The Lower Inn Valley, Schwaz

Leaving the Hall aire the next morning we discovered that the charming (if a bit nosy) Swiss lady was too. She was a camper, not an official! Laughing as we said farewell (in German) we headed along the valley and it was good to arrive finally on a stellplatze. We paid 4 euros to park next to a scrub of land called ‘Konigsfeld’, which indeed many local cats were strolling around as kings.

It was Sunday lunchtime and at least 5 vans were leaving as we arrived and all were making a bizarrely and remarkably over-zealous use of the tiny drain, positioning themselves in the most awkward of angles to dump their waste water ‘look at me! I’m doing this legally.’ How unusual!

Schwaz, at the foot of the Kellerjoch in the Lower Inn Valley

During the 15th and 16th centuries Schwaz made its name, and the fortune of a number of local investors, from deep underground in its silver (and copper) mines.

The town still exudes a well-heeled and cosmopolitan air, with many young people driving flashy cars or riding roaring motorbikes, and the old centre is comfortably historic with beautiful patrician houses (the silver-mining Fuggers’ Palace is now a nunnery), a grand high street and a simply beautiful church.

Pfarrkirche, with its roof covered with 15,000 copper plates

Surprisingly not a cathedral, the Pfarrkirche is the largest four-aisle Gothic church in the entire Tyrol. Inside it has carved wooden pews and very prettily decorated guild poles, the tall decorated candle holders that feature religious or allegorical scenes.

Locals of five centuries and today alike are proud of its towering 15,000 copper tiles, now a pretty vermillion green.

Burg Freundsberg, high above the town

We meandered through the open cloisters around a garden of roses and fountains before finding the walking way up to the Schloss Freundsberg, a steep climb up out of the town with super views of the valley below. The Counts of Tyrol guarded Schwaz from this Burg, but today a different type of ceremony was taking place.

Some sort of Autumn or “Erbst” Festival had just finished so we kept out of the way of the many traditionally-dressed men and women in lederhosen and petticoats but were greeted by the presiding minister. From the top of the Schloss the views across the green and verdantly autumnal valley were gorgeous.

Views of the Inn Valley back towards Innsbruck

Skirting the road we found the old town walls which also serve as a flood defence against the waters that slew down the mountainside when the snows melt. Back at river level and a hot, stuffy Bertha we got chatting to a younger British couple who were six months into their dream tour of Europe.

Having sold a house and bought a van they had been across to East Europe and returned via Greece and Italy to the Alps. They were us, six years ago! It was lovely to swap experiences and memories with them before an arriving Czech van split us up.

Late September evening sunshine at Schwaz stellplatz

Early the next morning we climbed up again to the Schloss that, having read about in our guide book, contained 15th century kitchens.  It was positively chilly at 9am as we retraced our steps up the steep and misty mountainside.

When we reached the top at 10.30am, opening time, we realised with disappointment that it was ‘ruhetag’ or closing day. Back down in the town centre a half an hour later for a welcome coffee, locals were peeling off layers in the building heat and tucking into ice creams and strudel. Ah well.

Simon cycled 15kms to get views of the imposing, but unreachable by bike, Tratzberg Castle at Stans. I stayed out of the heat and in Bertha researching how to get back into Germany without the challenge of the steepest mountain passes.

We considered routes through Italy, France and a return through Switzerland but in the end decided upon the Fern Pass to get us closer to Bavaria, and hopefully without taxing Bertha’s power steering too much…