I have recently returned from a couple of weeks skiing in Austria. A pastime which is not only extremely healthy but also lots of fun. Even though I have lived most of my life in the tropics, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn to ski a number of years ago and have been hooked ever since. It has become a family tradition to visit the ski slopes every couple of years and on every occasion, we have returned reinvigorated, in fine spirits and far healthier and fitter than when we left home.
As a general rule, we try to visit new places to experience different skiing conditions, unique environments and diverse cultures. We also try to stay away from the more popular resort towns and, on this occasion, snubbed St Anton and Kitzbuehel for St Michael im Lungau and the Gastein Valley. This gave us the opportunity to be amongst a more resident community and to experience the healthy, soothing effects of the thermal baths of Bad Gastein and Bad Hofgastein.
Besides the fitness and wellness benefits of a skiing holiday, a major bonus of every ski region I have ever been to, is its sheer beauty. A rugged mountain landscape covered in a blanket of snow, is both serene and exhilarating at the same time. I never cease to be amazed how every morning, when I wake up on a skiing holiday and look out the window, everything appears so tranquil and quiet. This calm is, however, always replaced with a buzz of activity and excitement as soon as I reach the ski slopes.
One of the very few benefits of the ongoing Eurozone debt crisis, is the abundance of competitive vacation accomodation and ski packages that are still available. We utilised time share points to stay at Hapimag resort apartments, in both St Michael im Lungau and Bad Gastein, which are both situated in the Salzburg Province of Austria. Both of these resorts, although very different, were immaculate and did not disappoint in any way.
Hapimag St Michael
We loved the traditional style of Hapimag St Michael, with its superb facilities, friendly staff and excellent location. From a wellness perspective, there was not only the nearby skiing but also quality spa and sauna facilities, a large indoor swimming pool and a small but well equipped gym. The resort also offers an array of scheduled daily activities, ranging from cooking and sewing classes to tobogganing and water aerobics. The apartments are large, immaculately maintained and well equipped (including Nespresso machines). All the apartments have Wi-Fi, cable TV and balconies with picturesque views of the surrounding mountains.
The hotel restaurant is first-rate and very competitively priced. The menu has been designed to cater for a wide variety of taste buds and age groups. It is packed with local recipes and healthy fare, ranging from wholesome salads to pizza and the traditional Viennese Schnitzel.
Lungau Ski Area
There are four ski areas to choose from in the Lungau region and they cater for all levels of ability, ranging from beginner to advanced and pro. On your days off from skiing, there are a host of sites to see and things to do. These include ice skating, sledding, horse drawn sleigh rides and exploring the two nearby castles.
Hapimag Bad Gastein
In contrast to the relaxed atmosphere and wide valleys of the Lungau region, the Gastein valley is rugged and vibrant. There are definite signs of the damaging impact of the financial crisis in this part of Austria, which is evidenced by closed hotels and some of the related tourism services. Despite this, however, the ski slopes were alive and buzzing with activity. The healing thermal spas in this area are not to be missed and will revitalise aching muscles after a hard days skiing.
Hapimag Bad Gastein consists of the historical Hotelpalais and three annex buildings with 154 apartments. Facilities include an indoor swimming pool with an adventure area, sauna, solarium, wellness area, gym, restaurant, bar and shop. The main building is listed and was built over a hundred years ago. It is elegant, classically beautiful and the apartment rooms are bigger than any I have stayed in before.
The resort overlooks the Gastein Valley and the views from our apartment windows were spectacular. The restaurant was excellent, although pricier than Hapimag St Michael, and the in-house superette and bakery were well stocked. Each morning the bakery carried a wide array of fresh breads and delicious pastries that were hard to resist.
Gastein Ski Region
We found the skiing in this area to be more challenging than Lungau but there is still an abundance of blue and red slopes for the less experienced skier to choose from. The Gastein Valley is made up of four ski areas, encompassing the circuits of Stubnerkogel-Angertal-Schlossalm, Dorfgastein-Grossarl, the tough permanent race hill of Graukogel and Sportgastein. In all, a winter playground of over 220 kilometers of immaculately groomed slopes with extensive snow, making coverage that ensures reliable snow conditions from the end of November until late April.
There are very few activity vacations to beat a trip to the ski slopes, which gives both pleasure as well as having many health and fitness benefits.
Next week’s article will be devoted to expounding on those benefits. An array of different winter sports will be covered but with a particular emphasis on downhill skiing.