Brenner (Pass) Attractions
At only 1,374m/4,508ft the Brenner is the lowest Alpine pass in western Austria and can be used all the year round. This mountain which stretches over the eastern ridge of the Alps is the most important traffic link between Germany and Italy.
The Brenner motorway runs from the Inn Valley south of Innsbruck up the Wipptal via the Adriatic/Black Sea watershed to the Alto Adige valley. Since 1919 the pass has marked the frontier between Austria and Italy. There was already a pass over the Brenner in Roman times. In 1772 it was marked out afresh. Increased motor traffic in more recent times necessitated a number of widenings and extensions to this north-south link road. Shortly after the Second World War it became clear that the Brenner Road was inadequate, so a new route was planned and a start made on building it in 1959. The Brenner Motorway (completed in 1974) runs south from Innsbruck, passing under the Patscherkofel. It then spans the Sill valley by means of the Europabrücke (Europe Bridge), which was built between 1959-63; it is 795m/2,620ft long and 190m/625ft high and is supported on massive pillars. The Brenner Railway was first opened in 1867. It connects the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck with Bolzano, the capital of the Alto Adige (South Tirol). Although not steep, the line has many bends, and trains can travel only slowly. To improve efficiency a tunnel is being built. At the end of 1989, two days after the truck drivers blockade was lifted (see next item on Brenner problems), the first sod was dug near Tulfes, a village east of Innsbruck, and a start made on the 12.7km/8mi long Inntal (Inn Valley) Tunnel, which was expected to be completed by the middle of 1993. Some 27,000 motor vehicles, 5,000 of which are trucks, pass along the Brenner every day. Long queues during holiday periods, damage to the vegetation caused by exhaust fumes and - last but not least - the noise are all the extremely unpleasant results of the ever-increasing volume of traffic. Repeated complaints from the public finally resulted in traffic restrictions being imposed in 1989, forbidding trucks to travel at night. In September 1989 Italian truck drivers blocked the Brenner Pass in protest at what they considered was the excessively low limit set for the number of Italian trucks allowed to cross the Brenner each year. The problem might be eased somewhat if more trucks were able to use the motorail.In 2006, work began on tunnels for the railroad from Verona to Innsbruck. This includes the Brenner Base Tunnel under the Brenner Pass. The upgrade is being done to ease the road traffic.
Past the Brennersee (lake), in a further 5km/3mi we reach Brennero (Brenner in German), on the Austro-Italian border. The border divides the little town (1,370m/4,520ft; pop. c. 1,000) into the smaller Austrian part and the larger Italian part.
Gries am Brenner, Austria
Gries am Brenner (1,163m/3,817ft; pop. 1,500), a popular holiday resort in both summer and winter, lies just below the top of the Brenner Pass, at the foot of the Padauner Kogel (2,068m/6,787ft).
Parish Church of the Visitation of Our Lady
In Gries am Brenner's parish church of The Visitation of Our Lady, built in the 19th C. and restored around 1930, two tablets depicting the 14 auxiliary saints, removed from the demolished 17th C. chapel, are worth seeing.
At Gries is the lower station of a chair-lift to the Sattelalm (1,652m/5,420ft; inn), from which it is a 1.5 hours' climb to the summit of the Sattelberg (2,113m/6,933ft), with magnificent views extending well into the south of Tirol.
Tablet commemorating the meeting of Emperor Charles V and Emperor Ferdinand I
At the southern end of Gries there is a tablet commemorating the meeting of Emperor Charles V and his brother, the future Emperor Ferdinand I.
From the Brennersee there is a rewarding climb (about 5.5 hours) by way of the Landshuter Hütte (2,693m/8,836ft; inn) to the summit of Kraxentrager (2,998m/9,836ft), on the frontier with Italy.
Matrei am Brenner, Austria
Matrei am Brenner (992m/3,255ft; pop. 3,000), the Roman Matreium, is the oldest settlement in the Wipptal. It is a popular resort in both summer and winter. In the old town will be found charming old houses, painted and with wrought-iron signs.
Parish Church of The Assumption
The Matrei am Brenner parish church of The Assumption, a Gothic building of c. 1310 with a Baroque interior, is well worth a visit, especially for its ceiling frescos of 1500 (designed by the artist J. A. Mölk) and a "suffering man" which can be seen above the high altar (c. 1350).
A little way outside the village of Matrei am Brenner stand the ruins of Schloss Trautson.
Servite Priory of Maria Waldrast
Two hours' drive west from Matrei lies the former Servite priory of Maria Waldrast (1,636m/5,368ft), with a pilgrimage church (Late Gothic choir).
Steinach am Brenner, Austria
Steinach am Brenner (1,048m/3,438ft; pop. 2,700) is situated some 5km/ 3mi beyond Matrei am Brenner, at the mouth of the Gschnitztal. It is very popular as a winter sports resort; water with healing powers flows from the Velper spring.
The Gschnitztal, which joins the Silltal at Steinach, is served by a road which goes to Trins (1,233m/4,045ft), with a church (remodelled in Baroque style) and a handsome castle, and then to Gschnitz (1,242m/4,075ft). The Late Gothic chapel of St Magdalene, to the east, has old frescoes.
The Steinach am Brenner Parish church, built on the site of a burned-down Baroque church, has frescos by G. Mader in the manner of the early 19th C. group known as the Nazarenes, and an altarpiece (1753) by M. Knoller.
From Steinach a chairlift ascends by way of the Bergeralm (1,600m/5,250ft) to the Nösslachjoch (2,223m/7,323ft), from which there are far-ranging views.