Innsbruck, in the heart of the Austrian Alps, is best known as a snowy sports mecca. It's one of the few cities in history to have hosted the Winter Olympics twice, and is also a beautiful place to see when the weather warms up and the snow melts.
Normally, summer tourist opportunities in and around Innsbruck are thought to be focused around those who prefer to use their feet for mobility. But with the right gearing on your bike, the area is one of the most spectacular places to ride.
The Inn river and the mountains that encircle Innsbruck – the Tux Alps to the south-east, the Stubai Alps to the south-west and the Karwendel mountains to the north – define the capital of the Austrian province of Tyrol. You can't take a step in any direction without the looming backdrop of either the Nordkette or Patscherkofel, silently watching over all that happens in the narrow valley below.
For Austrians and visitors alike, the towering peaks are magnets. In ancient times, they inspired awe, fear, love, art, lifestyles and folklore. The feelings remain the same thousands of years on, but now the untouchable peaks are tangible.
Just 120km to the south, there's Bolzano, Italy, with its infinitely better weather. It's warmer, it's sunnier, the valley is broad and the climbs can be steep, but there are gentle beauties aplenty. Innsbruck's valley, however, is narrower, a bit harsher. The weather tends to err on the Belgian side, and the climbs are brutal. As cyclists, though, don't we thrive on brutality? There's a reason we flock to our screens when the Giro hits the satanic slopes of the Zoncolan or Mortirolo.
In the countryside around Innsbruck, passes are few and far between, and dead-end farm roads barely the width of a car are the norm. The ascents are typically climbs to nowhere, but it doesn't matter – the views are gut-wrenchingly great. The world in the valley below looks like a model village as you creep up a forgotten road that averages well into the teens in terms of percentage.
It's no exaggeration to say that riding in Innsbruck consists of either east, west, or up. True, you can do some large loops out of the city, including the infamous Ötztaler Radmarathon (238 kilometers and 5,000m of climbing) or the more sedate but still arduous Karwendel circle.
The only problem with the climbs is that they're laid out in a frugal manner. Switchbacks are used only when absolutely essential, and there's an emphasis on using as little pavement as necessary to get you from valley floor to dead-end above. While the grades are anything but friendly, the quiet farm roads that shoot straight up out of the valley are some of the most pristine, beautiful and perfect we've ever ridden.
What's on offer
– Tough, relentless climbs on tiny roads, with huge views of the Inn valley – in other words, a hugely rewarding cycling experience.
– The climb to Hinterhorn Alm is not to be missed, and at the top you can enjoy some amazing mountain delicacies.
– Infinite possibilities off the bike. If your family is along for the holiday, Innsbruck will ensure that everyone is catered for.
– In terms of ascents, try the Kleinvolderberg, Tulferberg, Hinterhorn, Praxmar, Stiglreith and, if you're feeling really up for a challenge, Halltal.
Why it's best
The Alps at their finest, on roads that locals sometimes don't even know about.
How to get there
You can fly direct to Innsbruck. Or fly to Munich (usually the cheaper option) and take a short train ride to the Tyrol.
There are many options within the city proper.
Try the Radstudio. Thomas and Peter are great at taking care of your biking needs.