and trout as well. Some 160 dairy and farm partners belong to the Bregenzerwald Cheese Trail, which offers opportunities to meet local cheesemakers and sample their products.

    In a traditional Schwarzenberg village house, the Angelika Kauffmann Museum is devoted to a local 18th-century landscape and portrait painter who was miles ahead of her time-she was one of only two female founding members of London's Royal Academy of Arts.

    Tip: The hearty traditional cheese dumplings of the region, käseknöpfle, will keep you fueled through the day.
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    Photo By Swarovski Kristallwelten
    Day 4
    Innsbruck, often called the Capital of the Alps, is a mountain town with an imperial seal of approval. Around 1500, Maximilian I made it the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. The Imperial Palace built here was a favorite of his as well as later Hapsburg monarchs up until the 20th century when their rule over the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an end. Innsbruck came into prominence again in 1964 and 1976 when it hosted the Winter Olympic Games. More recently, the late architect Zaha Hadid elevated the city's stature in the design world with her stunning Hungerburg funicular stations which lead up to the Nordkette Mountains with their views of the city below.

    An old 1950s inn recently turned trendy, the Nala hotel is close to all of the lively restaurants and bars in the heart of Innsbruck. Though it may be located in the city's old town, guests sleep snug in the modern urban rooms of the Hotel Weisses Rössl.

    Laid back and unpretentious, Die Wilderin restaurant is known for its fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Another option when you are ready to eat sits nearby on the Inn River. After visiting the Swarovski Crystal World's museum and gardens, stop for a meal at the seasonal gourmet cuisine and afternoon tea at Daniels Kristallwelten restaurant. Finally, Zaha Hadid's other great contribution to Innsbruck's architecture is her Bergisel ski jump tower. Its restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows and serves traditional Austrian dishes like veal cutlets and kräuter spätzle, an egg-noodle pasta flavored with herbs.

    Of the city's two iconic sites, the hilltop Ambras Castle has protected Innsbruckers for almost five hundred years, while the Old Town's copper-tiled Golden Roof of the same era was constructed for Maximilian I and his bride to observe celebrations on the town square.

    Tip: A beechwood-smoked ham flavored with herbs and spices, Tyrolean speck is a local favorite taste.