From a distance, this 17th century Tirolean farmhouse appears to depict the perfect postcard image of a rural holiday home. The ancient wood and stone building clings to a hillside in the heart of the Tirol, surrounded by flower-filled meadows so steep that they still have to be scythed by hand. It looks to be the perfect spot for a family farm holiday this summer.
But as we draw closer, we can see that creature comforts for the modern-day visitor are in remarkably short supply. Lighting is by candle power. The minimalist bedroom is basic with a rough-hewn double bed and a crib for the baby at its foot. Washing facilities are limited to a bowl and a pitcher of water – no sign of a bathroom, either en suite or otherwise… just a potty under the bed.
But no need to worry – we weren’t planning to stay here during our summer in the Tirol! While the clearly authentic farmhouse appears to have been part of the landscape for the past 400 years, all is not what it seems.
This house is one of 14 historic, but derelict, buildings rescued from villages across the Tirol. Each one has been dismantled, restored, and carefully reassembled at the Tiroler Bauernhöfe Museum (Farmhousemuseum) – farmhouse museum – at Kramsach. A visit here makes a fascinating day out – there’s a classic village Gasthof where you can eat (but not stay) and, on set dates, there are demonstrations of spinning, bread baking and other country crafts by artisans in traditional costume bring the past to life.
Modern Farm Life
In recent years, farm holidays have become an essential component of Tirol summer tourism. This leads us directly to nearby Alpbach, the original site in an Alpine meadow at 1090m of one of these magnificent buildings.
Alpbach is a not a place that easily accepts, let alone embraces, change. Continuity and tradition are the qualities that set this village apart from every other ski resort in Europe – and this determination to retain its cultural heritage spills over into summer. With every balcony a blaze of colour, it wins prizes as the prettiest village in Austria.
In the 1970s, the village fathers deliberately shied away from the mass-market winter invasion of international skiers. They even decreed that the ‘new road’ up from the Inn Valley should not be wide enough for a large coach.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that, despite the demands of tourism, there are still more than 100 working farms here – many of them welcoming visitors. For example, the Stoffenhof, 500m from the centre of the village, has been in the Margreiter family for over 400 years.
They rent out four apartments – two of them in the original farmhouse and two in an adjoining building. All are decorated in traditional Alpbacher style, with up to three double rooms and even a four-poster bed and a sauna.
The farmhouse is on the sunny side of the resort, a great location for a relaxing family holiday. At this time of year the cows are up in the high pastures under the watchful eye of a neighbour, but there are hens, a donkey and pony to keep kids amused.
The British Link
Alpbach has a long and unusual association with the UK. For reasons shrouded in evangelical obscurity, the village patron saint is St Oswald, a seventh century king of Northumbria.
But the real link developed in the late 1950s when Major Billy Patterson, a British soldier based in Germany, stumbled by chance on this quintessential Tirolean chocolate box resort and recognised its appeal. Largely due to his efforts and later those of his widow Dinny, who ran the Alpbach Visitors Club, the British arrived in force and kept on coming. They still do.
The ski area is now linked to Auffach in the neighbouring Wildschönau Valley, making it a busier destination in winter. But in summer, Alpbach reverts to its farming origins. Life revolves, as it has done for centuries, around the church and two village inns.
A Comfortable Place for People…and Dogs
One of these, the Böglerhof, was once a dairy farm, but these days it’s a smart four-star hotel. The Dalai Lama and Indira Ghandi have both been visitors.
The hotel has an indoor/outdoor swimming-pool, spa and fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates and, as Jackson our chocolate Labrador discovered, dogs are very welcome. No need to bring your own pet bed as a cosy basket is provided, along with a bowl of water. If you want to bring your dog to dinner, you can do so in a separate Stübli adjacent to the main restaurant.
For four-legged visitors there is even a dog shower and a specially constructed dog trail behind the hotel. For two-legged visitors there’s an excellent restaurant and extremely comfortable bedrooms…and 21st century bathrooms complete with hot and cold water!
We stayed at the attractive Haus Angelika (www.alpbach-angelika.at) in the centre of the village. The friendly Gasthof has 28 beds, ranging from standard double to larger rooms with seating areas. There are even two single bedrooms, which is unusual these days. The friendly owner offers a buffet breakfast, and dogs are welcome.
Further information on the Stoffenhof farmhouse http://www.farmholidays.com/stoffenzuhaus?sessionId=1469443827&L=3#tab=info
A visit to the Tiroler Farmhouse Museum (Farmhousemuseum) is free provided you have an Alpbach visitors’ card.