The 2017/18 season ended for me in Austria and, through a click of fate’s fickle fingers, the 2018/19 season begins there too. I’m just back from a weekend in the Ötztal valley in Tyrol, Austria, where we skied, took in a spa, had champagne and canapés on a gondola and fondued like royalty.

THE LOCATION

A short ride up the mountain from Sölden sit a couple of Gurgls: Obergurgl (uppergurgl, at 1930m) and Hochgurgl (highgurgl at 2150m). With a flight to Innsbruck, it’s a short transfer of no more than 90 minutes to the ski area, so it’s great for a short break. We stayed in Obergurgl, a quiet, picturesque village made up of a handful of hotels and apartment blocks. 

THE HOTEL

Our base for the weekend was the Top Hotel in Hochgurgl, a 5-star superior hotel, which is a member of the Relais & Châteaux group. Although the hotel opened in 1961, it’s traditional in style, using reclaimed wood from older buildings to get that look. The walls are adorned with animal heads, and dotted around the hotel are other… um… interesting items to discover (no spoilers here). The food and drink on offer is all exceptional and the staff, dressed in traditional dirndl wear, are friendly and welcoming.

The history of the hotel is a familiar story for this part of the world. It’s family run, currently by brothers Alban and Atilla Scheiber, and it was their great-grandfather who started hosting guests back in 1881. It’s been family owned and run throughout. The hotel is only open during the winter, but the restaurants and facilities are open all year.

A ski shop and boot room in the basement takes a lot of the hassle out of getting ready to ski – you hire and store your skis here, and walk out onto the slope. It doesn’t get much easier than that. The shop’s hire stock is replaced each season and that meant I was lucky enough to be skiing on brand new skis (and they were delightful). The hotel sits right on the side of a slope and is truly ski in/out – our trip was just two weeks into the season, on the first weekend of December, and the snow reached the door. 

THE SPA

In short, the hotel spa is spectacular. It has a huge indoor swimming pool and a smaller, warmer outdoor pool with views over the valley.

There are saunas of every type to choose from as well as relaxing areas with recliners and water beds. Yes, really. Remember though, as it’s Austria, it’s not the place to be shy when it comes to keeping your swimwear on…

THE SKIING

At 2150m, Hochgurgl is the highest non-glacial resort in Austria and is proud to be the first resort to open each season. In 2018 it opened on November 15th and when we visited at the start of December, just about all the slopes were open with a combination of natural and artificial snow.

The ski area isn’t huge – there are 25 lifts and around 115km pistes, mostly blue and red – but there is the option of the new Ötztal Super Ski Pass that offers 356km of pistes across 6 ski areas (Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Sölden, Hochoetz-Kühtai, Niederthai, Gries and Vent). You can take a 20 minute bus to the larger resort of Sölden (as featured in the James Bond film Spectre) if you need some extra slopes, but there’s certainly enough here to keep beginners and intermediates happy for a few days. 

New for this season is the Kirchenkarbahn gondola which opens up a few new runs on the western side of the resort. Look out for cabin 15 on this gondola… it can be booked for up to six guests to enjoy a Perrier-Jouët champagne and canapé experience where you can indulge as the gondola works its way up and down the mountain. It’s a fun thing to do – check the fact box below for more details. 

THE MOTORBIKE MUSEUM

If you’re a skier who’s a bit of a petrolhead then this is the resort for you. The Scheiber brothers have created a motorbike museum of around 300 motorbikes built between 1886 to 1980, along with some rare cars (one of the Porsches is one of only 40 in the existence, we were told) and a few brand new bikes – including this year’s new Brough Superior model. Apparently this is quite a thing, unfortunately I don’t know much about all this, let’s be honest. 

FACT BOX

TOP Hotel Hochgurgl, owned and managed by the Scheiber family, is open from mid-November to early May.  Rooms and suites on a half-board basis are from €196 for a double room, from €341 for a suite or a family apartment (per person per night).  It is the only hotel in the Ötztal Valley to hold a 5-star superior status – new for this season.

Hotel facilities include the hotel’s TOP Mountain SPA (in- and outdoor pools), saunas and steam rooms, relaxation and treatment rooms, Techno-gym fitness centre.  A wide variety of treatments are on offer including some especially tailored for men: massages are priced from €53 for 25 minutes and facials from €98 for a 50-minute Reviderm Balance treatment of €44 for a 24-minute Reviderm eye care.

Perrier Jouet Gondola flight: This can be organised with the TOP Mountain Crosspoint Restaurant.  The price is €92 for 2 people and includes a ½ bottle of Perrier Jouet Champagne and canapes.

Lift passes: €53 per adult for one day (Hochgurgl/Obergurgl only); €293.50 per adult for 6 days. The Ötztal Super Ski pass covers 6 ski areas with 356km of pistes.

Guides: €295 (4 hours for up to 2 people) €450 per day (6 hours for 2 people)

Equipment: €26 per person for skis, boots and poles

Access: fly to Innsbruck (90 km) regular flights from across the UK with EasyJet and British Airways.  Transfer time is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes.