Top Summer Travel Destination: Austria

Top Summer Travel Destination: Austria

08 Jul 2014

Lech, Austria is a stunning village with world class wellness resorts and some of Europe’s best ski slopes

Everything worthwhile takes a little bit of effort... this is what I repeated to myself as I boarded the third train after a seven hour flight to get to this magical little place called Lech in Austria. I had done my research about the ski resort town that serves as a playground for the rich and famous (and me and my husband, apparently), but as the last train pulled us endlessly up, up, up into the snowy mountains, I wondered if I should have done a little more research.  

A chauffeur picked us up at the station in Arlberg, Austria, and took us on a drive through quaint towns that wouldn’t look out of place in The Sound of Music until, finally, we reached it: Lech. Techno music spilled onto the streets from open-air bars.  People sat in trendy ski outfits laughing over brimming mugs of beer or walking around holding skis and snowboards. It looked like a commercial, down to puppies in fuzzy sweaters and Swarovski collars. And all around us were jagged mountain peaks blanketed in thick snow, with 

people zigzagging down the slopes with skill – even young children. Despite our long journey to get here, we suddenly felt rejuvenated by the fresh air, vibrant music, and sheer life pulsating through the streets of this cute little town.

It got even better; the driver took us to a chalet-style hotel atop a hill and my husband nudged me when we saw the sign: this wasn’t just your average five star hotel, it was a five star “superior.” Sounds good to me.

THE CHALET
All wood and warmth inside, we were invited to have an aperitif by the fireplace during check in at Hotel Aurelio, a gorgeous boutique hotel with 19 suites and one of the most famous spas in Europe. It was like a film set; there were even antlers hanging above the fireplace. A wide window boasted stunning views of the snow-covered town below with lights turning on as the sun started to set. Was it really just yesterday that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office in Dubai, staring out the window at the sunshine and trees? This sudden change of scenery, climate, and strong aperitifs made us feel giddy as we ran upstairs to check out our room and get ready for dinner.

The room was the size of a small apartment, with a large bathtub fit for two, a bed that looks like it is fit for four, and a terrace overlooking gorgeous views of the twinkling town below.  

It’s a good thing I packed a nice dress or two, because dinner at Aurelio’s is a white-tablecloth affair every night. The waiter showed us to our table – again, with the same stunning view that was breathtaking every time – and we were given leather bound menus in German and English. The waiter explained to us that all the food is local, organic, and freshly made on site as he placed a warm bread basket with tapenades and wheatgrass stems. My husband boldly ordered the venison and we both indulged in delicious starter salads made of mixed greens from the mountains. The cherry on top of the meal was the dessert: a traditional Austrian sweet made with oozing cheese and soft pie crust that we requested every night after that.

HITTING THE SLOPES
Breakfast at Aurelio’s is a real treat. Staying true to its intention of being a first-class wellness and relaxation spot, Hotel Aurelio’s breakfast has a dizzying array of fresh berries, nuts, organic yoghurt, steamed veggies with egg white omelettes, and honey straight from beeswax. Of course, there are also jars of Nutella and trays of buttery croissants for those who crave a little more of an indulgence while on holiday. The jovial waiter served us fresh grapefruit juice while telling us about studying for his upcoming exams – everyone in the hotel is incredibly warm and friendly. After our power breakfast, the receptionist let us borrow extra gloves, helmets, and other ski-necessities so we wouldn’t have to rent them.

After taking pictures in our ski outfits and posing with snowboards, it was time to get real and hit the slopes. This is what people travel all the way to Lech for, after all. More habituated to sand and sun, my husband and I decided to join the children at the bunny slopes first, struggling to get onto the ski lifts. After a full day of bruises, head-banging falls, and plenty of pointing and laughing at one another as kids whizzed past us down the flat slope, we agreed we would attempt the real slopes on our last day of skiing.

With sore muscles and plenty of embarrassing pictures on our camera phones, we took a break at one of the outdoor bars for a quick lunch. We devoured burgers and sipped on a bright orange drink that everyone around us had ordered (I’m still unsure what it’s made of) while moving our shoulders to music blaring from loudspeakers into the streets.

A TOWN FOR ALL SEASONS
As the winter months melt away, Lech transforms into a fun spot to vacation even when there is no snow. A jazz festival happened to take place while we were visiting in late spring, so we got sidetracked after lunch by wandering through the little streets from bar to bar enjoying the bands. There was a Frank Sinatra-type crooner in one corner and someone singing Joss Stone covers in another. We joined groups of people standing in front of the performers holding steaming cups of mulled tipple and snacking on pretzels until, before we knew it, it was dusk and time to head back to the hotel for another fabulous dinner.

The next two days were spent at Hotel Post, a five star hotel right in town with green windowpanes and a cosy interior right out of a fairytale. Here, we got massages after our second day of attempts at skiing and even took a dip in their heated outdoor pool with steam rising around us and snowy mountains in the background. On our final day we took the ski lift all the way to the top of the big-boy mountain and, after a nervous breakdown, managed to conquer my fears and ski (albeit it, very slowly), all the way back down in a journey that took three full hours. 

The hours seemed to fly back on the trains back to the airports as we shared funny stories and happy photos. It was well worth the trip.