Ischgl has often been overlooked and underestimated by the British, yet it has superb skiing and world-class après ski. Now many consider it to have overtaken St Anton as Austria’s top winter resort
Ischgl is an attractive, traditional Austrian village nestled in the Paznaun Valley in the Tirolean Alps about 40km from St Anton. I have skied there several times, ever since a friend suggested to me, on the basis that I admired St Anton, I would love Ischgl, I am pleased to say it is in fact now my favourite overall ski resort.
Only a few years ago not many Brits had actually even heard of this gem of a resort, it was seemingly a well-kept secret that the mostly wealthy Germans and Scandinavians who flock here jealously guarded.
Ischgl nowadays has been 'uncovered', by the Brits, and continues to flourish as several UK travel operators now feature it in their Austrian itineraries.
Ischgl does a great job attracting the attention of skiers and snowboarders by hosting spectacular 'top of the mountain' pop concerts as each season opens and closes and yet another lower profile event is staged each Easter.
The 2010-2011 ski season officially opens for business on November 26th. The next day Saturday 27th - USA star Beth Ditto and her band Gossip, will appear on the mountain in concert. Entrance to the concert is free with a valid ski pass. A one day's ski pass, required to get to the concert costs €55.
For more events updates - visit the Ischgl tourism website
Ischgl village is compact and has maintained an unspoiled, traditional Tirolean charm; it still has a quaint medieval centre even though it has prospered with the addition of many plush hotels and plenty of lively crowded bars.
The village is focused around Dorfstraße, the long pedestrianised main street, which crosses beneath the rapid 'funitel' gondolas of the Silvrettabahn that continually whiz across overhead. 'Versace'-clad Germans predominate here and browse the many exclusive ski shops, jewellers and designer boutiques.
The over-riding impression of Ischgl is one of affluence, much as nearby and ultra-exclusive Lech-Zürs likes to pamper its esteemed visitors with heated chairlift seats, Ischgl has heated gondolas. A worthy demonstration of how it further indulges its visitors is the amazing short-cut tunnel constructed in 1998 in the village centre. This involved blasting through an inconveniently situated mountain and installing it with elevators and airport-style electric walk-ways (see pics slideshow, right) which provide visitors effortless access to all parts of the resort and lifts within a couple of minutes!
The skiing terrain, whilst not quite as steep or challenging as St Anton in the adjacent valley, is still a vast enjoyable intermediates paradise and nevertheless will, in the future be able to add even St Anton's prodigious area to its own piste map, as plans have been passed to link the two valleys together.
Ischgl's Paznaun with St Anton's Arlberg is quite a mouth-watering prospect... this will create undoubtedly the most comprehensive and exciting linked ski area in the World. (see my guide St Anton - Pure Alpine Adrenaline).
With ninety per cent of the slopes over 1,900m Ischgl offers reliable snow from late November until May, so it is a safe bet for an early or late season break. During notoriously bad years for snow, I have skied here even in early December and I have always enjoyed perfect skiing conditions, an abundance of snow and been blessed with solid sunshine.
Ischgl has a vast and varied amount of terrain to explore which is easily accessed by numerous fast 6-8 person chairs and four separate gondola and cable car stations. One of which is the 180 person 'Doppelstöckige' double-decker cable car, that returns you back to Austria after you have skied down Alp Trida into Switzerland and the duty-free resort of Samnaun.
Samnaun is a small duty-free hamlet with lots of prestigious watch shops. It is worth taking an hour after lunch to wander through the quaint village to check out the best bargains in the numerous jewellers and general stores packed full of duty free goods. Just in case you are wondering, customs officers apparently have been known on occasion to check the bags of skiers returning from Ischgl...
Galtur and Kappl
Ski busses service both neighbouring villages of Galtur, three minutes up the valley and Kappl which is about a fifteen minute journey. Kappl in particular is well worth an afternoon exploring as there are over 40km of pistes and lots of variety, both areas are covered by the area ski-pass. (Kappl is the nominated area to host the future link to St Anton).
For speed, efficiency and easy access to the slopes Ischgl is awesome. From Ischgl itself, three fast and efficient gondola stations lead up to the slopes and queues are minimal even at peak times.
The Silvrettabahn - from the village centre (west) crosses the main street and whisks you up to the mid-mountain area Idalp.
The other two - Fimbabahn and Pardatschgratbahn start from the east side of town (The underground electric walkways run to these from the village centre off the main street) these also lead up to the mid-station Idalp and Pardatschgrat a little higher up the mountain.
Ischgl is not really the easiest place to learn for timid starters as once you progress from the gentle blue beginners slope on Idalp the majority of other blues tend to have a touch of 'red' about them and also most reds have some challenging steep 'black' sections to negotiate.
Idalp - is the busy fulcrum mid-station plateau where there are several excellent restaurants and terraces and the ski schools congregate here near to the the limited nursery slopes. There are no green runs here, though quick learners and second time skiers will enjoy the abundance of nice long progressive blues accessed by the multitude of fast chairs. There is a welcome absence of queues, which makes the skiing here such a pleasure.
From Idalp, lifts fan out to all corners offering a huge choice of fast reds and blues, this is as good as it gets for intermediates. A great warm up run is the Inneres Viderjoch run down to Idalp, which is a brilliant long blue, and once back down to Idalp you have a bewildering number of options to take, virtually all the chairs are super fast and equipped with canopies for colder days, by taking either chairs B2 or B3 you can easily access the next valley from where you can take the lifts to the highest peak Palinkopf (2,864m) and from there you can enjoy the fast trek (red 80) down to Samnaun.
Despite not having the steepness of terrain that St Anton has, there is enough serious stuff to keep most advanced skiers more than happy, and with the vast majority of skiers and boarders here being intermediates all hunting down the sea of fast blues and reds, there are lots of under-used steeps and un-tracked off-piste powder to explore.
The main areas to head for are Palinkopf, Greispitz and Paznauer Taya. For the best off-piste challenges head for Palinkopf where there are several exhilarating steep options either down to Fimbatal or down from Hollenspitz to Hollenkar.
Recommended before lunch is the Paznauer Taya area with plenty of black challenges, even some of the reds are a blast with some challenging sections, and there is the added bonus of being able to ski to the door of the lively Paznauer Taya restaurant which has live bands or DJs on the terrace and makes a great lunch option.
Situated conveniently just above the Idalp mid-station is the Rennstrecke snowpark - this is a serious snowboarder's dream, with race-course, cross-country, half and quarter pipe, jumps and rails, plenty of music blaring out and a huge air-mattress for practicing fracture-free new tricks.
Three Favourite runs
The long run (red 80) down to Samnaun village, is a long, fun blast, though as it rarely gets the sun it is prone to icy patches. The run brings you past the front door of the superb Schmuggler Alm restaurant. Allow 10-15 minutes to ski along the path across town to the double-decker cable car which runs about every 20 minutes.
At the end of a day the long 'red 1' winds back down to the village and it is really one of the best and most fun fuelled intermediate runs on the mountain, the caveat is that it can also become a manic over-crowded dash if it is left until too late in the day, it does however split into two separate pistes (red 1 and red 1a) which does dilute some of the traffic.
Another way back down to town is a breathtaking powder descent of 11km all the way from Greispitz at 2,872m, it is a vertical drop of 1,500m and you eventually arrive back at the Trofana Alm restaurant and bar.
RESORT AT A GLANCE
Total number of lifts 40
Cable cars 1
Chair lifts 24
Drag lifts 12
Lift capacity per hour 78, 685
7km Toboggan run
Ischgl Terrain - (height 1,400m - 2,870m)
Ski terrain total 223km
Total number of blues 24, reds 60, blacks 15
Total km of blues 48km - reds 148km - blacks 27km
Longest run 11km
Pros and cons
Short transfer from Innsbruck
Snow Reliability is exceptional
Off Piste - Splendid
Après Ski - Crazy!
Eating Out - Fine food and service dominate, first-rate mountain restaurants too
Village Charm - Appealing - Affluent - Glitzy
Championship standard snow park
Lifts and terrain are boarder-friendly
First-class lift system and ski area
Not ideal for timid beginners
Steep and crowded return runs down to village
Not for peace and tranquility, Some nightclubs lack taste and are a bit too risqué.
English not widely spoken.
Like most things in Ischgl the mountain restaurants are typically super-efficient and of a consistently high quality. Mostly larger restaurants predominate, most offer both self-service options and waiter service for a fast 'piste-stop' or a lazy lunch.
Samnaun has some excellent spots for lunch and these are also highly recommended.
Starting with the Idalp section the main hub and midway mountain point, there are a choice of four restaurants.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 43 and subtract the first zero from the bracketed numbers provided
Restaurants with an (*) are especially recommended
Panorama* (Idalp - 2,300m) (05444 606-813) A good self-service on the ground level, and on the first floor, one of my personal favourites, the cosy 'Gourmet-Stüberl', a really appealing mountain cabin with waiter service which also has a large sunny balcony terrace area to dine on. This restaurant never disappoints, €30 for soup starter, juicy steak with all the trimmings and a beer. Recommended.
Pardorama - (Pardatschsgrat - 2,624m) (05444 606-820) A stunning giant glass and steel complex, comprising a bistro, self service and an à la carte waiter service restaurant with high ceilings and panoramic glass walls with superb views which come at a price, expect to pay around €30-40 for 2 courses and wine.
Alpenhaus* (Idalp - 2,300m) (05444 606-840) A splendid new modern twist on an Alpine cabin, with a charcoal grill, bar and terrace downstairs and a quiet exclusive table service restaurant upstairs, the barbecued steaks are excellent, €23-28 for two courses and a beer. The self-service does nourishing local specialities €9-14.
Vider Alp - (Idalp - 2,250m) (05444 20197) A rustic and cosy mountain hut with a popular terrace, try the huge portions of ribs and a spicy gluhwein for under €20.
Bodenalp and Fimbatal areas
Paznauner Taya* (2,000m) (05444 5176) At Paznauner Taya. Waiter service upstairs, in a cosy rustic chalet, the packed terrace has DJ's or a live band playing. Try the excellent mountain specialities such as their fabulous rösti, wash it down with a beer and a shot for around €20. Recommended.
Bodenalp (1,840m) - (05444 5285) At Fimbatal. Waiter service. A nice, quieter option further down the valley to the Paznauner Taya, this is a snug little traditional cabin serving tasty soups and hearty and huge portions of local dishes, typically 2 courses and a gluhwein for around €20.
Schwarze Wand Pizzeria (05444 606-817) A top choice for pizzas and pastas with table service on the first floor of this cosy chalet, with a self-service and lively terrace downstairs, expect around €9-18 downstairs for a main course and drink and €20-28 upstairs for two courses and wine.
Restaurant Alp Trida / La Marmotte (prefix +41 swiss area code) (081 868 5221) At Alp Trida. self-service and terrace downstairs and the Marmotte with waiter service upstairs, serves nice steaks. €25 for a steak main course and beer. Downstairs a spaghetti main course and gluhwein €18.
Restaurant Alp Trida Sattel* (2,488m). A great place for some soup and gluhwein, at the top of the 'Doppelstöckige' station and literally perched on a ledge with glorious panoramic views over the Swiss border towards the Stammerspitze mountain. It serves really good pasta dishes, though I would recommend it highly for their goulash soups which are a meal in themselves and great value at €6.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers for Samnaun below with 00 41 and subtract the first zero from the bracketed numbers provided.
Alp Bella (2,380m) (081 868 5783) - Just off red 68a, Waiter and Self service in a rustic restaurant which does a lovely rösti. Great views from the sun terrace, self-service typically €5-18, at the table service restaurant expect to pay €20-28 for 2 courses and a beer.
Schmuggler Alm* (081 868 8200) (End of R80) My favourite restaurant has a lovely decking area and bar with sheepskin covered seats and a wonderful atmospheric interior (see pics slide show). Spread over 3 floors, with roaring fires, wood fired pizza ovens and a varied menu. The food is truly excellent, their pizzas are perfect €12-17, and the steaks are superb, served in a traditional iron skillet on a wooden oven tray. A soup starter and steak main course plus a beer €28.
Hotel Post (081 861 9200) Part of the same family Hangl chain as the Schmuggler Alm the Hotel Post offers excellent food and much of the same quality and menu items as the Schmuggler Alm. Expect to pay around €30-40 for 3 courses and wine.
La Pasta (081 861 90 00) In the lovely Hotel Chasa Montana - This is a very smart Italian-style pizzeria that serves delicious wood fired pizzas using a traditional dough recipe, €13-18 and dishes from the à la carte menu are around €30 for two courses and wine.
Back in Austria - If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 43 and subtract the first zero from the bracketed numbers provided.
Ischgl has some excellent restaurants which are virtually all associated with hotels, so most people tend to stay half board, these are of course available for non-residents and they don't come much better than the premier restaurant in the Trofana Royal..
Hotel Trofana Royal (05444 600 50 ) Especially recommended for a splurge is the Paznaunerstube the Michelin Starred and Gault-Millaut multi award winning gourmet restaurant presided over by celebrity chef Martin Sieberer. Four course menus start at €55 right up to the fabulous ten course 'Paznaun' gala menu at €112 (wine extra).
Grillalm (05444 5293 ) The Grillalm has both a renowned steak house and a Pizzeria which are both very popular with locals and visitors alike. The steaks in particular are excellent. Expect to pay €32-40 for a starter, steak main course and wine.
Salnerhof (05444 5182 ) A highly recommended gourmet restaurant which specialises in local ingredients, beautifully cooked and presented. This is top-notch haute cuisine, expect to pay €55-65 for three courses and wine.
Kitzloch (05444 5618) The Kitzloch is a rustic cabin that becomes one of the liveliest bars during après ski - it makes a great informal option for some tasty ribs and sour-dough bread for €13 and you can then join in the drinking and sing along with the Germans who are really up for a great time.
NEW - Toscana* (05444 200 07) Restaurant and bar. A stylish bar with plasmas and fabulous décor. The food is Italian fusion and outstanding. Delicious soups for less than €5 and creative mouth watering main dishes averaging €20. The balcony terrace overlooks the main street and is situated above the 'Star' boutique right in the village centre.
Trofana Alm (05444 602) Set in a rustic log cabin, the Trofana Alm is one of the town's top après ski venues, it serves really tasty soups for less than €5, a good choice of pasta dishes for less than €10. Most main dishes are around €20, the ribs and wings are especially good value for €13.50, you will need to get in here well before 4pm, when the insanely lively après party begins.
THE APRES SKI
By 4pm, there is a party outside Ischgl's bars and inside it is going full swing. The main vibe in the village is German sing-alongs and DJ lead bier-fests, in Ischgl you can party until 8pm and feel like it’s the early hours. Of course if you do wish to carry on - Ischgl will not disappoint as it has more night clubs than most resorts have bars.
Best Bar *
Schatzi* (Hotel Elizabeth) Packed out by 4pm. Ski straight up to the indoor and outdoor bars. The DJ plays a popular eclectic set while pretty dirndl-dressed dancers get people in the party mood. (see pics slide show). There is a great friendly atmosphere and expect pyrotechnics inside and out! The pace is intense and finishes at 8pm - but it will feel like midnight and you'll be back for more tomorrow...
Niki's Stadl (Piz Buin Hotel) The manic duo Hoffi & Zambezi are the MC's and keep everyone revved up in here with a German bierfest and über-sized steins being drained amid sing-alongs to what sounds suspiciously like umpah to a trance beat!
Kitzloch (Hotel Yscla) Near the Pardatschgratbahn this is another German bier-kellar bar with a manic atmosphere, dancing on tables, congas, sing-a-longs and always an exuberant full-house.
Kuhstall (Sporthotel) Hugely popular bar, straight off the main Silvrettabahn and the crowd is always overflowing onto the road outside adding to the village atmosphere.
Feuer und Eis. Across from the Kuhstahl, and just as popular, this modern venue has a DJ situated to play to revellers inside and out. Busy all night, as downstairs becomes a thumping night club later in the evening while there is a stylish chill-out cocktail bar upstairs.
Trofana Alm This is a pulsating and famous bar in a rustic cabin on two floors, it is literally packed to the rafters, there are full throttle German sing-a-longs much like Nick's Stadl and impromptu congas, it is so packed, you can’t get to the bar, so they bring the beer to you!
Best for quiet sophistication*
Guxa Bar and Allegra* (Hotel Yscla) An ultra-stylish late night cocktail bar and cigar lounge. Open until 4am.
Best of British*
The Golden Eagle Pub. This centrally located pub on the main street is a quiet refuge serving Guinness and Kilkenny ales and makes for a welcome escape from the more manic après ski bars.
Floodlit Toboggan Run
Some people are gluttons for punishment and after a few drinks decide to go back up the Mountain to try one of the longest floodlit Toboggan run in the Alps, from Idalp, a 1000m vertical drop and a 7km (4.5 mile) descent.
Fuchsloch (Hotel Central) Very Popular bar & disco open until the early hours
Trofana Tenne (Hotel Trofana) Central bar / pub, Tirolean - Cocktails, DJ, dancing, Fun!
Pacha / Coyote Ugly - (hotel Madlein) Pacha now has a winter home away from Ibiza. Latin House grooves from 10.30pm-6am, Also 'Coyote Ugly' table dancing club.
Posthorndl (Hotel Post) Central, bar, pub, disco Roman themed décor, there is also a casino.
Hollboda (Hotel Solaria) - Good live music here, late opening night club.
Living Room (Hotel Grillalm) - Raunchy (seedy) Nightclub / Lap dancing - Open late.
Trofana Arena Large plush nightclub in the resort's top 5* hotel Trofana Royal with regular live bands playing too. (and more table-dancing)
Expect every hotel here to have exceptional restaurants and fine dining.
The village tunnel and moving walkways make hotel location less important as there is easy access to any of the lift stations and few hotels are more than a five minute stroll to a main gondola station.
Hotel Trofana Royal 5* (05444 600). Dorfstraße 95: A truly sumptuous hotel enjoying a prime central main street position. Superb spa and wellness centre, the restaurant is outstanding having 18 Gault Millau points and also a Michelin Star.
Hotel Madlein 5* (05444 5226) Madleinweg 2. Superb contemporary, minimalist and chic boutique hotel, situated with convenient elavator access to the Pardatschgratbahn Gondola, also in-house is the famous Ibizan 'Pacha' iconic night club.
Hotel Brigitte 4* (05444 5646) Oberer Kirchenweg 3: Located four minutes walk from the moving walkway and Pardatschgratbahn accessed by convenient elevator. Traditional plush design.
Hotel Salnerhof 4* (05444 5182) Dorfstraße 98: Perfect central main street location. Very stylish and popular with families, great facilities for kids with excellent wellness area and spa. The gourmet restaurant is superb.
Hotel Elisabeth 4* (05444 5411) Fimbabahnweg 4: A large, comfortable and popular hotel, located right at the foot of Fimbabahn, so ski-to-door is a bonus - and even après ski-to-door as it also houses the famous Schatzi bar.
Hotel Solaria 4* (05444 5205) Dorfstraße 39. Super convenient central position right near the Silvrettabahn lift station and access to the tunnel and moving walkways are just two minutes away to link to the other side of town, a beautifully appointed hotel.
Hotel Goldener Adler 4* (05444 5217) Kirchenweg 19. Prime position close to all amenities and lifts, lovely old Austrian building (c 1640) Cosy and comfortable, the restaurant is highly regarded.
Hotel Albona 4* (05444 5500). Dorfstraße 96. Cosy chalet style hotel on the main street, five minutes' walk to the Silvrettabahn lift station. Excellent food. The only criticism being the very steep icy path to negotiate down to the basement boot room.
Innsbruck (100km) - Zurich (210km)
Train - Landeck is the closest train station 30km away. Regular buses run from here to the resort.
The journey from Innsbruck is only about 90 minutes from Zurich expect a trip of three hours.
Car hire companies and numbers
Alamo 0870 400 4562; www.Alamo.co.uk
Avis 0844 581 0147; www.avis.co.uk
Budget 0844 581 2231; www.budget.com
Easycar 08710 500 444; www.easyCar.com
Tourist Office - Tel +43 (0) 54445266