The Culinary Jakobsweg in Austria’s Paznaun-Ischgl valley is a food event unlike any other we have ever experienced. Now entering its eleventh year in 2019, this annual summer event introduces food lovers to two immersive alpine experiences, gastronomy and hiking, in one of the world’s most spectacular destinations, the Austrian Alps.

 

Every summer the world’s most exclusive ski destinations take on a different persona. In the Austrian Alps, for example, Mother Nature transforms white winter slopes into a stunning outdoor paradise – unveiling mountains, rolling green meadows and lush valleys.

Paznaun Ischgl Valley, Austria

With temperatures averaging 23 degrees Celsius between mid-June and mid-September in the western Austrian state of Tirol, summer holidaymakers are discovering that there is more to the Tirolean Alps than just skiing.

While sports and outdoor enthusiasts will find lots to enjoy, visitors seeking a different kind of adventure also have something special to look forward to.

 

The Culinary Jakobsweg – A unique food experience

A highlight of summer in this region is the Culinary Jakobsweg (The Culinary Way of St. James or Kulinarischer Jakobsweg in German), an annual summer-long hiking/gastronomy programme which takes place in the Tirolean Paznaun-Ischgl valley. 

Hiking the Culinary Jakobsweg, Austria

The Culinary Jakobsweg transforms paths once used by ancient pilgrims crossing the Alps into gourmet hiking trails. For the event, those trails lead to mountain chalets serving dishes curated by some of Europe’s most respected chefs. We’re talking about chefs who have more Gault & Millau points and Michelin stars between them than there are petals in an edelweiss flower.

Every year, the programme, which began under the patronage of legendary Austrian chef Eckart Witzigmann in 2008, invites selected chefs to create recipes which feature local ingredients and highlight different aspects of the region’s character.

After the yearly launch event, each chef ‘adopts’ a mountain hut where their dish is featured on a special Culinary Jakobsweg menu throughout the summer.

Chefs at Culinary Jakobsweg | Culinary Way of St. James

The 2018 edition, which took place on 8 July, featured five chefs; Michael Wignall (UK), Sven Wassmer (Switzerland), Heinz Winkler and Harald Wohlfahrt (Germany) and Arabelle Meirlaen (Belgium) – the only female chef in that year’s line up.

 

Who’s flying the UK flag in 2019?

Representing the UK at the 2019 version (kicking off on July 7) will be Suffolk-born and London-based chef and adventurer James Knappett.

James, 37,  is chef-patron of two Michelin-starred Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, London, a restaurant which he runs with his wife Sandia Chang. Chef James’s feature dish for the 2019 Culinary Jakobsweg will be fallow deer, celery purée and plum soaked in black tea, served with a grating of chocolate.

 

First, we hike…with Michelin star chefs

Following a hearty breakfast at the 4* Hotel Tirol Alpin Spa, we joined a group of locals, chefs and other invited guests for a two-hour hike led by host Martin Sieberer, head chef at the 5* Trofana Royale Hotel.

Our destination was Friedrichshafener Hütte (2,138 meters), an Alpine chalet overlooking the towns of Galtür and Ischgl and venue of the opening event.

Man hiking in Ischgl, Austria

HDYTI Tip: The weather in the Alps, even in the summer, is prone to sudden change. Sunny skies can quickly give way to bursts of rain (and on occasion, even brief snow flurries). For your hike, pack breathable/waterproof clothing, extra layers, a rucksack, water bottle, energy snacks and sturdy walking shoes. We got some hiking poles which proved very useful!

The heavens were kind to us on the day and soon we cleared dense alpine forests and were rewarded with magnificent mountain views as far as the eye could see in every direction.

As the trail gradient became steeper it wasn’t long before the initial chatter diminished and the more experienced and fitter folks peeled away from the rest of the pack.

British chef Michael Wignall and his family were part of our splinter group which moved at a slower pace. This provided the perfect opportunity for a chat with the Lancashire native.

For Michael, sports and the outdoors have always been his preferred escape from the rigours of running a fine-dining restaurant. Before studying to become a chef, Michael was an athlete. His fitness certainly showed on the hike up to Friedrichshafener Hütte.

Michael Wignall, Head Chef of Angel Inn, Hetton, North Yorkshire

Chef Michael Wignall (UK) at the Culinary Jakobsweg

With a career spanning almost twenty years, Michael and his wife Johanna recently took on a new challenge – the Angel Inn at Hetton in North Yorkshire, England.

Hiking the Culinary St. Jacob’s Way was the perfect way to work up a healthy appetite and so, looking forward to tasting his dish later, we let Michael and his family carry on with the rest of the journey.

 

Gastronomy in the Alps

We caught up with Sven Wassmer who has two Michelin stars and eighteen Gault Millau points to his credit. He was recently appointed head chef of the Grand Hotel Quellenhof, Bad Ragaz in Switzerland.

Sven Wassmer (Switzerland) at the Culinary Jakobsweg

Watching him forage for wild mushrooms with a small group sparked our curiosity about the region’s gastronomy. Chef Wassmer, who considers the Alps a food treasure chest, was happy to share a few insights.

Austria is one of Europe’s most heavily wooded countries. The topographical and climatic conditions give birth to some very unique plant life, many of which are incorporated into the local cuisine.

Traditional alpine food tends to be carb heavy, a reflection of the short summers and cold and long winters. There is also a good supply of fish from the many streams, rivers and mountain lakes throughout the region.

It is common to be presented with a platter of homemade mountain cheese, bread and slices of cold meats when visiting locals.

 

A celebration of culinary talent in Austria

Eventually, we arrived at Friedrichshafener Hütte to the welcome sound of folk music and platters of selected meats, bread, cheese and schnapps.

While the rest of us partied, the celebrity chefs immediately began work at their makeshift kitchens.

Dancing at the Culinary Jakobsweg

Soon, the fresh mountain air was filled with a heady combination of aromas. We needed no further invitation to start the taste portion of this most unusual food festival.

With a rustic alpine hut and a clear mountain lake providing the most picturesque backdrop for al fresco dining, we worked our way around the various chef’s tables.

Food at the Kulinarischer Jakobsweg | Culinary Way of St. James

Salmon plate at the Culinary Jakobsweg, Austria

Pasta dish by Harald Wohlfahrt (Germany)

From the savoury to the sweet, we sampled Arabelle Meirlaen’s lentil risotto with corn-fed chicken and spices and enjoyed the warmth of Heinz Winkler’s Kaiserschmarren – sugar topped pancakes with applesauce, cowberry jam, plums and vanilla. Michael’s dish was a hearty meatloaf, with haunch venison, pork mince and pickled vegetables. 

The return hike back to Iscghl proved to be less exciting. Our focus was on getting back to the hotel as soon as possible so we could shower, change and get ready for another culinary extravaganza that night.

That evening, we were treated to a stunning presentation of thirteen taster dishes by the talented Benjamin Parth, the award-winning head chef at the Stüva restaurant (Hotel Yscla). The meal was an experience of textures and flavours and a celebration of culinary art and ambition.

 

Culinary Jakobsweg – where food pilgrims dare

While showcasing this breathtaking location, the Culinary Jakobsweg presents an excellent opportunity to experience a truly unique combination of the beauty of the Alps and the flavours of its gastronomy.

Friedrichshafener Hütte, Alpine Hut in Paznaun Ischgl, Austria

When visiting the Alps in the summer, you MUST travel with your senses fully primed for adventure. Just remember when you arrive, to let your taste buds come alive and roam free. 

HDYTI Tip: If hiking is not your thing, there are many other ways to get to the huts participating in the Culinary Jakobsweg.

 

Travel information

Cable car at Paznaun Ischgl Valley, Austria

Getting there: Fly into Innsbruck Airport and pick up a local transfer (90 minutes drive, approximately 100 km) to one of the towns in the Paznaun region (Ischgl, See, Kappl, Galtür). Alternatively, make a road trip out of it by flying into Zurich, Switzerland and driving across the border (3 hours/235 km).

Nearest train station: Landeck-Zams.

Where to stay: Enjoy excellent package deals on five-star hotel accommodation in many parts of the region during the summer. With a range of accommodation to choose from in Paznaun-Ischgl, five nights’ bed and breakfast start from €153 pp. This includes the local Silvretta Card which entitles guests to many free services, such as the use of cable cars, chairlifts, buses, local swimming pools and more.

 

Disclosure

A modified version of this article first appeared in House of Coco online magazine in July 2018. Another version also appeared in print in House of Coco Volume 13 – The Food Issue published in November 2018. Our thanks go to the Paznaun-Ischgl tourism board and Ski Write Public Relations for the invitation to experience the Culinary Jakobsweg.

 

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Kaiserschmarrn Pinterest image for Culinary Jakobsweg, Austria

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).