The Alps ... supercalifootballistic!
The Austrian Alps have long been a magnet for hikers, adventure sports fanatics and The Sound of Music nostalgists.
Nearly 50 years after Julie Andrews skipped through the region in the famous musical, the hills are now alive with the sound of footballers flocking for summer training camps and friendly internationals.
Euro 2012 joint hosts Ukraine and Poland have both set up camp, as have 2004 winners Greece and defending champions Spain.
Austria’s own soccer fortunes have dwindled but the country, which co-hosted Euro 2008, is still managing to stage 11 internationals in 14 days.
These include such unlike- ly encounters as Greece against Armenia at the 4500-capacity ground of third division FC Kufstein, on Thursday.
The Greeks, regular visitors to Austria for the past 30 years, are staying at a five-star hotel in Kitz-bühel, famous for its alpine skiing race.
Poland are in the self-styled “sun capital” of Lienz, Ukraine on the Walchsee, a picturesque lake near the German border, and Spain in Schruns, a picture-perfect Alpine village where they were also based before the 2010 World Cup.
Teams who failed to qualify for the tournament are also onsoling themselves with time in a mountain getaway and Salzburg, which offers Sound of Music tours, is playing host to three matches involving the Turkish national side.
“It’s the climate which is not too hot and not too cold, the quality of accommodation, the infrastructure and the quality of the fields,” said Dieter Dubkowitsch, general manager of the Montafon tourist board which covers the region where Schruns is located.
“It’s also a chance for the teams to get away from it all. They are under pressure every day, here it’s a bit rural, it’s a bit relaxed and I think that, after a long season and with a tough tournament ahead, that helps the preparation.”
Dubkowistch said that the Montafon region benefited from world champions Spain’s presence even though its market is aimed firmly at Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands.
“Those countries are very football-minded and, when we can say that we have had the world champions here, and they have come back for a second time, this is something that we can use for marketing,” he said.
“During the period when the team is here, the team wants to concentrate on its preparation and we want to make the best of it, of course, to show the world we are excellent hosts.”
He said that Montafon had not paid Spain to come to their region, although some other tourism authorities did fork out for the privilege of hosting a team.
“Spain pay to stay here,” he said. “We provide the fields and the logistics and security but the overall stay is something they have paid, this is something people don’t believe.”
“They like the hospitality and they like the training sessions. If it brings them luck, why shouldn’t they come here?”
Poland’s presence had a more direct impact on Lienz, according to Josef Margreiter, director of the Tyrol tourism board’s marketing division.
“Poland is the most important market in central Europe,” he said.
“In the last decade, there has been a 166 per cent growth in winter stays and 35 per cent growth in summer stays.
“The presence of the Polish national team means that countless pictures of the eastern Tyrol in summer will be delivered to Polish households.
“It’s invaluable publicity for our region and the beautiful sunshine town of Lienz.”