A brochure for the historic circular trail between the villages of Volders and Wattens in Austria sat on my bedside table for two years. Until one perfect spring morning when my friend Petra and I set out to discover the hidden treasures on our doorstep. The impressive Karlskirche, our chosen starting point, is only a 5-minute drive from our home.
|A circular hiking trail passing 11 historic sites around the villages of Volders and Wattens near Innsbruck in Austria. The sites include two castles, an open-air archaeological museum, a war cemetery and two centuries-old churches.|
|Distance||Approximately 10 km or 2,5 to 3 hours|
What you should know up-front
While I highly recommend hiking this historic circular trail, you shouldn’t attempt it without the official brochure and map. You are going to get completely lost without it since the yellow trail markers are few and far between in some crucial places. Even though the brochure is only in German (the trail is called the Historischer Rundwanderweg), the map is still helpful. Get it from any of the local tourism offices. (Of course, it will also help if you take my English guide along ?).
The map in the official won’t necessarily prevent you from taking a wrong turn. However, it’s easier to discover and figure out the right route with it in hand. That’s why, at the end of this post, I’m including another map as aid. And hopefully, my pictures and description will help you to not get lost at all!
There are 11 sites marked on the brochure map. We made a point of it to find them all. It’s these sites that I describe below.
1. Karlskirche (St Charles Church)
The Church of Saint Charles Borromeo, commonly known as the Karlskirche, is a good starting point for the circular trail. There is free parking next to the road above the church.
The foundation stone of the Karlskirche was laid on 2 April 1620. Due to various delays, including the Thirty Years’ War, the building in its present form was only completed in 1710. Six domes and a tower rounded off on three sides give it an unusual shape that reminds of Orient architecture.
Even the A12 motorway passing right next to the church doesn’t take away from its beauty. The pink and white façade is eye-catching at any time of the day.
Take a few minutes to enter the church. You may not be able to walk around in the main part but you can still see the beautiful ceiling frescoes from the entrance. They were painted by Martin Knoller in the years 1765 to 1766.
The Karlskirche is attached to a former Servite Monastery via an archway. Today, the building is used as a school.
From the Karlskirche you enter a wooded area with a children’s play park next to a pond, also known as Lake Volders. According to legend, the pond used to be a much larger lake until a giant cut off its affluent.
Shortly after passing the pond, we went wrong for the first time. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because we entered a natural forest leading to farmland with traditional homesteads. From there, we made our way to Volders from the top, passing another of the 10 historic points marked on the brochure – the Johanneskapelle.
Note: If you want to continue straight to Volders from the Karlskirche, stay as close as possible to the main road on your left after passing the pond. You will pass the Johanneskapelle again on your way back.
2. Johanneskapelle (John’s Chapel)
This little chapel isn’t that old but nevertheless makes a pretty picture in its beautiful natural setting next to a stream. Built by members of the Volders Fire Brigade in 1984, there’s a wooden statue of Saint John of Nepomuk inside.
Coming from the Johanneskapelle, we turned left at the first big crossing. This is another spot where you must simply follow your natural sense of direction. It’s quite obvious that the main road along which the Urnengräber or burnt graves site (which we were looking for next) is, is down toward the left.
Read more: All about hiking the Zirbenweg, the ultimate beginner’s hike in Austria
3. The Urnengräber
Because there is no picture of the site in the brochure, it took us some time to find it. After walking up and down the main road a few times, Petra finally spotted the rock with a plaque on a street corner. It turns out we had our backs to it at first ?.
Roughly translated, the inscription on the rock reads as follow:
From here, southward, the urnfield of Volders stretched across an area of 2,500 square meters (1200 – 800 BC). Uncovered in 1955 by Dr Alfons Kasseroler, it was the largest hitherto discovered in Tyrol with 431 burnt graves. The remains can be seen in the local museum in Wattens.
4. Pfarrkirche Johannes der Täufer
From the Urnengräber site, we continued down the main road until we reached the Pfarrkirche Johannes der Täufer, which is the Volders village church. It’s an ideal spot to take a break and fill up your water bottle at the fountain in front.
Work on the Pfarrkirche Johannes der Täufer (John the Baptist) started in 1437 but there are remains of earlier structures dating as far back as 1280. From the church, we wanted to get back onto the official trail route. Our sense of direction led as south again. Walking up behind the church you’ll soon pass the cemetery before turning left on the road passing Aschach Castle.
5. Aschach Castle
Aschach Castle was mentioned for the first time in 1334. However, the original structure was destroyed in a fire after a battle in the 1413 century. It took more than a century before it was renovated and extended in 1575 according to plans by one Ernst Rauchenberg who was also responsible for the more famous Ambras Castle in Innsbruck.
Aschach Castle is privately owned and not open to the public. The closest you’ll get to stay in the castle is Schloss Camping Aschach, beautiful green camping grounds next to the castle.
Once Aschach Castle is behind you, it’s another guessing game as to whether you’re taking the right roads or not. We wanted to continue to Wattens along the bottom part of the trail. There should be a trail turning off to the left but we went up too high along a tarred road on the right. After asking for directions from a local resident, we went left at the top of the road until we got to a dirt road crossing where there were trail markers.
The views from the dirt road over the Inn Valley, the Nordkette mountain range, and Volders are absolutely stunning. Soon you’ll pass a farmstead. Continue past the barn behind which the trail enters the forest. Here, you can either turn right towards Himmelreich or go straight towards Wattens. We chose the latter route.
Honestly, this part of the trail is a bit purposeless. I thought it will take us to one of the churches in Wattens, which is also the home of the Swarovski Crystal Worlds. However, it only connected to the main road from where we turned right again without seeing anything noteworthy.
Read more: If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, why not try the beautiful wild water trail to the Sulzenauhütte in the Stubai Valley?
The next destination according to the brochure map is a place called Terrassensiedlung (terraced settlement). At the beginning of the 20th century, stones for the development of the Inn Valley were mined in this area. The activities destroyed the Rhaetian sacrificial site, which was located here between the 1st and 4th century AD.
The road to the settlement goes past the entrance to the Piepmatzweg and up a steepish hill on the outskirts of Wattens. The circular trail is well signposted until you get to the first sharp bend in the road. Continue straight into the forest when you get here. With no sign in sight and the map showing a number of bends, we continued up the road until a hiker told as we are way too far up.
We found a sign about 50 metres into the forest. From here, it’s quite easy to stay on track until you get to the Himmelreich Open-Air Museum.
7. Himmelreich Open-Air Museum
Himmelreich means the Kingdom of Heaven. The open-air museum contains the remains of a settlement that was founded around 400 BC.
In the former settlement area, which was enclosed with a ring wall, the foundations of eight buildings, some of which are carved into the rock, can be identified. The Rhaetian settlement existed between the 5th and 1st century BC before it was destroyed by a fire. The findings made during excavations, such as ceramics and iron tools, can be seen at the Wattens Museum.
There is a viewing platform near the open-air museum from where you have another great view over Wattens and the Inn Valley. Several paths lead off from the open-air museum. As long as you continue in an easterly direction you’ll be okay.
We ended up at the same farmstead we arrived at earlier after leaving Volders. But instead of turning right and going back down into Volders at the intersection, we continued straight on a road that took us past the back of Schloss Aschach. It eventually joins up with the road that leads up to the Johanneskapelle.
I enjoyed the remaining part of the historic circular trail the most. If you only have an hour or so for an easy walk through breathtaking Alpine scenery, I highly recommend hiking this part of the trail only. It’s easily broken down into a shorter circular route.
8. Friedberg Castle (Schloss Friedberg)
Not long after passing the Johanneskapelle, an impressive castle straight from the middle ages comes into sight. Friedberg Castle was built by the Counts of Andechs around 1000 AC. A famous late owner is the Baron von Trapp. It is still privately owned, but unlike Aschach Castle it’s accessible to ordinary folks through staying in one of the guest suites.
During the summer months, guided tours organised through the local tourist board also give visitors the chance to view the impressive and lavishly renovated castle.
Just below Friedberg Castle, a road leads off to a farmstead with a simple white chapel next to it. The Lexenkapelle was built in the 2nd half of the 18th century. The farmstead itself is also a very nice example of a traditional Tyrolean farmhouse.
Continuing left down the road from the Lexenkapelle and farmhouse it’s easy to let your eyes wander to the Nordkette. During our hike, we were also treated to cherry blossoms in the foreground.
10. War Cemetery and Playground Bruggenwaldele
As if the scenery can’t get quainter, you’ll soon stumble upon a beautiful little cemetery with symbolic tombs for the fallen of both World Wars. According to local records, freedom fighters wounded in the French wars of 1797 and 1809 who died from their injuries in the hospital of the nearby Servite monastery, are also buried in this cemetery.
There is a big open playground which also doubles as a soccer field next to the cemetery. During our hike, it looked like it was used by a forest kindergarten.
11. Servite Monastery
The last bit of our hike before we arrived back at our car was passed the Servite Monastery which is connected to the Karlskirche. Since school wasn’t out yet, we were lucky enough to find someone selling ice-cream outside. What a great way to end a lovely spring morning!
|Will I hike the historic circular trail again?|
|Maybe not the entire route but definitely the bit from the Karlskirche to Friedberg Castle, passing the Tyrolean farmsteads and the war cemetery. In fact, I did go back with M on a Sunday afternoon when C was out of town.|
Map with site markers on the historic circular trail
This map with some available site markers, together with the brochure map and my guide, will hopefully help you navigate the trail without getting lost.
Getting there with public transport
Bus 4125 between Innsbruck, Hall in Tirol, Volders, and Wattens. The Voldererbrücke stop is closest to the Karlskirche.
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