The Ötztal Valley
Many of the most famous Austrian Ski resorts can be found in the valley of Ötztal, though the name itself may mean very little if nothing at all by itself! The Ötztal is a side valley of the Inntal, which is the main valley in the Tyrol district. The southern end of the valley is known as the Gurglertal, and this ends at the border with Italy. As an interesting piece of knowledge (and great to store away for a pub quiz or two), the hugely popular village of Obergurgl at the southern end of the Ötztal is the highest parish in Austria.
There are five communities here – Öetz, Umhausen, Sölden, Langenfeld and Sautens, and in total, the valley is 65 km long. The only railway station in the area is Ötztal, which connects to the Arlberg railway (Innsbruck to Bludenz)
The areas of Sölden and Öetz are famous worldwide ,and Sölden is one of the most visited places in Austria – perhaps in part due to the phenomenal ski scenes in James Bond’s Spectre. As you may expect, the land here is very mountainous and agricultural with only 7% suitable for housing – most of this is found at the base of the valley.
There are lots of Alpine Mountain lakes as a result of the many glaciers in the Ötztal. The second largest glacier in Austria – the Gepatchferner is located here, as well as the Mittelbergferner, the Gurgler Ferner, The Hinterreisferner and the Grober Vernagtferner. The glaciers feeding these lakes also attract visitors to the area in the summer months.
Ötzi – The Ötztal’s most famous son
The Ötztal valley has a very mild climate, partly because it is narrow valley, giving it a natural insulation. Even chestnuts and vines can be grown here due to mild winters and warm summers.
In 1991 an enormous discovery was made in the valley. A Glacier mummy was discovered on the Schnaltal Glacier and proved to be 5,300 years old! He is known as Ötzi or Frozen Fritz, and Neolithic tools and weapons were uncovered with him. Ötzi is now kept in a custom built museum in Italy, as he was found just beyond the border to South Tyrol (Bozen). It was later revealed by scientists that he had in fact been murdered!
By the 19th Century most of the valleys in the Tyrol, including Ötztal were very poor. There was a ban on marriages in 1830 in an attempt to reduce the population because of the poverty. This ban was lifted twenty years later in 1850. During the 19th Century many residents emigrated to Germany and beyond, many to the US, looking for a more prosperous life. It was only once there was a rise in mountaineering and summer tourism that the economic situation in the valley began to look up.
Around the turn of the century, Franz Senn commenced guided tours of the Glaciers then in 1903, the railway station in Sölden was connected to most of the villages in the Ötztal and the Timmelsjoch became a major attraction – the area ultimately becoming a major attraction for hiking.
The South Tyrol became part of Italy just after World War 1, with the Ötztal region right on the border.
Obergurgl becomes famous
Obergurgl became internationally famous in 1932 when the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard made an emergency landing in his stratospheric balloon on the glacier. This event created major publicity for the village of Obergurgl, springboarding tourism in the area.
The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl in Obergurgl
The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl can be traced back as far as the 19th century and the transformation of Obergurgl from a quiet mountain village into a top holiday destination is thought to be closely linked to the development of family-run hotel.
Here’s a little of the hotel’s history!
• In 1889 Martin Scheiber, great grandfather of the current owner, built the Gasthaus Edelweiss in Obergurgl.
• Martin Scheiber’s son, Angelus, took over the business with his wife Anna in 1929 and added the “Gurgl” building.
• In 1974 Erich and Brunhilde Scheiber kept the business in the family and built an indoor swimming pool
• From 2003 to the present day,Tanja and Lukas Scheiber have been in charge of the “E&G”.
• In 1889 Martin Scheiber founded the Ramolhaus mountain hut at 3,000m . It was the first high alpine refuge of its kind in the Valley. Currently it is a great base from which to explore the regions glaciers and peaks.
The grandfather of today’s owners also constructed a number of cable cars in Obergurgl and played a major part in the development of the Timmelsjoch mountain road!
The latest development
With great excitement, the new Top Mountain Crosspoint was opened by Italy’s famous Giacomo Agosini, 15 times winner of the Motorbike World Championship. It was completed just in time for the beginning of the 2015/2016 season and is a multi purpose building in the foothills of the Timmelsjoch combining a smart restaurant, the base station for the new Kirchenkar gongola, a motorbike museum and the toll road. In the spring and summer thousands of tourists drive along the panoramic Timmelsjoch High Alpine Pass Road from North Tirol to South Tyrol in Italy.
Alban Scheiber, Managing Director of Hochgurgl’s lift company has said that the building has been a great opportunity to bring even more attention to Hochgurgl and it is a building that combines four functions. The cost of the construction was 15 Million Euro and was completed in a year, in true Austrian efficiency. Brothers Alban and Attila Scheiber are both passionate about motorbikes and have been collecting them for most of their adult life, so the chance to combine a stunning museum with a modern 10 person gondola was a the heart of this project, as well of course, as being the entrance to the toll road. And really, who doesn’t love a restaurant with stunning views of the valley?!