When Ted and I visited Austria in 2017, we didn’t include Innsbruck or Salzburg, because I had visited them in my school and student days. Those are so long ago that I intended to return when I had the time. A friends wedding in Corfu provided the opportunity. Instead of an expensive return flight to Newcastle, Skyscanner revealed a dirt cheap Ryanair flight to Bergamo in Northern Italy – Ryanair use Bergamo as their Milan airport. Dave, who was with us in Corfu, has a good friend in Milan so the flight suited him as well. We decided to spend a couple of nights in Bergamo, then he would carry on to Milan and Ted and I would head for Austria. This is the account of that trip. As usual, the main text is followed by a few explanatory notes, railway and transport buffery and some practicalities for those wishing to make a similar trip. The 2017 visit to Austria is here: JOURNEYS AUSTRIA Linz and Graz 2017
Bergamo – The Città Alta from the modern city centre.
Bergamo sits at the northern edge of the Po valley in northern Italy, 40 kilometres from Milan, where the plain meets the foothills of the Alps. Today Bergamo has a population of just over 120,000 with close to 500,000 in the metropolitan area. The airport, railway station and modern city centre are on the plain. The old city, Città Alta (upper city), sits on a hill above, protected by massive walls and overlooked by the castle of san Vigilio. On the road into town from the airport there is an impressive view of the towers of the Città Alta in the distance.
Most hotels are in the modern city (the Città Bassa) and the Hotel Città dei Mille was no exception, convenient for both the airport and station. The hotel has a Garibaldi fixation, with his face everywhere, a lock of his hair in a cabinet, and posters of newspaper articles about his victories on the walls (see note 1 at the end of the main text for more on Garibaldi). We arrived after 2100 and much of the area is commercial and there seemed to be a lack of bars. However, Dave had been in Bergamo before and he remembered spotting an Irish bar near the station. We found The Ritual and it turned out to be busy on a Monday night, with a decent selection of local, Irish and German beers, so we were happy.
We had a full day to explore the Città Alta, led by Dave, and we adopted the usual technique of heading for the furthest point first then working our way back. It was going to be a hot day and we made sure that most of the walking was done before the day became too hot. During the nineteenth century residential areas spread out across the plain and, following the arrival of the railway in the 1850s, the centre of commercial life moved there. We walked along the main drag in the modern city, Viale Giovanni XXIII and Via Vittorio Emanuele II, constructed as part of a masterplan to rebuild the city in the early twentieth century. It cuts through the town from the station to the foot of the old town and is lined with banks and offices. At the far end is the lower station of a funicular to the Città Alta, and up we went (pictured above).
From the top station you emerge in a small square and enter a different world of narrow streets, medieval buildings and towers from the time when local families competed to have the biggest erection. Bergamo was already settled in Roman times, though most of today’s Città Alta was constructed during several centuries of Venetian rule. The huge sixteenth century walls and fortifications surrounding the Città Alta were built in this period and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are still plenty of residential buildings in the old city and part of the university is located here, so it retains a life of its own apart from tourism. There are a few ordinary shops left among the specialist delicatessens and plenty of bars and restaurants for later. The main street, Via Gombito follows the line of the Roman street to the main square, Piazza Vecchia, then onwards as Via Colleoni to the Cittadella at the top of the town. From there, there is a second funicular that leads to San Vigilio.
Bergamo from the top of the San Vigilio funicular
At the top we followed the path to the remains of the Castello di San Vigilio and climbed inside one of the towers. At the top there are views of the Alps in one direction and the city and across the Po valley in the other. By this time we need a break to drink our water and eat the arancini we bought from a shop in the Città Alta. As we start to retrace our steps, it is noon and time for a beer. We call in at Ristorante Baretto in San Vigilio, next to the funicular station. It turns out to be an expensive restaurant, but they are happy for us to sit on the terrace and look at the view with a pricey but good local beer. For more detail on the Bergamo funiculars see Railway Buffery 1, at the end of the main text.
Looking towards the Alps from the Castello di San Vigilio
Back down in the Città Alta we potter around the cathedral area. The Piazza Duomo is next to the Piazza Vecchio and surrounded by a complex of religious buildings including the Duomo (cathedral), the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the baptistry, the Cappella Colleoni and, behind, the tiny eleventh century chapel the Tempietto di Santa Croce. An archaeologist is at work in the square, in the full heat of the sun.
The buildings are closed for lunch, so we confine ourselves to looking at the outside, then head for the nearby Birreria di Città Alta. Dave had discovered it on his previous visit to Bergamo and liked it. It promised a variety of beers and looked from the outside like our sort of place, so we called in. There are interesting posters on the walls (including adverts for Tennent’s lager, the passion of Scotland (!), and extolling the nutritional value of that well known health drink – Birra Moretti). The staff and other customers are friendly and the beer is good, so we spent a couple of hours before making our way slowly back down to the hotel for a siesta.
In the evening we returned to the Città Alta, this time by bus, ate in the Birreria – the food is good too – and tried a couple of the other bars, the Cà del Fasà and the Fly Pub, before pouring back on to the funicular. The bear overdid things as usual. An excellent day – Bergamo is definitely worth a visit.
Bergamo to Innsbruck – the Brenner route.
The following Day we leave Dave at Bergamo station, as he heads for Milan and Ted and I head for Austria. The route is by regional trains from Bergamo to Tréviglio and Verona, with a break before catching a Eurocity Venice-Munich train over the Brenner Pass to Innsbruck
Italy has some very flash intercity trains but the local services tend to be run by old ruins, and the first train doesn’t disappoint. The timetables often have awkward gaps, usually mid-morning just when you wish to set off. The scenery is uninspiring also. The Po plain is a mess – alongside the main east-west autostrada and railway line from Milan to Venice industrial estates and distribution warehouses have mushroomed and much of the formerly rich agricultural area has become semi-industrial wasteland.
At Tréviglio we change to another Trenord train – a regional service from Milan to Verona. The train is packed – it is an hourly service except for this time of day, when there has been a three hour gap. I have to stand for the first half hour or so but manage to bag a seat as someone gets off. The train is new – there is an ‘Alstom 2017’ builders plate in my coach – and it is smart inside, but there is already graffiti on the outside of several of the coaches. After Brescia the scenery improves – we’re at the northern edge of the plain and there are rolling hills and farmland. At Desenzano there is a glimpse of Lake Garda and at Peschiera we pass through old fortifications guarding the south end of the lake. Verona Porta Nuova station is some way from the city centre (I’ve been a couple of times with tour groups so I’ve seen the main sights) and I can’t see any left luggage lockers so, though I have almost two hours to wait I hang around the station area. This isn’t as bad as it sounds – I find a place in the foodcourt selling spinach focaccia and upstairs there is a mock German bierkeller selling Lowenbrau beers.
The train to Innsbruck pulls in – the locomotives and coaches are Austrian, though the conductor is wearing a Trenord lanyard and carrying a Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) ticket machine. I’ve got an exceptionally cheap ticket for the journey to Innsbruck, a route I have not travelled before and we have a window seat. As soon as we leave Verona the line turns north, the scenery improves and just keeps getting better. We follow the valley of the River Adije through the province of Trentino, then cross into the province of Alto Adije and the German speaking part of Italy (where the river becomes the Etsch). This area became part of Italy after the First World War when Italy gained the SudTirol (South Tyrol) from Austria. Most of the way we are passing through vineyards. I’ve a black Labrador for company who lies quietly opposite me. We reach Bolzano / Bozen and follow the valley of the Isarco or Eisack. The vineyards give way to farmland as we ascend and the mountains close in. It looks like excellent hiking country, though not in the main valley as the busy motorway follows the railway line. We pass through tunnels as we climb and some of the motorway viaducts are impressive, but it cannot be peaceful out there. Eventually we reach the top of the Brenner Pass and the Italy-Austria border.
At the border station of Bennero/Brenner we change from left hand to right hand running. As we head down the Wipp valley into Austria, Italian police walk through and with the usual casual racism of frontier police, they only check out the one non- white family in the carriage (I think they are British Asians). Austrian police follow to check passports and of course spend longer with the same family than anyone else. So much for the Schengen agreement, but then both Italy and Austria and veering towards the far right bordering on fascist – I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Along the way are works for the Brenner Base Tunnel which will replace much of this railway line, with its steep gradients and spiral tunnels. For more details of the Brenner railway see Railway Buffery 2.
When we reach Innsbruck I check into the Ibis hotel by the station, once I find the entrance which is a floor above ground level. Maybe I’m tired but I find it difficult to locate. I could benefit from a quiet night and buy some food from the station supermarket and have an early night.
Innsbruck and the Austrian and German Alps
Innsbruck from above
For a small city of 120,000 Innsbruck has a varied public transport network of city and interurban trams, buses, funiculars and cable cars, so we use it to explore. (There is more information in railway buffery 3). The morning journey is on the Stubaitalbahn to Fulpmes. Originally a separate light railway it is now an interurban tram route. From the Hauptbahnhof the route runs over the city tram network to the original Stubaitalbahnhof on the edge of town, then winds its way uphill and through a series of villages such as Natters and Mutters. Google Translate rends Mutters as mothers which provides some interesting translation when researching the history of the line. The villages of the Stubai valley have become suburbs of Innsbruck, providing passenger traffic for the line. It is a one hour journey to Fulpmes, with views of Innsbruck, the road and railway to the Brenner Pass and the Patscherkofel mountain across the valley. At this quiet time of day the driver knows most of the regular passengers, and others are heading out for country walks or cycles. Fulpmes, where I have time for a quick look round, is a winter sports, hiking and cycling centre with some decorated old houses round the church.
Fulpmes (above) and Innsbruck Old Town (below)
Back in Innsbruck at lunchtime we have a look round the striking Altstadt (old town). The capital of the Tirol sits at a crossroads between the Inn valley route from east to west and the north-south route from Italy to Germany via the Brenner Pass and has long been a major town. We take the obligatory walk down the main street, Maria-Theresien- Strasse, through the surrounding lanes and look at the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof – which is actually copper), the cathedral (which is totally encased in scaffolding) and the Hofburg (Imperial Palace).
The Hungerburg funicular – Congress and Hungerburg stations
The afternoon excursion is by funicular and cable car to the Nortkette mountain range, which towers above the city to the North. I vaguely remember seeing a traditional funicular climbing from the riverside when I visited Innsbruck with a school group in 1970. It was totally rebuilt in 2007 and now leaves from a station by the Congress hall in the city centre. The stations themselves are striking, designed by Zaha Hadid. So is the journey – It starts underground, crosses the river Inn on a bridge, returns underground where it passes the balancing train in a blaze of flashing lights impossible to photograph, before surfacing once more and climbing to the Alpenzoo (Alpine Zoo) and terminating at Hungerburg. From there one cable car ascends to Seegrube then a second to Hafelekar. The Congress station in the city is 560metres above sea level, Seegrube is at 1905m, and Hefelekar station is at 2256m, just beneath the summit at 2334m. At the top there are some patches of snow, much to Ted’s delight (this is early June) and tremendous views down to the city and across to the mountains and the Brenner Pass to the south. A short climb gives views to the north over the Karwendel Alps (below). Then it is time for the inevitable beer and, amazingly, the Karstube restaurant at Hafelekar station doesn’t have high prices to match the altitude. On the way back down the Hitt und Söhne cafe at Hungerburg is hipster central – the beer is fine and their homemade hummus is tasty – the smoothies and bagels look good too.
Much of the second Innsbruck-based day is taken up with a trip to Germany. The Zugspitze sits on the border of Germany and Austria and at 2962m is Germany’s highest mountain. There is a train and cable cars to the summit – not possible to resist so off we go. From Innsbruck a Deutsche Bahn regional train runs to Garmisch-Partenkirchen which it reaches in eighty minutes before continuing to Munich. The line starts climbing above the Inn valley as soon as it leaves Innsbruck. The most dramatic section is when it climbs along a sheer rock face, which must have been incredibly difficult to construct. When I check it out, the railway was built jointly by Austria and Bavaria and opened in 1912 and the Martinswand (Martins Wall) rock face was indeed a major engineering challenge. We call at Seefeld, cross the Scharnitz pass on the border then call at Mittenwald then Garmisch.
At Garmisch, a major winter sports resort, we transfer to the Bayrerische Zugspitzbahn, the narrow gauge railway which climbs the Zugspitz. It is the longest, steepest and highest mountain railway in Germany. The first stretch to Grainau is fairly level, then it has to use a rack to reach Eibsee before the seriously steep climb to the mountain station. The journey takes takes seventy minutes, the second half of which is in a tunnel inside the mountain – there is not a lot to see but it is an impressive engineering feat. At the top station there is a restaurant and views of what remains of a glacier. There is plenty of snow up here, though there are deckchairs on the sunny side of the restaurant. We’ve been really lucky with the weather – the whole time in Austria the forecast is for thundery showers but they never happen.
After a brief stop we press on via the short cable car trip (above) to the summit of the mountain. It is between the end of the ski season and the start of the main summer season – the time of year when most work is done on mountain facilities and the summit station is a building site. However, among the building work Germany’s highest biergarten is open and we have a weissbier and a bratwurst from the neighbouring stall, also advertised as the highest in Germany.
From the summit a cable car plummets (very definitely the correct word) back down to Eibsee in about ten minutes, most of it a sheer drop. There is one stanchion en route, the tallest in the world, and the picture shows a cable car (with a capacity of 90 people) passing it. A train below, heading for the summit, looks like a toy. At the bottom station the Eibsee lake looks inviting, but I decide to catch the next train back to Garmisch and onward to Innsbruck, to have some more time looking around the town. A tremendous trip to take if you are in the area – there are more details of the Zugspitz railway and cable cars in railway buffery 4.
Needless to say, I visit a few places for a beer or two over the evenings in Innsbruck. Theresienbrau is a brewpub on the main street which says it has been going for 22 years – the beer is fine, the service is friendly and quick and the food is good. I order the bratwurst and there are five of them alongside a mountain of fried potatoes and sauerkraut (above) – I’m going to go on a diet when I get home. Stieglbrau, a Salzburg brewery has a pub off the main tourist trail with a pleasant courtyard beer garden. I have a couple in Das Krahvogel which has good beer and atmosphere. The prevalence of smoking among young people in Austria surprised me. In Krahvogel, to get to the non-smoking area one had to pass through the smoking section, where the bar staff were working and the drinks and food were being served. Note that Austrian restaurants and bars became non-smoking in November 2019, followed by railway stations in 2020.
Innsbruck to Krimml and Bruck
My final two nights in Austria are spent in Bruck an der Glossglocknerstrasse, a small village near Zell am See. I chose it because I wanted to visit Salzburg but not stay in it – partly to save money and partly to avoid crowds. We catch the train to Zell in the morning, and travel along the Inn Valley to Wörgl where we leave the main line to Salzburg and continue through the Austrian countryside via winter resorts such as Kitzbühel and St Johann to Zell.
Zell is a pretty lakeside resort – it features in many Lakes and Mountains brochures, it is busy with tourists and I hear plenty of English voices. The photo is the view from the lakeside promenade. I decide to take a trip on the Pinzgau Valley railway and leave the rucky in a locker at the station. This is a narrow gauge line that pootles up the valley every hour to Krimml stopping at every field along the way – there are 38 request halts. The valley is well populated and the train is reasonable busy.
Krimml is well-known for its waterfalls but the railway terminates short of the village (above) and the falls are a bus ride or long walk away. Instead we follow a marked path back down the valley to one of the previous stations. During the forty five minute walk the path climbs uphill and returns back down to river and railway level three times, so it is good exercise. At Wald there are a few spots of rain but it comes to nothing. The station hut is occupied by a lad who was on the train from Zell – he doesn’t board the next train in either direction so seems to be spending the day in the shelter. For more on the Innsbruck – Zell – Salzburg railway see railway buffery 5, and on the Zell am See – Krimml line see railway buffery 6.
We stop the train by pressing a button in the hut a couple of minutes before it is due and a red flashing light tells the driver to stop. We press the bell to alight at Mittersill, the main small town in the valley and have a look round. That takes about ten minutes so we repair to the Gasthof Post for a beer to wait for the next train. There is a group of bikers finishing their drinks and it takes them at least twenty minutes from paying to get zipped up and set off – you can’t just nip out for a pint of milk on the bike with gear like this.
We return to Zell, collect the rucky and catch the next train for the few minutes ride to Bruck – Fusch, the next station on the main line towards Salzburg, where the Gasthof zur Post is right next to the station. Bruck an der Großglocknerstraße (a road over the mountains to the south) is a small village of 670 people with a scattering of houses and a couple of shops and hotels. The Gasthof is run by a Dutch family whose English is better than mine. The room is fine, the food is good and the terrace is a pleasant place to sit and drink a beer or two. I’ve been eating far too much meat and I have a veggie option, which involves a couple of tons of pasta – maybe it is not that healthy.
I’ve passed through or changed trains at Salzburg station a couple of times with tour groups but I’ve never visited the city since my first independent trip abroad. In 1972 a friend and I travelled by train to Salzburg and spent a week in a student hostel. My friend returned by train while I wanted to see the world, so I took a local train across the border to Germany, walked to the autobahn entrance and stuck my thumb out. This was the first time I’d hitch-hiked, and it was a quick journey to Munich. I had arranged that, in case of emergencies, my parents could get in touch by sending a letter poste restante to the head post office in several of the cities I planned to visit. I did check and fortunately no messages were sent via this high-tech solution.
The train journey from Bruck – Fusch to Salzburg takes about an hour and a half, following the River Salzach all the way. Near Bruck the riverbanks are being improved after serious flooding a few years ago. There are several sections of gorge which the line threads its way through, sometimes in tunnel. At Schwarzach – St Veit the railway from Serbia and Slovenia joins us and at Bischofshofen the line to route to Graz we took last year heads off uphill. We crossed the river 7 times (I didn’t count – I looked it up later) before we reached the suburbs and into Salzburg itself.
The station is a fair distance and across the river from the old town and we catch a trolleybus from outside the station (2). On the way I recognised the side street where the hostel was – I think it now is a four-star hotel. We cross the river by a new pedestrian bridge, weighed down by locks attached by couples.
Salzburg was a city state until 1816 when it became part of Austria.The old town is a maze of streets and a collection of baroque and renaissance buildings, the cathedral, Peterskirche, Kollegienkirche and Franziskanerkirche churches and the Residenz palace, many dating from rebuilding during the seventeenth century following a fire. The old town sits between the river and the surrounding Mönchsberg hill which is topped by the fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg, parts of which date from the eleventh century.
I took the bear for had a lengthy walk round, despite high humidity and crowds of tourists – Mozart and the Sound of Music have a lot to answer for. In the main street, Getreidegasse, the shops have ornate ironwork signs, which I remember from my previous visit – even McDonalds has one, it must be one of their medieval branches. We took the funicular up to the fortress – strangely I can’t remember doing this before – perhaps the thought of spending cash was too off-putting. We wandered round the series of courtyards, took the obligatory photos then decided it was time for lunch. Away from the main crowds in the fortress we found the Burg Schenke, a café where we passed the time and avoided the only heavy shower of my journey.
Back down in town we found the Sternbrau beer garden which I remember from 1972. At the time the legal age for drinking beer in Austria was 16 and we enjoyed the experience of legal drinking to the full. I remembered the name and, though it wasn’t where I thought it was, we found it with the help of ratebeer.com. It has changed a bit – there are new buildings to one side and part has become an Italian restaurant but the beer garden is still self-service. If I remember correctly, in 1972 you had to ask and pay for your beer first, then take the receipt to a counter where they gave you a mug, then to another counter where someone else poured the beer for you. Now it is all handled in one transaction. I realised how much I enjoyed passing a couple of hours in a tree-shaded courtyard drinking beer and watching people. Too many times I’ve been in Bavaria and Austria out of season or in wet weather, and gardens have been closed.
Back in Bruck I spend the evening sitting outside the Gasthof watching very little happen, having a couple more beers, checking that the trains (the railway line is across the road) are running on time and giving up on the vegetarian idea and scoffing a huge wienerschnitzel (but with a side salad).
Munich and home
The following day it is time for us to head home. I have booked evening flights from Munich to Newcastle via Paris Charles de Gaulle, so there is plenty of time. From Bruck we return towards Innsbruck as far as Wörgl – I saw more of the country this time, I must have been asleep for the best part of an hour two days previously. The next train took us into Germany to Rosenheim, where it terminated due to engineering work and we swapped to another – all very efficiently organised. An added bonus for a train nerd was a diversion via a minor line via Holzkirchen to reach Munich.
There were a few spare hours, so I dumped the bag in a locker and headed into the city centre. The station and the streets were packed with busy people, it was hot and humid, so the best idea was to find a biergarten. At two o’clock on a Monday afternoon Augustiner Keller was fairly busy with plenty of people drinking a litre maß of beer so we joined them. It is off the main tourist track and is a big garden with plenty of shade. It is self-service, so you get your food and beer at the counters, pay at one of the tills and sit and enjoy. I couldn’t resist a final bratwurst before heading home to a diet. The garden is so vast that they collect the glasses and return them to the washing area by electric truck.
Absolutely the last picture of a bratwurst (or any other sausage) this year.
The flights back were as miserable as most air travel but we reached home by midnight. The thunder that had been promised finally struck as we left Munich and it was a bumpy ride. At Charles de it was tricky to find a beer – a tin from Pret a Manger was the only option I could find. The taxi driver to Durham decided to tell me his life story, when I wasn’t really feeling like anything apart from sleeping. The good news was that after two weeks eating and drinking too much I had only put on a kilo.
(1) Guiseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was an Italian general, politician and nationalist, most noted for his contribution to the unification of Italy. His story is as complex as the network of states that eventually made up present day Italy, with Garibaldi leading armies for several of them. In the mid-nineteenth century Bergamo was in the Kindom of Lombardy – Venetia, part of the Austrian Empire. Forces under Garibaldi conquered it in 1859 during the Second Italian War of Independence and it became part of the new Kingdom of Italy.
Bergamo is known as Cittá dei Mille (City of the Thousand) as many of the small army of those supporting Garibaldi in his 1860 campaign against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies came from the area.
Useless facts: Garibaldi visited Tyneside for a time in 1854, staying in Tynemouth and South Shields. His marriage of 1860 lasted less than a day as, imediately after the ceremony, his new wife informed him that she was pregnant by another man, and off he went in the huff. In 1865 Nottingham Forest chose their home colours from the uniform worn by Garibaldi and his men at the time. And then there is the Garibaldi biscuit.
(2) The mainstay of public transport in Salzburg is the trolleybus (Obus or Oberleitungsbus) network, which was opened in 1940 to replace the tram network. Today there are 12 routes, carrying 14 million passengers annually in 118 trolleybuses and it is one of the largest trolleybus networks in Europe.
Railway (and cable car) buffery:
1 The Bergamo funiculars. The funicular between the Città Bassa and the Città Alta was opened in 1887, and comprises two parallel lines, one 234m long, the other 240m long, and rises 85m at a maximum gradient of 52%. Journey time is 2 minutes. The most recent modernisation was in 1988. It is operated using counterweights under the top station (a traditional funicular uses one car to balance the other) and is technically an inclined lift rather than a funicular.
The San Vigilio funicular from the Città Alta to San Vigilio was constructed in 1912, with the aim of developing the San Vigilio area. It is 630m long, climbs 90m at a slope of 10-22%. Journey time is 3 minutes. San Vigilio never developed greatly and it closed in 1976. It was renovated and reopened in 1987, when the traditional two-coach funicular was replaced by a single coach on a single line. Today it is used largely by tourists visiting San Vigilio for the castle and the views.
Both funiculars are part of Bergamo’s public transport system and use the same fare structure. The lower funicular in particular is an important link in the public transport network.
2 Verona to Innsbruck – The Brenner Railway and Brenner Base Tunnel
The Brenner Railway (Brennerbahn, Ferrovia del Brennero) is a key European international route carrying traffic from Italy to Germany. It was designed under the Austro-Hungarian empire, to provide a reliable route through the Alps between Lombardia-Venetia and Tirol. The line was opened from Verona to Bolzano in 1859 (the southern part becoming Italian in 1866) and from Bolzano to Innsbruck in 1867. Since 1919 the border has been at Brennero/Brenner station, the highest point on the route at 1371m above sea level. Brenner is the highest standard gauge station in both Italy and Austria. There is a change of electrification systems at the border, though some modern passenger and freight locomotives can operate under both systems.
The railway line carries trains of lorries and other freight, but the steep hills and tight curves limit the amount of traffic and its speed. Most traffic uses the parallel motorway which has led to serious congestion and pollution. The solution to this problem is the construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel, which began in 2008 and was expected to be completed by 2025-6. By 2021 the completion date had slipped to 2032. This will cut the passenger train journey time between Bolzano and Innsbruck from two hours to fifty minutes and the lesser gradient will enable freight trains to carry twice the weight at faster speeds. The tunnel will run for 55km from Fortezza/ Franzenfeste to Innsbruck and a link to the Innsbruck freight bypass tunnel will extend this to 64km, the longest rail tunnel in the world. By June 2018 84km of the 230km of tunnels (main tunnels, side tunnel, exploratory / drainage tunnel, access tunnels) had been excavated.
3 Innsbruck public transport
Innsbruck has had a small metre gauge city tram network since 1905. Today there are two urban lines operated by modern low floor trams. Line 3 (there is no line 2) was extended in the west of the city in December 2017 and further extensions and new lines (including a line 2?) on both the east and west sides of the city are under construction and planned. There were also three interurban lines extending out of the city two of which remain open. The tram line to the neighbouring town of Hall ( a tram about to depart from Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof is pictured above) closed in 1974 to make way for road improvements linked to preparations for the 1976 Winter Olympics. I can remember the conductor showing off by jumping between the two trailer cars while they were on the move. Line 6 runs through countryside to the resort of Igls and currently operates only at weekends and during school holidays.
The third line is the Stubaitalbahn which ran from a station on the south side of the city for 18.2km to Fulpmes. It was opened in 1904 by Aktiengesellschaft Stubaitalbahn and has been electric since the start. Power was changed from AC current to DC in 1983 and operation extended over the city tramway to the Hauptbahnhof. The company merged with the city tramways in 1997. It is operated by modern low floor trams, hourly to Fulpmes and every half hour to Kreith and passenger numbers are the highest ever at 1.36 million in 2016.
Trolleybuses fell in and out of favour with the city authorities and there were two, different networks which lasted from 1944 to 1976 and 1988 to 2007 respectively.
The original Hungerburg funicular opened in 1906 and was replaced by the current funicular on an extended route in 2007. The Nordketten cable cars opened in 1928, and were most recently modernised in 2006, though the station buildings are preserved as listed buildings. The two cars to Seegrube can transport 800 people per hour and the single car to Hafekelar 620 people per hour. South of the city another cable car runs from Igls to the summit of the Patscherkofel mountain.
4 Zugspitz railway and cable cars
The railway from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (705m above sea level) to Zugspitzplatt (Zugspitz plateau – 2588m) is a 19km long, metre gauge railway, climbing 1883m from Garmisch, at a maximum gradient of 25%. It opened in 1929-30, using standard adhesion from Garmisch to Grainau then rack from Grainau via Eibsee to the summit. The final 4.5km to the summit is in tunnel. The original summit station (Schneefernhaus) was diverted to Zugspitzplatt in 1987, from where a short cable car (the Gletscherbahn) runs to the summit 350m above.
View from Zugspitzplatt
A cable car linking Eibsee directly to the summit station at 2962m was built in 1963 and totally modernised during 2017, reopening in December. The cable way holds the world records for the highest cableway support tower (127m), the greatest overall height difference in one cable span section (1945m), and the longest unsupported cable span (3213m).
The railway line and the various cableways around Garmisch are operated by Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bergbahn, owned by the commune of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
A separate cable car reaches the summit from the Austrian side of the border.
5 The Innsbruck – Salzburg railway
The Lower Inn Valley railway (Unterinntalbahn) was opened in 1858 by kk Nordtiroler Staatsbahn between Innsbruck, Wörgl and the Bavarian (now German) border at Kufstein, and trains between Innsbruck and Salzburg passed through Bavaria. To open up the area to the south, and because relations between Austria and Bavaria deteriorated, a route wholly through Austrian territory (the Salzburg-Tirolerbahn) from Wörgl via Kitzbühel and Zell am See to Salzburg was opened in 1873-75. The line is double track throughout and was electrified by 1930, though steep gradients and tight curves limit the speed. Today it is mainly used by regional trains. The original route via Germany is 58km shorter and more level – both express rail traffic and the motorway between the Tirol and Salzburg use this route. Austrian Railways must pay German track access charges to use the route and some non-time sensitive traffic uses the longer route via Zell am See. High-speed tracks are being constructed in the Lower Inn Valley, mainly in tunnel, parallel to the existing line. Eventually, there should be a high-speed line from Innsbruck via Salzburg to Vienna, also used in part for traffic from Italy to Germany via the Brenner Base Tunnel.
6 The Pinzgauer Lokalbahn
This narrow gauge line(760mm) was opened in 1898 and runs from Zell am See to Krimml along the Salzach valley. Originally there were 2 trains each day, today there is an hourly service. It has never been electrified and is operated by diesel railcars and locomotives hauling a couple of coaches and a bicycle wagon (above). The line was operated by ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways) and was under threat of closure. Since 2008 it has been owned by the Province of Salzburg and operated by its subsidiary Salzburger Lokalbahn. The line has regularly been subject to flooding. The river defences were improved and various improvements made to the track layout. However, the line was badly flooded twice in 2021, and trains replaced by buses until some point in 2022. Control is by a GPS system. The line is 53 km long and has 38 intermediate station,s all of which are request stops. The train is stopped by pressing a button at the halt which activates a flashing red signal for 5 minutes.
Hotels: The hotels used on the trip were:
Bergamo: Hotel Città dei Mille, via Autostrada 3/C, 24126 Bergamo. Tel +39 035 317400. www.hotelcittadeimille.it/en/ . Book direct or via www.booking.com . Rates include breakfast. 10 minutes walk from station
Innsbruck: Ibis Innsbruck Hotel, Sterzingerstr 1, 6020 Innsbruck, Tel +43 512 570 3000. www.accorhotels.com . Adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof.
Bruck an der Großglocknerstraße: Gasthof zur Post, Raiffeisenstr. 27, 5671 Bruck an der Großglocknerstraße, Tel +43 6542 47334, www.gasthofpost-bruck.at . Book direct or via www.booking.com . Rates include breakfast. Next to station.
Train travel in Italy: I only took one domestic journey by train in Italy. By regional trains the journey from Bergamo to Verona cost €11.45 (full single fare, May 2022) which is inexpensive for the distance. Details of trains and fares are at www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en .
Train travel in Austria is covered in some detail in JOURNEYS AUSTRIA Linz and Graz 2017. Day tickets, allowing unlimited journeys and breaks of journey, are twice the price of single tickets for the same route. There are a range of cheap deals and reduced fare cards of which the most important is the Vorteilscard Senior which gives substantial discounts on public transport throughout the country for those aged 63 or over. Details of trains and fares are at Austrian Federal Railways site www.oebb.at/en/ .
Germany: The rail journey from Innsbruck to Garmisch is included in the Tirol fare system. A Zugspitbahn ticket (Zugspitz-Rundreise) which includes the train from Garmisch to Zugspitsplatt, unlimited rides on the Gletscherbahn between Zugspitzplatt and the summit, the Cable car from the summit to Eibsee and train back to Garmisch costs €63 (summer 2022). The journey can also be done in the opposite direction.
International trains. The best website for train times is the German Railways site at www.bahn.de/en/. Cheap advance fares are available on international trains. Shop around as fares can vary. For example, I bought a cheap ticket from Verona to Innsbruck on the Austrian Railways site, and from Zell-am-See to Munich there were much cheaper fares on the German Rail site than the Austrian one. Seat reservations are a couple of euros extra, useful if you want to specify a window seat.
City travel (fare information updated in May 2022)
Bergamo: Bus 1 (with a plane symbol on the destination screen) runs regularly, express from airport to the railway station. Then, together with the other variants of the route – 1A, 1B and 1C – it continues every few minutes as a stopping service via the Città Alta funicular lower station to terminate by the lower station of the San Vigilio funicular. Single tickets for the city zone are €1.30 including changes within 75 minutes or, to include the airport bus, €2.40 for 90 minutes. 24 hour tickets are €3.50 and €5 euros respectively. There are machines at the main stops and on some buses. Validate tickets on boarding. www.atb.bergamo.it has information in English and detailed timetables in Italian.
Innsbruck: a single ticket on the city transport network is €2.80 and a 24 hour ticket is €6.10. The Stubaitalbahn to Fulpmes costs €13.40 and includes journeys throughout the city zone for the day. Information at www.ivb.at/en . A return fare from the city centre (Congress) to Hafelekar by funicular and cable cars is €42.00
Salzburg: a day ticket is €4.50 (€3.60 with Vorteilscard Senior) from ticket machines. For day visitors an add-on to the rail fare covering city transport for the day is cheaper and is available from OBB ticket machines. +K on the above ticket means that it includes travel in the city zone (kernzone). Details at www.salzburg-verkehr.at . The funicular to the fortress is part of the fortress entry fee. A basic ticket is €13.30 (includes entrance, electronic guide and most areas of the fortress), a standard ticket which includes the Regency rooms in addition is €16.60.
Planning the trip: I used the Rough Guide to Austria, Jonathan Bussfeld et al, 4th edn, 2008 and the Rough Guide to the Italian Lakes, Matthew Taylor and Lucy Ratcliffe, 2nd edn 2009. There will be newer editions available. For rail information the European Rail Timetable is indispensable. Visit www.europeanrailtimetable.eu .The Eisenbahnatlas Österreich, Schweers & Wall, 2010 is useful for railway nerds. For decent beer www.ratebeer.com is a good starting place.
Initial research for this article used English, Italian and German Wikpedia – www.en.wikipedia.org www.it.wikipedia.org and www.de.wikpedia.org , with additional information from www.visitbergamo.net , www.trasportipubblici.info (Italian only), www.bbt-se.com/en/ (Brenner Base Tunnel) , www.tyrol.tl . The article ‘Zugspitzbahn: Top of Germany’, Andrew Thompson, in Todays Railways Europe No269, May 2018 was timely. All sites mentioned have English versions unless otherwise noted. For translation from German and Italian I have relied on Google Translate, which has its idiosyncrasies, but is usually good enough to give the general sense.
The railway lines used on this journey.
Photos: The photographs are by Steve Gillon, except for the following, sourced via Google Images: The Bergamo Coat of Arms is from http://www.mobilitypress.it; Bergamo station is from http://www.bestofbergamo.com; Brennero station is from wikipedia commons. The picture of Garibaldi in macho pose is from Thinglink; the biscuits are from http://www.dreamstime.com; The Brenner base tunnel plan is from http://www.tunneltalk.com; The Innsbruck – Hall tram in the 1970s is by railfan3 via http://www.flickr.com. The Città dei Mille hotel is from http://www.booking.com. The base map above is from the European Rail Timetable.
The text and all photos except those mentioned above are Copyright: © Steve Gillon, July 2018. Minor updates May 2022.