The sound of sirens filled the valley and, high in the overlooking hills, the idyllic peace was shattered. My first thought was that it was an air-raid warning. Then I realised that I was thinking as a Brit, and I wasn’t in Britain now. No, that piercing wail had nothing to do with air raids, it was an avalanche warning.
Across the valley, the Nordketter mountain loomed vast over Innsbruck. Here was the source of the warning siren, and only 24 hours earlier myself and my girlfriend had been standing at its peak. But today we were observing it from the safety of the stunning grounds of Schloss Ambras.
Schloss Ambras is a ravishing renaissance castle and palace closely associated with the reign of Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595). It is the stuff that fairy tales are made of, and housed within is Ferdinand’s astounding collection of curiosities and marvels, known as the Chamber of Art and Wonders.
Ferdinand II is one of history’s most prominent art collectors, with his gallery boasting a schmorgasbord of bizarre, dazzling and beguiling pieces, one of the most celebrated being “Tödlein” (1519) by Hans Leinberger (pictured above).
This figure, exquisitely carved from pear wood, depicts Death armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows. It was most likely made for Emperor Maximilian I before finding its way to Ferdinand II’s collection as an heirloom.
It’s an incredible piece of work, but there are hundreds of other exhibits to see too , including the iconic portrait of Vlad the Impaler, a suit of armour made for a giant and several preserved sharks that hang from the ceiling. So, if you ever find yourself in the Austrian Tyrol, a visit to Schloss Ambras is a must. Just watch out for those avalanches.