Piste and tranquillity in Austria's Obergurgl

by Madra Rua

A little piece of skiing heaven in luxurious Obergurgl

Summer holidays are now no more than a memory in the picture folder of your laptop. But you might be, like me and many others, surfing the internet in the hope of finding your winter skiing destination.

If you’re a beginner, novice or intermediate; if you are part of a couple, a family, or a small group of friends, but definitely not party animals; and if you possess a reasonably healthy budget, then you might be interested in what the high altitude resort of Obergurgl in The Tirol has to offer.

A five star hotel and more than twenty four star accommodation options await you in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, an internationally renowned winter sports resort. Premium quality, irresistible ambiance, individual flair, with a sprinkling of champagne-filled air. This simply is the diamond in the Alps.

My small social circle and I stumbled across this little gem quite by accident. As usual, we had left our booking to the last minute and were offered Obergurgl by Ingram’s Holidays. The Hotel Austria Bellevue is a four star establishment offering half-board arrangements. Flying into Innsbruck the resort transfer was 90 minutes. As the hotel is up a steep, snow-adorned slope from the village centre you are taken to it by taxi, which was included in the price.

A traditional Austrian building with an atmospheric interior awaits you. The rooms are large, very comfortable and with all the mod cons one would expect. The staff, in traditional attire, are very friendly and efficient. The sumptuous evening meal consists of five courses and offers great choice. Free coffee and pastries are on offer everyday at 3pm.

The lounge area is very comfortable and provides solitude and rest for those aching limbs. In the cellar is a small but entertaining dance club that provides good music and even better skiing stories.

Take the hotel lift subterranean and the doors open onto a corridor lined with display cases profiling the finery of designer merchandise. Further along and the Wellbeing Centre can be found. Fluffy yellow and white towels are pigeon-holed and large mirrors adorn the walls. The inner sanctum of the wellbeing are the saunas, steam rooms, Jacuzzi and lounging area. But be warned, when in Austria, do as the Austrians do. These areas are mixed and swimwear and shorts are strictly prohibited. Only the towels provided can be used to hide one's dignity and blushes. Dip your toe in the beautiful indoor pool, which is located a few steps from the spa area. Most of the nearby hotels offer the same first class spa facilities.

The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl provides an outdoor heated pool with amazing views and a red carpet that leads directly out of the hotel and onto the ski lift.

The slopes

After a hearty breakfast and a few steps from the hotel you are on a small blue slope that takes you to the Robkartbahn and Gaisbergbahn lifts in the heart of the village. With the village height at just under 2,000 metres and the top lift over 3,000m, you are guaranteed superb snow conditions. The pistes are wide, long and meandering; intermediates will have no trouble with their gentle blues and reds. The lower slopes provide ideal conditions and slopes for the novice and complete beginner. Here is where the excellent ski school instructors nurture the up and coming Herminators (Hermann Maier).

The lift system is fast and reliable and queues are non-existent. Take the cable car, Top Express Gurgl, to Hochgurgl and enjoy the day skiing their equally enjoyable slopes. Enjoy a latte and the spectacular views over the Italian Dolomites at the Top Mountain Star Restaurant at 3,082m. Mountain restaurants are plentiful, allowing for nourishment and suntan top-ups.

Once a week, at 2,800m, a spectacular night ski show and firework display is held. Don’t forget to bring your skis and, under the arc lights that light up the mountainside, ski non-stop 8km into the village. Other activities include mountainside tobogganing, a great 3km treat of thrills and spills for all the family, plus hiking, cross-country skiing and ice-skating.

Après is après but when it’s 4pm on Monday, Wednesday or Friday it has to be the Nederhutte - a large wooden cabin where it is compulsory to dance on tables, accept free schnapps and enjoy the owner providing a pot purée of music and song. 7pm comes around pretty quickly and with a set of skis, an unsteady step and a cheeky smile one must ski the 2km into the village. Others wiggle into their black plastic refuse bags and slide with exceptional speed, skill and yelps of laughter down the blue slopes. The noble, the young and the wise clamber aboard the nearest ski lift.

David’s Skihutte is also well worth a mention for a good lunch and meeting place. Cheap and cheerful and very close to where most learners will be taking their first tentative steps, it is situated beside the Steinmannbahn ski lift.

The village of Obergurgl, which is nestled at the end of the Otz Valley is quite small and traditional, with a couple of popular bars. One of which is the Josl Keller, small but great fun and somewhere to dance the night away assuming the limbs will permit. But, as the food in the hotels which all offer half board is so exceptional, there is no need for restaurants. Other entertainment can be found in some of the hotels along with the Austria Bellevue.

Alas, as I couldn’t wait for the next morning to arrive, so that I could once again devour the amazing scenery and enjoy the tranquillity of it all, these venues were seldom used by moi.

Obergurgl is as far from the maddening crowds as one can get and truly is the Diamond in the Alps.

Madra Rua

Liam spends his days transforming people’s bathrooms and kitchens into an oasis of beauty. Utilising his skills as a tiler, he believes that he gives his clients the dream and sanctuary they wish for. As for his travel dreams, well they began at the tender but adventurous age of fourteen. His friend Dessy and Liam both set out on a life changing youth hostelling holiday, from the counties of Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Wexford. Since then he has zig-zagged his way across America on a greyhound bus; hitch-hiked from Belfast to southern Spain and back; visited most major European cities and a few American; staying in the very best and the very worst of hotels. He has skied in some of the Alps most heavenly resorts; enjoyed the hectic, chaotic, but brilliant holidays that are camping and scorched his fair Irish skin on the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and Los Angeles. But he shall always have a very, very, soft spot for Italy and all this wonderfully; delicious and exciting country has to offer.