22nd April 2017, Saturday
Hall in Tirol
“There are days when I feel happy about Innsbruck being so close by…….at least it keeps most of the crowd away from my neighborhood!”
Erwin had been my generous host for the 4 days I spent in this northern part of Austria. Our evening walks along the bank of river Inn always ended up in him letting me into his childhood memories, recounting the years he had spent making that same walk with his dad every evening. Having spent my evenings wandering aimlessly across the streets, it was not difficult to appreciate the reasons that made him leave his job in Vienna and run back to this beautiful town– Hall in Tirol is indeed the place I would choose over Innsbruck any day to experience the most complete experience of Inn Valley.
Located only 10 km away from the popular tourist destination of Innsbruck, it is pleasantly surprising how this settlement has gone relatively unnoticed under the radar of travelers frequenting this region. Overlooking the majestic Bettelwurf massif, Hall in Tirol is the largest preserved historic district of North Tirol region in Austria and was one of the most flourishing salt producing areas in Austria, the town taking its name from the word “Halle” which means “city of salt workers”. Located at a short local bus ride away from Innsbruck I was pleasantly surprised how authentic everything around me felt when compared to the Old Town of Innsbruck and how relatively untouched it had remained amidst the increase in footfall its neighboring town had been receiving.
Having an exceptionally knowledgeable local accompanying me was a bonus, I must admit. Erwin seemed to know every street like the back of his hand and that was part of the reason why I felt almost at home, while getting enchanted by every nook and corner of this medieval town. The fact that the old town is still enclosed by the magnificently restored and well maintained Old Town Wall, a stroll through the cobbled streets gave me the perfect experience of how it would have felt like walking through the same lanes all those centuries ago. Even as the city grew around the enclosed Old Town, a walk around its circumference was always the most enjoyable moment during my stay there. I vividly remember the first day when Erwin showed me the replica of 16th century roller minting machine, which is the centerpiece of Mint Museum in Hall. Walking past the castle walls around the Mint Tower it was hard not to appreciate the important place this town had in Austrian history. After all it was in this very Mint that the currency “Taler” was first minted in 1486 – which is the root for the word “Dollar” used in the name of so many currencies around the world today!!
As we sat feasting over the delectable Krutspatzle Erwin prepared that evening for dinner, he walked me through all the festivities he enjoys in Hall through the year. Apparently the stylish Christmas Market here is among the most colorful and beautiful ones in the region and witnessing the local Radish Festival, Organic Mountain Farmer’s Festival or Tyrolean Easter Festival is bound to make you fall in love with the culture and hospitality of this traditional town. Again, I have no reason to doubt Erwin’s local recommendations as I find no harm in taking the words of a lifelong local on its face value!!
He told me that the surrounding villages were the grocery basket of the region, supplying fresh vegetables to all the neighboring towns. So as the clouds started covering the Alpine massifs, towering just outside the balcony, I made it a point to make a short climb into the forests on the mountain slopes the next day, across the fields, and hope for a great vantage point to witness the valley in all its glory.
The sweet smell of coffee and freshly toasted local bread, which Erwin placed neatly in the table beside my makeshift couch in the living room, brought me out of my slumber the next day. But I was made to finish it as soon as it could because apparently he was a regular to the weekend farmer’s market held in the old town square and he wanted me to witness the beautiful commotion through my own eyes. That day we took a small detour as he led me through the small gardens he grew up playing in, towards the periphery of the town where a large compound boasted of a state-of-the-art piece of modern architecture which he proudly pronounced as his workplace. Erwin had studied psychology in the campus built next to it, in what is now a popular University part of the town. Hall in Tirol is widely heralded as the pioneer center of psychiatric studies in Austria and had one of the first dedicated mental asylums operating here as early as 1838. For Erwin, being a part of this chapter of history was of immense pride to him, as offers voluntary medical services in the hospital even today. Time seemed to have flown away so swiftly during these walks down the memory lane that by the time we reached the Town Square the market had been all but cleared!! The look of disappointment was really evident on his face so I decided to engage him in another of the local recommendation sessions which he apparently seemed to enjoy.
If only the beer I bought for him that night could come even close towards showing the degree of gratitude I had for the wonderful experience his recommendation led me through during the day. Forget about standing in queue for The Nordkette Cable Car in Innsbruck to catch up the views of the valley below and exchange it for a day hike to the small chapel of Sankt Romedikapelle perched on the top of a small clearing above Thaur, overlooking the valley below!! Like me, if a leisurely walk through the farmlands on the foothill of snow clad Alpine peaks along winding roads, leading to an Alpine village still trying to wake up from its slumber, is your cup of tea then Thaur has all the ingredients to make your day a truly memorable one.
A short walk from Hall led me straight through the quaintest of village centers – a place where the inquisitive stare of toddlers followed me as I walked past them and kids racing past me on their colorful bicycles followed by lovely locals who passed a smile every time I nodded at them. Life seemed to have come at a standstill in the quiet and picturesque streets of Thaur and I felt a sudden rush of slight envy towards the kids in their comfy cribs, absorbing the landscapes all around them with attentive gazes while their parents pushed the rides towards the Chapel. Who does not crave for a childhood in an environment like this!!
Before the sky threatened to open its gates for a drizzle, I quickly made my way back to the comforts of the cobbled streets of Hall. The long hike meant I had an array of colorful cafes and restaurants lined up in the streets of the old town to choose from for a quick bit. Again, there are hardly any recommendations as every eatery here boasts of delicacies, the taste of which will continue to linger in your palette for days to come!!
As the curtains drew to a close on my stay in this gem of a place, the happiness and warmth the town had filled my heart with was soon enveloped by a slight sense of sadness. Erwin was there to walk me to the bus stop the next morning after he treated me to some more freshly baked bread from the local bakery for breakfast. Unfortunately I still find goodbyes the hardest thing to navigate through during all these years of solo traveling. I had to pay one last visit to Innsbruck though before I could finally bid goodbye to the valley, and unsurprisingly every moment I spent in Innsbruck, walking among hordes of tourists and avoiding collision with selfie-sticks, made me miss the quaint streets of Hall even more.
I am sure I am going to come back to the town and ask Erwin to cook us one of his Austrian favorites for dinner again. Well…..if you want to experience the real beauty of the magical Inn Valley in Austria, I guess you should too!! 🙂