The real Kitzbuhel Austria: Visit Kitzbuhel through the eyes of locals
Headed to visit Kitzbuhel Austria not long ago, I was super excited about a stay in the Austrian Alps town. Alpine beauty at its finest! So why did friends usually raise an eyebrow and offer a comment something like “Well, ooo-la-la!”
“Hey, wait,” I’d say. The real Kitzbuhel has gorgeous, soaring peaks, great trails, and everything picturesque and quaint like Alpine villages you dream about, what’s not to look forward to?
“Hope you have your Porsche” and “Don’t forget your diamonds and furs” or “Say hi to Arnold for me.” Sorry, no Porsche, no diamonds, definitely no furs, and I didn’t plan to see Arnold.
Once there, my husband Michael Hodgson and I could immediately sense the pride locals and long timers have in their hometown, its historical center, and its traditions. Locals were down-to-earth; visitors were the ones sporting diamonds and furs. And the village was delightful: Escaping much of the destruction in World Wars I and II, the Tyrolean town has centuries-old farmhouses, 14th century churches, spectacular mountain huts for enjoying a beverage with an expansive view, gourmet restaurants and, of course, those breathtaking mountains and valleys. Oh, those peaks are magnificent indeed!
Visit Kitzbuhel for tradition and mountains
Long before Kitzbuhel Austria was the gathering place of glitterati, it was a working person’s town focused on mining dating back to the 12th century. The ski races it became famous for began in 1953, 60 years after the first person skied down the Kitzbuheler Horn in 1893. To get a true feel for Kitzbuhel Austria, it was time to talk to a few long timers, most of whom had grown up in Kitzbuhel and had experienced the transformation from tiny village to Alpine skiing mecca. Meet farmer Josef Mühlbacher, hotelier Signe Reisch, shoemaker Herbert Haderer, and sportswear manufacturer Kaspar Frauenschuh.
The passion and love these locals have for the real Kitzbuhel are infectious – whether they run global businesses, tiny shops, or hillside farms. Time to visit Kitzbuhel through the eyes of locals.
Josef Mühlbacher, Lackenhof farm
We met Josef on our last afternoon in Kitzbuhel. The busy farmer on a hill overlooking Kitzbuhel had to squeeze us in between chores in the late afternoon and emerged from his front door in a pressed, narrow pin-striped shirt, jeans, and still damp freshly washed hair. His life is far removed from the rich and famous.
As a fourth-generation farmer and Kitzbuhel resident (his son who works with him will be the fifth generation), his ties to the area run deep. His Lackenhof farm, acquired by the family in 1897 when a home in the city was traded for the farm, is perched on a hillside where he can tend goats and see not only the valley and town below, sprinkled with its church steeples, but also can look across the valley at the famous Hahnenkamm gondola and toward the renowned Streif ski run. He adores Kitzbuhel partly because it’s in his blood, it’s his home, and he grew up there.
Josef likely doesn’t spend a lot of time looking at the ski runs, though. His organic farm is 5.5 hectares (13.6 acres) and houses 100-200 goats, depending on the season, and about as many cows, not to mention sheep, chickens, pigs, and 30 beehives (each hive has about 50,000 bees so that’s a lot of buzzing). Each year the bees make for about 1,000 kilograms (more than 2,200 pounds) of honey!. He has to milk his herd twice a day, each round taking some 1½ hours. That totals about 20,000 liters of milk for 1,500 kilograms of cheese (more than 3,300 pounds).
He’s a regular at the Kitzbuhel weekly markets where his stand is usually swarmed for its award-winning goat’s milk products, fresh cured meats, and organic honey. I can personally attest to the high YUM factor. Which is probably why he can’t speak much to dinners out at area restaurants since the family always eats at home.
5 highlights from Josef Mühlbacher to see the real Kitzbuhel
- Hahnenkamm slopes and the Streif ski run.
- Black Lake (“Schwarzsee”), which is a moor lake with exceptionally clean water and a high concentration of natural minerals. In the summer, the water can reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the warmest lake in Tyrol and thus a popular swimming hole.
- Old town center with its historic churches
- Farmhouse Museum (“Bauernhausmuseum”)
- Kitzbuhel mountains with their fantastic views, lakes and hikes
Yes it does rain in Kitzbuhel. You may also like to read our story, “Kitzbuhel in the rain: Best rainy day options for travelers” for more tips on things to do and see when you visit Kitzbuhel.
Signe Reisch, owner Rasmushof hotel, president Kitzbuhel Tourism
Frau Reisch, normally dressed in her smart but traditional Tyrolean garb, is a soft-spoken, no-nonsense leader and advocate supreme for the town and its still-growing tourism. Unlike Josef Mühlbacher, she is out and about constantly. She is everywhere at once, it seems, as she glides from city government meetings to leading her four-star resort Rasmushof to spending time with her family to appearing at local clubs to skiing down the beloved Streif run outside Rasmushof’s door (that’s the finish line area behinid her in the above photo).
It was Frau Reisch’s great grandfather, Franz, who was the first to ski down the Kitzbuheler Horn, and she holds up that family legend with pride. In fact, there is a bit of a “museum” to skiing in the Rasmushof, tucked here and there, for patrons – tourists and locals alike – to enjoy.
None of this goes to her head; she is a hands-on owner and a bit of a “city matriarch.” When we visited her at her Rasmushof Hotel and sat in the pub area, she bustled behind the counter herself to make coffees for us. Her herb and vegetable garden outside the door is a personal retreat, and she caresses the plants like children.
Kitzbuhel “is the best place in the world,” she said. Why? There are four seasons, the mountain air and water are clear and pure, the altitude is just right, it’s centrally located … oh, and it’s home, adds the fourth-generation local. This reputation of snootiness baffles her a bit. “We don’t know how this came about. We try to turn it around. It’s really not true. This is just Kitzbuhel” where everybody is treated the same, she says. “The locals are friendly, humble, accepting.”
The fact that her Rasmushof Hotel is at the finish line of the famous Streif ski race that takes place every January means the hotel can sell out five years in advance for race days – and she can offer special “backstage” access, too. Call her the queen of the Streif, if you must.
When it comes to restaurants, she notes her Rasmushof has a business lunch for a mere 7 Euro. In addition, she suggests Huberbräu Stuberl and Sporthotel Reisch, both in town center.
5 highlights from Signe Reisch to see the real Kitzbuhel
- Hahnenkamm slopes and the Streif run with the Legends Park at the base
- Museums – Kitzbuhel City Museum and the Bauernhaus Museum
- Wildlife park in Aurach
- Black Lake (“Schwarzsee”) and the Münichau royal residence
- Churches and the cemetery in town
Herbert Haderer, made-to-order shoemaker
It’s a nondescript building on the town’s main street where Herbert Haderer plies his shoemaking trade of six decades. You’ll see just a simple façade with HADERER in bold letters above the entrance area, so don’t blink. Looks like a regular shoe store, but oh no it’s so much more.
A third-generation resident (that makes him a newbie, basically, we learned), Herr Haderer became a shoemaking apprentice at about age 15 and has been at it ever since. I couldn’t help but reach out and stroke the leather of the boots, brogues and loafers in the shop – such a beautiful leather and elegant design, all handmade and hand-stitched by himself or, these days, by one of his several apprentices and employees.
Haderer’s footwear lasts a solid 20 years. At least. And costs upwards of 1,700 Euro ($1,900 USD at current exchange rates), much more for very special leathers and designs. One well-known customer who frequents the town had his famous ostrich leather boots made by Haderer. The shoemaker in his 70s holds chose to chest who his customers are, so nary a name is dropped in conversations although sometimes he’ll raise an eyebrow if you guess.
When it takes at least 35 hours to make one pair of shoes, with personal fittings and using the finest leathers, the price comes into focus. But you can’t just mail-order them, unless Herr Haderer has made shoes for you before and your wooden last is hanging on his wall. “I have to feel the foot,” he says. “A good shoemaker doesn’t get it wrong.”
Herr Haderer is not a chatty type. You want him to pick up a shoe and start telling you about things you don’t know enough to ask about, but that’s not how it goes. You ask a lot of questions and get nods or short answers. But the soft-spoken man radiates pride in his work and gladly shows off his basement storage area and workrooms if you express some interest.
Haderer trivia: He made ski boots until 1990, but “it was too much work.” He has made footwear up to size 18. He’s been in the same building since the mid-50s.
What does he love about Kitzbuhel? Oh, easy. The town embodies a unique combination of a medieval town center and mountains for both summer and winter enjoyment. It’s an open-minded place, very inviting to all, as well as cheerful if not downright joyous.
5 highlights from Herbert Haderer to see the real Kitzbuhel
- Hahnenkamm slopes and the Streif run
- Kitzbuhel City Museum
- A short walk through town, up past the Liebfrauenkirche (“Church of our Lady”) to a small rise called “Lebenberg” where you can enjoy a view to the southern peaks and “open your heart”
- A visit to the garden at the Franciscan church on Josef-Herold Street, an “oasis” in town
- A longer walk from town to Black Lake via “Pulverturmweg”
Kaspar Frauenschuh, Frauenschuh sportswear
Honestly, we weren’t all too convinced about spending time visiting the maker of expensive clothing. But it didn’t take more than a few minutes with Kaspar Frauenschuh to realize he and his business, Frauenschuh sportswear, were about much much more than just luxury duds: Think jaw-dropping style, technical performance and a dedication to the environment with an uncompromising passion for quality and a love of nature.
Herr Frauenschuh is a third generation Kitzbuhel resident (another youngster!), but the quality of life, mountains and outdoor in the real Kitzbuhel capture his heart as well as greatly influence his apparel styles, performance and designs. Sure, he says he creates the “modern Kitzbuhel look” but “our home is also important” so he connects performance with tradition. Look closely and the apparel still shows hints of Tyrolean flair, albeit with the world’s best materials. “I want to make something that will last a long time,” he says. We feel no judgment from his eyes, crinkled from a world of smiles but with a grace befitting his legend. “Microfibers aren’t good for the environment.” I squirm a little in the seat considering our tech tees and coats. “It’s not merchandising, it’s philosophy.”
Herr Frauenschuh explains his 10 business points, among them: “Function is a must,” “I believe in animals,” and “Relationships are important.” His relationship with Kitzbuhel is strong and deep, and that is already being passed on to his kids – the fourth generation also now working in the business. Once I saw the pieces in the store, I gained a true appreciation for the distinctive look (no logos even) – and, yes, oh drooling, I have put several items on my birthday wish list.
When it comes to restaurants, Kaspar Frauenschuh recommends Römerhof Stüberl and Lois Stern in town. Just outside of town (near Aurach) is the family estate of Auwirt and the more traditional Hallerwirt. Up for a mountain setting and perhaps a little walk? Mountain Inn Hagstein offers a traditional-meets-modern setting outside of town with terraces and views.
5 highlights from Kaspar Frauenschuh to see the real Kitzbuhel
- Hiking Wilder Kaiser mountains
- Ski touring at Stuckkogel or Sonnspitz
- Black Lake or the Gieringer Weiher mountain lake
- Bichlalm mountain inn and hut (I can vouch for the setting and views)
- And, of course, a visit to the Frauenschuh shop on “im Gries” in town!
To see really see Kitzbuhel you have to look beyond, behind and above. But to really visit Kitzbuhel and get a feel for the town, its culture, its history and its passion for sports, you also should consider doing part of that looking on foot, skis or wheels. Oh, and leave your diamonds and furs at home.
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