The hills are alive
Scenery, challenging slopes and updated luxury greet visitors to western Austria's Arlberg region, writes Abigail Butcher.
Size is everything, or so we are led to believe when it comes to ski resorts. In a world where lift passes are expanding and ski companies merging, European ski resorts are competing to offer the most lift-linked skiing, and Austria's Arlberg region this year is leading the way.
Famous for some of the finest resorts in Europe – St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech, Zuers, Stuben, Warth-Schroecken – the Arlberg has this season become the largest ski area connected by lifts in Austria, with now 305 kilometres of slopes. If you like to compare, this puts it on a par with France's famous Espace Killy (Val d'Isère-Tignes) and offers your average cruising skier more than a good day out, before even starting to consider the selection of places one may billet or refuel.
Straddling the border between the Tyrol and Voralberg regions in western Austria, the Arlberg offers visitors a mix of traditional and luxury modern, no-expense-spared hospitality, with St. Anton (1,304 metres) providing a central base. A town that offers as much adrenalin-filled nightlife as it does skiing, this is a ski destination long beloved of Britons as well as Scandinavians seeking mountainous adventure.
While it's a short one-hour, scenic drive from nearby Innsbruck airport, St. Anton is within easy reach of the major international hubs of Munich and Zurich, both less than 21/2 hours by car.
Andino Bergwellen-Hotel: The newest kid on the St. Anton block is a cultural Alps-meets-Andes fusion thanks to its owners, Andy Wasle (from the Tyrol) and his wife, Alejandra, who hails from Peru.
Each of the 16 rooms is furnished with vibrantly coloured, hand-crafted textiles imported from Peru and old Tyrolean wood, reflecting the history and flavour of both mountainous regions. Individually designed rooms start from €200 ($280), bed and breakfast, featuring beds that can be made into a twin or double and pullout sofa beds for children or extra guests. The simple but spacious bathrooms include locally produced toiletries including a tube of Arnica for any accidental spills on the piste.
There's a spacious underground parking lot for those who venture here by car and like all good Austrian hotels, there's a wellness area with Finnish sauna (i.e., don't wear bathing suits), infrared cabins and a juice bar.
The Andino is handily situated just off the main Dorfstrasse, a mere three-minute walk from the Galzig gondola that transports skiers up the mountain, and the town's many restaurants, bars and shops within similarly easy access; andinohotel.at.
Chalet Artemis: In the quiet hamlet of Nasserein, a satellite hamlet a few kilometres from St. Anton, this six-room modern chalet is owned by Andrew Dunn, one half of Scott Dunn, a company that pioneered the European luxury chalet holiday several decades ago.
Accommodation is spread over four floors and 500 square metres and includes a private cinema, pool, hot tub, terrace and dining room lined on one side by a vast glass cabinet containing 300 bottles of wine. The double and twin rooms, each named after a Greek god, are luxuriously appointed with spacious modern bathrooms featuring twin sinks and artisan Bamford bath products manufactured from an organic farm in Gloucestershire.
The chalet is available to rent from $1,795 (U.S.) per person, per week – but with it comes with such comforts as a private chef, morning tea served in bed, cooked breakfast, afternoon tea and five-course evening meals with paired wines, complimentary drinks (including Laurent Perrier Champagne), concierge and a driver on standby to whisk you around the resort; scottdunn.com.
Eat and Drink
Al Fuego: The in-house restaurant at the new Andino Bergwellen-Hotel in central St. Anton offers a mouthwatering selection of fare cooked on its Josper Barcelona charcoal grill. Eat jerk chicken or barbecue ribs, fish or tofu with sides of baked potatoes and slaw on wide, solid-oak tables while swigging a fine Argentine Malbec. It's un-Austrian, unpretentious and the wait staff are top notch; andinohotel.at.
Galzig Bistrobar: At the foot of the Galzig gondola, this glass-walled eatery serves up the best-looking burgers in town with speedy, friendly service. Perch on high stalls and watch the world go by as you choose from daily soup specials, steaks and tasty dishes from around the world (top tip: the prawns are excellent). Or simply stop in for a compulsory gluehwein at the end of a long day on the slopes; galzigbistrobar.at.
Tannenhof: Raise the bar with dinner at this boutique, privately owned seven-suite hotel in Nasserein, whose British chef, James Baron, has been named Austrian chef of the year by the 2017 Grand Restaurant and Hotel Guide. This is a treat meal, cuisine made lovingly from food sourced locally from "garden to plate." Three courses cost €85, with wine or tea pairings in addition; hoteltannenhof.net.
Strolz: Head to nearby Lech to buy an exclusive Strolz ski boot, made by hand to exactly fit the anatomy of your foot. Each customer is offered a personal foot analysis with trained orthopedic fitters and will walk away with a one-of-a-kind pair of ski boots made with premium cowhide inner and bespoke polyurethane shell. The process takes 24 hours; strolz.at.
Sport-Alber: This family-owned sports shop is the place to rent equipment – it's the largest in St. Anton for a reason. Its super-friendly, high-quality staff cater to every whim and its extensive rental operation features touring equipment and avalanche bags for those seeking adventure. If you're looking to buy, Alber sells everything from high-end equipment to ski wear and fashion with brands including the European Bognor, Peak Performance and Hestra to favourites Black Diamond and Arcteryx; sport-alber.com.
Hall of Fame: Central to the new Arlberg lift network, the mid-station of the Trittkopfbahn that connects Zuers and St. Anton is worth a stop. Here, a permanent exhibition celebrates the pioneers and famous skiers who together made the Arlberg region the "cradle of alpine skiing;" stantonamarlberg.com.
Abigail Butcher was a guest of Andino Bergwellen-Hotel and Chalet Artemis/Scott Dunn. They did not review or approve this article.