Austria's Tyrol, with its Alps and rivers, is a year-round haven. But in spring and summer, it is especially lovely when the white edelweiss, blue gentian and other wildflowers bloom.
Innsbruck, in the Inn River valley in the province of Tyrol, is where people flock to ski and see. The capital of Tyrol, the city has been host to the Winter Olympics in 1964 and '76, and it's the perfect spot from which to visit the surrounding areas.
The city itself is filled with attractions. There are the Olympics venues, museums abound and there's the Alpenzoo, the only zoo in Europe located at such a high altitude. Castles dot the landscape and, in the middle of the city, in the pedestrian zone, is the famous Goldenes Dachl, a late-Gothic bay window with 2,657 gilded copper tiles, built to serve as a court box during Emperor Maximilian I's reign from 1494 to 1496.
Wattens, three miles from the city, is a village whose existence for many generations has been dependent on the Swarovski family and the Daniel Swarovski Corp., the world's leading supplier of machine-cut crystal and the largest supplier of crystal jewelry stones.
Not only does the company supply jobs, it has built housing for its local employes and has turned the once-sleepy hamlet into a charming, bustling village.
In celebration of its 100th anniversary in 1995, the company that gave us cubic zirconia created Swarovski Crystal Worlds.
A subterranean labyrinth of rooms and open spaces hidden under a park, a children's playground and a hand-shaped maze, it shows the magic of crystal in thousands of ways.
You enter this mysterious cavern below the chin of an awe-inspiring giant head with two huge crystal eyes and a mouth gushing water into an artificial lake. Instantly, you are transported into a world of beauty and versatility that crystal projects.
Crystal is shown here in a variety of raely explored dimensions. The first room is adorned by works of famous artists: among others, there's Salvador Dali's "soft" surrealist clock, "Porte-Manteau-Montre"; a huge, crystal-studded stele by Keith Haring; Niki de St-Phalle's "Nana," a Statue of Liberty-like figure that holds an enormous crystal instead of the flame; and the beginning of a wall that's 13 feet high and over 50 feet wide, embedded with 12 tons of glittering, multicolored crystal jewelry stones. Here you'll also see the world's smallest (shown under a microscope) and largest (300,000 carats) crystals.
The crystal theater has sculptures by Austrian artist and poet Susanne Schmogner. They're bizarre and fascinating; you'll want to come back to look at these multi-colored figures draped and dressed in crystal-studded fabrics or made of crystal.
Then there's a meditation room, almost pitch-black with some visuals and a soft carpet on which to sit, designed by Brian Eno of David Bowie and U2 production fame and co-founder of the band Roxy Music. In his first permanent installation - this quiet club, as he calls it - Eno utilized crystalline frequencies, giving visitors the ability to change both the images and music at will by moving about.
Other rooms and passages offer different insights into crystals. The most fascinating one, for me, is the one upstairs. It's a huge geodesic dome that, once entered, makes you feel as though you are on the inside of a crystal.
Made of close to 600 triangular mirrors, some of them concealing light sources that come on intermittently, it reflects images that are reduced and reproduced thousands of times on the surfaces of the dome. And if you've had some dinner and imbibed a bit in the adjoining cafeteria before entering this dome, it can have quite an overbearing effect.
Speaking of the cafeteria, its walls are lined with photographs of celebrities who have worn Swarovski stones: from Greta Garbo to Marlene Dietrich, from Romy Schneider to Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John.
More photos, documentation and a video illustrating the history of Swarovski are in the adjoining room, as are a special chandelier (the ones at the Versailles Palace and the Metropolitan Opera are by Swarovski as well) and a permanent exhibition of every piece of Silver Crystal produced by the company.
But you don't have to wait until you're in an airport to buy Swarovski crystal works. A two-story gallery with shopping facilities is also part of the Crystal Worlds.
Also in Innsbruck is the famous Grassmayr bell foundry, in existence since 1599. Here you can watch the old handicraft of working ore into bells. Or stop by the bell museum, with bells from the 10th century, and sound room, where you'll learn that a bell produces 50 different tones. During war years, Europe's bell foundries survived because they were used to cast cannon, so they are the oldest enterprises around. An often-used bell inscription, seen on many of the products displayed here, is, "May peace be your first chime."
> If you go
Getting there: Austrian Airlines (1-800-388-2878) flies to Innsbruck via Vienna; Lufthansa (1-800-645-3880), via Franfurt.
Accommodations: The Hotel Europa Tyrol in Innsbruck, with its cozy Europastuberl restaurant, a great sauna and many other amenities, is in the center of the city, right across from the railroad station. The Goldener Adler, by the Goldenes Dachl, is a 600-year-old hotel - but with the latest conveniences.
Dining: No matter which restaurant you choose, the food is nonpareil. The best? All game dishes.
Information: Austrian National Tourist Information, 500 Fifth Ave., (212) 944-6880.