Spring is the ideal time to plan a trip to Austria to ski; the winter crowds are gone, prices have dropped and the weather is warmer and more settled
I'm often asked where my favorite place in the world is. Without hesitation, it is in Hopfgarten in the Austrian Tyrol. The town has an “off the beaten track” feel about it and a relaxed pace of life; yet is easily reached by road, rail and air. It is about an hour from Innsbruck and two hours from Salzburg and Munich.
Spring is a great time to visit as you can ski as well as check out some of the activities intended for the warmer months. There are also some hefty discounts available, and there are virtually no other visitors to get in your way.
I have stayed in the winter and spring on five occasions, always at the Appartement Strobl (www.strobl-hopfgarten.com/uk). Without a doubt, it is my favorite place to stay in the world. Ever since I dragged my weary feet through their front door 12 years ago, when I was on a package tour, I instantly felt at home. The package tours are gone now and the whole place has been beautifully renovated while retaining its charm. Each apartment has its own bathroom, bedroom with super-comfortable beds, and kitchen-dining-living room complete with cable TV. It is a pleasant 15 minute stroll from the old town centre, with a delicious bakery nearby, and well organised and sensibly priced supermarkets are just 5 minutes beyond the old town.
All the residential buildings in the region are of reasonably traditional “chocolate box” design and are maintained to a high standard, so exploring on foot around the town is always pleasant. The old town is dominated by the large church, narrow cobbled undulating streets and tiny shops inside genuinely old buildings.
Massive investment has occurred on the ski slopes with a number of new modern fast lifts giving access to increased terrain and providing greater opportunity to explore ski areas beyond the “Ski Welt” system. The upgraded pass gives access to 700km of groomed trails and 250 lifts. This statistic sounds impressive enough on its own, until you stop to think about just how long it would take to exhaust the possibilities of every trail from every lift in the network.
Westerndof have installed a 3.1km long gondola that climbs nearly 1,200m from Brixon to the summit of their own mountain. As well as connecting these two magnificent ski areas, it gives access to a stunningly good ski run that is steep and wide but constantly changing direction, meaning that excitement continues to build by the second as new challenges appear in front of you. At the bottom, the run dives under the railway and a combination of conveyor-belt and rope lead you back to the gondola station for another scenic ascent and white-knuckle descent.
Other activities include visiting the Swarovski Crystal works (www.swarovski.com), exploring Innsbruck, wandering the country lanes, shopping at nearby Worgl or just taking it easy in the warm spacious apartment before checking out the Schnapps and Weiss Beer in the well stocked bar downstairs. The breakfasts are magic and the hot Chocolate is pretty special too.
A pleasant half day excursion involves taking the train to Kufstein which is on the German border and features markedly different architecture in the township and has an intriguing castle that is open to the public. Also easily accessible from Hopfgarten is Jeanbach which is the departure point for two narrow-gauge railways. The most famous is the 100 per cent steam Achenseebahn Rack Railway (Europe's oldest) that climbs at grades of up to 1:6.25 to reach the town and lake at Achensee 6km away. Sadly this was closed when I went to check it out, but the Zillertalbahn was most definitely open. It still runs the occasional steam service but most passengers are now carried in railcars that are surprisingly fast over the narrow gauge track. The line runs through a pleasant valley among high mountains and terminates at Mayrhofen which is home to yet more spectacularly good skiing. The Gondola base station is in the heart of the town and reaches the mountain in a single span, breathtaking in terms of both length and height.
I haven't tried the Trout Fishing or Mountain biking but I'm assured that they are excellent too. In winter you can skate on the man-made lake and ride in Sleighs or check out the toboggan run. In summer, the lake is suitable for swimming in and there are plenty of other activities nearby. In spring, the lake just looks pretty as it is too cold to swim in and too liquid to skate on. At high season, the nightlife is reasonably vibrant but in the spring and autumn things are reasonably sedate and you get to interact with the locals and see the region as they see it. For bookings and other accommodation options, check out www.tiscover.com/at/guide/5,en,SCH1/objectId,RGN489at,season,at1,selectedEntry,home/home.html