Speck – tasty, tasty speck…
For those of you that may not be familiar with speck, allow us to introduce you.
Speck is essentially a type of cured, smoked ham. It is delicious. It is also a Tyrolean speciality and, since we are such committed travellers (and foodies), we decided it was our obligation to sample some Tyrolean speck* today. We found a tiny shop in the altstadt last night called, appropriately enough, Das Speckeria. It was wall-to-wall speck, salami and prosciutto…mmmmm, so much tasty meat. We partook in a “Sampler Platter for 2” and it was AWESOME! The deer and wild boar speck were particularly tasty.
*Tyrolean speck is made from cold smoked meat (most commonly pork), cured with salt and a mixture of garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg and juniper berries. The curing and smoking process takes 5-6 months and produces the distinctive flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture that Tyrolean speck is known for. It’s traditionally served wafer-thin with grated horseradish, pickles, fresh chilli and dark rye bread.
So that’s how our day ended – in a speck-tacular feast; a feast we earned by hiking the Zirbenweg Trail. The 7km Zirbenweg Trail (translation = Stone Pine Trail) winds its way through the largest pine forest in the Alps, up at 2,000m. The trail itself is quite flat and a relatively easy hike as it runs across the ridge that links Mt Patscherkofel and Mt Glunegezer (see map below). After yesterday’s fairly intense uphill walk, the thought of a more sedate stroll across the mountains (rather than upa mountain), was very appealing. The trail is part of a circuit that you can do, starting from the tiny village of Igls, some 10km out of Innsbruck (easily reached by bus). The circuit involves:
- Cable car ride from Igls up Mt Patscherkofel in a well-worn car that was first used in 1964 when Innsbruck hosted its first Winter Olympics.
- A hike across the ridge along the well-marked and well-trodden Zirbenweg Trail.
- Chair lift ride down Mt Glungezer to the village of Tufles.
- A bus ride through the Austrian countryside from Tufles back to Igls.
Our morning started with a short bus ride to Igls and then a 20 minute cable car ride up Mt Patscherkofel. The cable car was packed with families and solo hikers setting out to do the Zirbenweg Trail, just as we were. There were even a couple of dogs in the cable car; people in Europe seem to take their pets everywhere, even up mountains – it’s great! We noticed that everyone seemed to have a lot more layers on than we did, and when we emerged from the cable car, up at 1,952m, we understood why. It was pretty cold up there, with a chilly wind that had us pulling on extra layers pretty quick smart! It was no where near as cold today as it has been though; in fact, it warmed up so much overnight that all the snow melted!
The view from the top of Mt Patscherkofel was pretty awesome so we lingered there to take a few photos, letting everyone else get ahead of us on the trail (kids and dogs are cool, but they are also pretty noisy and we wanted a bit of serenity and space on our trek).
At one point along the trail we rounded a corner to see a tiny chapel come into view. The urge human beings have to build places of worship in epic natural locations makes perfect sense – we’ve seen it everywhere we’ve been, from Japan to Russia, in Iceland and now here. Anywhere this epic tends to make you feel very small and certainly makes you appreciate things greater than yourself.
As we approached the end of the trail, we saw the Glunegezer chair lift ahead. The chair lift was pretty old and rickety – like some rustic piece of engineering from last century…, actually not “like” some rustic piece of engineering form last century! It WAS a rustic piece of engineering from last century! Any qualms we might have had about getting on the thing disappeared however as the chair took off and we sailed down the mountain, legs dangling in mid-air, high above the forest. It was so incredibly quiet up there, and from our vantage point we could see squirrels gathering pine nuts and birds foraging down below in the forest.
The chair lift deposited us safe and sound in Tufles, a tiny village that comes alive in winter no doubt, but in autumn is so quiet all we could hear were cows lowing! The bus from Tufles back to Igls took about half an hour and took us past farms and fields of corn and wheat. Then, from Igls it was just another short bus ride back to Innsbruck where a hot shower quickly revived us, preparing us for our speck-tacular speck feast at Das Speckeria. Another wonderful day wandering through Austria…