An unbeatable ski holiday at the Goldener Berg Hotel in Oberlech
I was a latecomer to the world of skiing holidays. Unlike many of my peers, I didn’t make it to the slopes during childhood. I was too busy caught up with equestrian competitions and skiing always seemed to clash with trials for the British team, which took preference every time.
My first experience of skiing was in Val d’Isere during my mid-twenties when my ties to Three Day Eventing weakened with the retirement of my main competition horse. It was a case of swapping one adrenaline sport for another, and while I am definitely a recreational skier as opposed to a competitive skier, I enjoy the challenge and the lure of the outdoor lifestyle.
I have since been lucky enough to ski in three different parts of America, venturing from the East Coast all the way to the West Coast. A trip to Killington in Vermont was followed by a visit to Colorado the next year. Another trip ensued, this time to Lake Tahoe and the stunning resort of Heavenly, which borders California and Nevada. Last year I returned to France and until now I have never skied anywhere that is remotely comparable to Tahoe. The incredible, contrasting views of the snowy mountain, glistening lakes and dry desserts leaves a lasting impression that I decided was probably impossible to better. Thus, Lake Tahoe has long featured as my top ski destination, but that was before I visited Lech.
Friends have always raved about the Austrian winter retreats, which boast incredible skiing, pretty resorts and hospitable people. Aware of my fondness for a hot chocolate break on the slopes, my habit of stopping for 10 minutes at a time just to enjoy the panorama of the mountains, an intrigue at trying out other winter activities rather than just skiing and also a penchant for enjoying the buzzing atmosphere of Après Ski, I was urged to consider Lech as my ideal place to ski.
As soon as the flight began its descent into Innsbruck Airport, I had a good feeling about the destination. As you come into land, you fly through dramatic scenery and touch down right in the mountains, with towering white slopes reaching up to the heavens either side of you. The airport is small, which means it is also very convenient. There are no queues and you can go straight through to the hire car or transfer area with relative ease.
Suffering from car sickness is never ideal if you are having to wind your way through the mountains and the fact the hour and a half journey to Lech is almost entirely straight is a real bonus. As you turn off the main motorway it doesn’t take long to pass St Anton. This sprawling village is popular but very different to Lech. The latter is reached later on in the drive and the picturesque village sits neatly in the valley. I personally believe that ‘pretty’ is an understatement for Lech. The charming resort has a river running through the middle, bushy Christmas trees outside many of the hotels, wooden chalet-style architecture and horses trotting through the snow giving sleigh rides. It is festive throughout the season and you can instantly understand why it was Princess Diana’s favourite place for skiing trips.
However, the real secret of Lech is a little place that is hidden above it in the mountains called Oberlech. The hamlet of hotels is only reachable via cable car and as soon as you arrive at the drop off area, your bags are sent up the hillside and delivered to your hotel through an underground tunnel system while you park your car. Guests then follow up the hill and during the cable car ride there is an impressive bird’s eye view of Lech as you begin the journey right up into the mountains.
A short walk along a manicured path through the snow brings you to the Hotel Goldener Berg, which has arguably the most impressive situation of all the hotels in the area. Perched on the edge of the slopes, it offers ‘ski in, ski out’ at its very best and provides guests with panoramic views of the mountain. It is currently owned by the Pfefferkorn family, who are a renowned family in Lech and Daniella Pfefferkorn, who manages the hotel was a former ski racer. Her team are wonderfully hospitable and welcoming. The venue is steeped in winter sports history and one of its restaurants, The Alter Goldener Berg, dates back over 500 years.
Despite the incredible history behind the hotel, its latest refurbishments mean that it combines both historical artifacts with modern design. The impressive spa features an inviting outdoor hot-tub with views facing the mountains, along with an indoor pool that has a similar vantage point. The sauna, steam room and treatment rooms are also inviting following a hard day of skiing and provide a place to relax if you chose not to venture out on a ‘white out’ day.
Most of the bedrooms offer a glimpse of the mesmerising view over Lech and many also include a balcony, where the sun shines brightly at midday. Most guests chose a room for two people; however, it is possible to visit with a larger group and take up residence in one of the chalets. These two-bedroom apartments can fit six guests and include spacious cooking and living areas.
The Alter Goldener Berg restaurant gives you the opportunity to sample meat fondue and the atmosphere is magical. As you snuggle up inside the cosy, wooden hideaway, you can watch the snowfall outside through tiny windows while cooking your own selection of meats at the centre of the table.
There are four restaurants in total at the Goldener Berg, as well as a wine cellar that hosts tastings and one of the largest collections of fine wine in the world. Among the chances for sampling cuisine is a fine-dining option at the Johannestubli Restaurant, which has been recognised by the famous GaultMillau restaurant guide.
There is a strong focus on healthy living throughout the hotel, which influences the menus. You can try traditional Austrian food and wine but will also find that every option is ‘good fuel’. At times, it is possible to visit the kitchens and speak to the staff as they prepare your food. This gives you the opportunity to find out more about certain dishes and how they are prepared.
One of the most popular parts of the Hotel Goldener Berg is the sun terrace. The theme of a spectacular view continues and this encourages both residents and passing skiers to stop off for a bite to eat throughout the day. Here, you can enjoy a traditional BBQ and sample local beer while relaxing in the winter sunshine. There are also plenty of places to explore in Lech, including a number of pizzerias or the very smart Relais & Chateaux Gasthof Post.
The ski area of Alberg prides itself on offering a whole host of winter sporting activities. Walking is almost as popular as skiing, with routes clearly marked and tracks bashed; meanwhile, the tobogganing and sleigh rides also garner lots of attention. The skiing is relatively challenging in the area of Lech and, with this in mind, it is probably not the best place for beginners. However, the resort is very high-tech and also attracts significantly more people on skis than snowboards. It features heated lift seats and also has a maximum capacity, which means you will never have to queue anywhere. The Austrian system only consists of blue, red and black runs, which correlate to your level. Intermediate skiers will have a field day as the resort has plenty of blue and red runs for you to enjoy. Lech is also an excellent place for advanced and off-piste skiers. In fact, it contains some of the most extensive off-piste skiing in Europe and you can also heli-ski.
One of the highlights of the area is ‘The White Ring’ ski race course. Each January the course attracts eager skiers for its annual race event and the winner will complete the route in about 35 minutes (excluding lift time). However, this is a great morning challenge for leisurely skiers and covers 22kilometers. It brings you to one of the best restaurants in the mountain known as Balmalp and here you can enjoy a wide selection of delicious dishes, including a stir-fry. There are several atmospheric restaurants in the mountains and they boast traditional décor and warming food such as Goulash Soups or Venison Sausages.
The Apres-Ski – which I sometimes find lacking in America – is excellent. You can stop in Oberlech to enjoy traditional Austrian music at the Alter Goldener Berg, sample the house tunes at some of the piste bars, or ski all the way down to Lech. It is also possible to take a toboggan down to the village or enjoy a lovely walk through the trees.
The Après-Ski crowd are civilised and great fun with a focus on young professionals and above, as opposed to the teenage market. There is a cluster of Apres bars on the main street in Lech; however, for an ultra sophisticated post-skiing drink, it is well worth popping into Hotel Arlberg. This was Princess Diana’s favourite hotel; it is ultra chic and the staff are incredibly friendly.
However, staying up in the mountains at the Goldener Berg Hotel in Oberlech will give your holiday a really special twist and this is what I particularly loved about the area. Breakfast over-looking a dramatic mountainous landscape, the slopes on your doorstep, the ability to enjoy all of the luxury amenities of a hotel at your leisure, along with excellent access to village life via a cable car, toboggan or enchanting walk is surely hard to beat.
Lake Tahoe, I am afraid you have been relegated to the number two spot on my favourite ski destinations in the world.
Take a look at Sloaney TV for our film feature about our visit…