Crystals and castles in Austria
I have never seen skies quite as blue as they were when I visited Austria last week - there may have been clouds, but the azure ceiling to the world really made my day when I went to Innsbruck in search of gardens for my blog! Just look at the colours in the photograph above and you will understand what I am wittering on about.
Austria was not a place that I expected to find gardens because I think of it more as a ski destination, but while working in Feldkirch, I checked the internet to see what was on offer nearby and thanks to the website, Garden Visit, I found two that I could get to quite easily by train. And although I wasn't sure what to expect, I had a wonderful day out and returned home with pictures and words for my readers.
The train journey took two hours but I really enjoyed the ride because of the kaleadoscopic view of Heidi-style scenes, with mountains, chalets, alpine meadows and grazing cattle. On arrival in Innsbruck, I found a helpful tourist office that told me how to make my way to the two gardens on my list. The first is 12 km outside the city, but there's a local bus and, providing you tell the driver where you're going, he'll tell you when to get off - but be warned, if you don't tell him, you'll never find the Swarovski Crystal Works (Kristallwelten).
The history behind Kristallwelten is as interesting as the sights you see on arrival there, with the factory founded in 1885 by the young Daniel Swarovski I, who needed large quantities of water to power the new crystal-cutting machine he'd invented. So he chose the Tyrol, and 100 years later the family opened the adjacent theme park that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually - hardly surprising because the museum will leave even the most hardened tourist gasping, and a garden that will delight, nestled as it is in a Tyrolean valley (see photo above). The museum is filled with with extraordinary crystal sculptures (right), holograms and other exhibits that will enthrall you, whatever your age!
The highlight of the garden is a huge herbivorous sculpture (below) with crystal eyes and a mouth that spouts water into a large pond below. But there are also floral walks and magnificent views of the mountains behind, so this charming garden ranks high on my list of "must sees" in the world (as does the museum!). I really enjoyed my visit here.
Still filled with crystal images, I went next to Castle Ambras, high above Innsbruck and here I found another feast for the eyes, as I visited the extraordinary palace museum (below) which was built by Archduke Ferdinand in 1564. There are many wonderful exhibits here and it is easy to spend an afternoon wandering around the castle and the grounds. The latter are somewhat surprising for Austria, since they are partially parkland, with magnificent trees and views over Innsbruck and the castle below, but then there are large formal areas, reminiscent of Capability Brown's grand gardening style. It's worth combining the two properties if you are in the area.