Whether you hear the call of the mountains every winter or you’re preparing to snow-plough down the slopes for the first time, we’ve teamed up with our sister company, Crystal, to bring you an Austrian resort that’s perfect for all abilities…
When it comes to ski holidays, there are only 2 main essentials – mountains and snow. But that doesn’t make it any easier to pick a resort when faced with a literal A to Z of options, ranging from Alpe d’Huez to Zermatt. In fact, knowing which resort to pick can be as daunting as an icy black run on a foggy day. Luckily, we visited Bad Hofgastein, in Austria’s Gastein Valley, this month, and found it’s perfect for skiers and boarders of all abilities. And if hurling yourself down a mountain isn’t your idea of fun? Never fear, the area has plenty of off-piste activities to enjoy, too. Here are just some of the reasons we love it so much…
The Gastein Valley is actually home to four ski resorts – Bad Hofgastein, Bad Gastein, Dorfgastein and Sport Gastein. All are covered by the same lift pass and you simply catch a free bus between them when you want to explore. Beginners will find gentle nursery slopes with slow lifts in all but high-altitude Sport Gastein, which is better suited to those who are confident on red runs. There are English-speaking ski schools offering group and private tuition, as well as special classes for little ones. In total, there’s 205 kilometres of perfectly-groomed piste to explore, covering everything from tree-lined blue runs to super-steep blacks. And thanks to top-notch snow-making, the valley is usually open from the end of November to late April.
Healthy living is at the heart of everything in the Gastein Valley. In fact, the amount of sprightly 70 and 80-year-olds you see on the slopes might have you contemplating a permanent move. The valley is located above a series of natural thermal springs which feed both public baths, like the Alpentherme Spa Resort in Bad Hofgastein, and individual hotel pools. We were a bit sceptical about the healing powers of the water at first, but seven days later and eczema-free for the first time 29 years, we were happy to eat our words. For those wanting to take wellness to the next level, Crystal offers trips to the nearby Healing Caves, where naturally high radon levels are believed to cure all manner of ailments.
One of the best things about skiing is that you’re burning so many calories – up to 3,000 in six hours – that you can basically eat whatever you want. You’ll find hearty clear soups with sliced pancakes or dumplings are a staple on every lunch menu. Sausages also play a starring role – with so many varieties you’d have trouble sampling them all in a fortnight. Being close to Italy, you’ll find pasta options are delicious, while evening meals are likely to centre around local produce such as root vegetables and home-reared meat. And the standards don’t slip on the slopes, where traditional mountain alms, or huts, offer seriously good value food with a view. Confident skier? Take black run B20 down to picture-perfect Hirschenhütte with its exposed beams, gingham tablecloths and roaring fireplace.
You might be up to 2,700 metres above sea level, but you’ll find the service is anything but frosty. Efficiency is the order of the day in Austria and everything from ski buses to bills, arrives like clockwork. Bad Hofgastein is located in the depths of the valley, so you need to catch a free bus to the slopes, but you’ll never have to wait long. We used a locker at the base of the mountains to save carting our gear back to the hotel and the chivalrous owner would even carry my skis in for me every day. My husband had to carry his own, which is fair enough. And it’s not just the locals who are super-friendly – the Crystal reps were always on hand to help and offer expert recommendations.
The après ski scene here is undoubtedly more laid-back than in many of the bigger resorts, but that doesn’t mean it’s dull. You’ll find family-run bars and restaurants offering everything from hot chocolate topped with whipped cream to mulled wine and the obligatory Stiegl beer. For those who love the après but not the ski, days can be spent (deep breath) ice skating, ice climbing, playing tennis, bowling, snow shoeing, alpine walking, husky dog sledding or taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride. And if none of that appeals (what’s wrong with you?), there’s always the thermal spa.
If you fancy hitting the slopes in Bad Hofgastein, visit the Crystal website. And keep checking the Thomson blog for the lowdown on Hotel Impuls Tirol.
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Author: Laura Crombie
Published: March 10, 2015
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