3 girls, 3 nights and 3 ski resorts…
For many years now I have been envious of friends when they have talked about going away on their skiing holidays! Days spent whizzing around on the slopes in picture perfect surroundings followed by cosying up by a crackling wood fire with a warming drink and gastronomic delights aplenty, it always sounded like the most fantastic holiday so naturally I was super excited when an opportunity finally came for me to tick this amazing experience off my bucket list and what better place to start than the Austrian Alps.
Getting to the Austrian Alps from the UK was really easy and my journey began with a short two hour flight from London to Innsbruck airport after which we made a scenic 60 minute drive to Ischgl, a small town in the Paznaun region of the Tirol in the Silvretta Mountains. Ischgl is known not only for being one of the best ski resorts in the Alps but also for having one of the most lively Apres-ski scenes. What better place for a group of girls to learn to ski while celebrating a hen weekend?
There are over 390 hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and apartments in the small town of Ischgl so there is something for every taste and budget but I can highly recommend the charming 4* Hotel Brigitte where we stayed. It is perfectly located in the center of Ischgl and just a stone’s throw from the slopes, bars and restaurants. Most of the hotel’s 66 rooms have a spectacular view of the snow covered mountains and it has a gorgeous restaurant and a fantastic spa with heated pool.
After settling in and unpacking it was time for dinner and we decided to spend the first night at the hotel restaurant which was fantastic! Here we had 6 courses of the most delicious locally sourced food accompanied by a selection of beautiful local wines. After stuffing ourselves silly and speculating excitedly about our first day on the slopes we decided to call it a night as we had an early start the following morning.
Like a child on Christmas morning, I was up at the crack of dawn, filled with excitement and anticipation for the day ahead. We reconvened in the hotel restaurant for a hearty breakfast before heading to the ski rental shop to get fitted for our skis. There are plenty of places in the town where you can hire boots and skis and they are all in walking distance to the slopes. Getting kitted out with rental ski gear is really easy and there are experts on hand to help make sure that everything fits perfectly. With our gear in tow it was time to finally hit the slopes!
The Silvretta Arena is truly impressive. With its state-of-the-art lifts, endless slopes and guaranteed snow, it has marked its place as one of the top ski resorts in the Alps. The Silvretta Arena connects Ischgl, Austria with Samnaun, Switzerland and features a total of 45 comfortable ski lifts and cable cars and 238 kilometres of perfectly groomed slopes all between 1,400 meters and 2,872 meters.
In the last year alone Ischgl has invested 40 million euros into improving the resort, including the replacement of the 24-year-old 4-seater Pardatschgrat gondolas with a luxury 28-seater tri-cable gondola. It is the world’s highest height difference tri-cable gondola without a middle station – there is a 1,251m height difference from the base station in the village up to the Pardatschgrat peak at 2,624m. In just over nine minutes, skiers and boarders are whisked from the village up to the top station. The new lift has 31 cabins with heated seats and the view on the ride up is breathtaking. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful snow covered mountains set against a perfect blue sky with the picturesque village below us. The former second leg of the Pardatschgratbahn is reached with the 4-seater cabins running from the middle station up to Pardatschgrat and renamed the Pardoramabahn. This follows last season’s €18.5m investment with the opening of the eagerly awaited Piz Val Gronda cablecar, which opened up 100 hectares of freeride skiing and boarding, previously only accessible by snowcat or while ski touring hut to hut. They also have 1,100 snow-making machines ensuring slopes are open for the entire five month long season from the end of November through to the beginning of May.
Ascending from the Fimbabahn cable car station we made our way up to the ski hub of Idalp to meet our instructors at the ski school. Here we were introduced to, Gabriel, our ski instructor for the day who was a no-nonsense native and a great instructor. He took us straight onto the learner’s slopes and got started with showing us the basics which were, most importantly, how to stand up in skies without falling over and how to slow down and stop when moving. Some of us got the hang of it quicker than others and there were some comical moments, especially when I fell flat on my face trying to get onto the ski elevator, but before we knew it we were skiing from side to side at a very slow speed along with all the little native toddlers who were also learning. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having, I guess because I’m usually so accident prone I was half expecting to spend the whole first day falling on my backside and secretly hating it, probably wishing I was lying on a beach somewhere hot and not knee deep in snow, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was exhilarating and each new thing Gabriel showed us helped us to master the art of gliding more confidently from side to side down progressively steeper slopes. Before we knew it we had been on the slopes 4 hours and I had only fallen over on the snow once, admittedly taking down a small child at the same time, but that’s a minor detail.
After all that skiing we had certainly worked up an appetite so we decided to call it a day and go for a late lunch at Alpenhaus, one of the highest restaurants in the Alps and located right next to the ski school (and which is also home to Ischgl’s first ever VIP club). The restaurant is super stylish both inside with its contemporary dining room and out on the terrace with its spectacular panoramic views across the snowy mountains. The food was delicious and perfect for refueling you for an afternoon on the snow. For us however, as it was nearly 3pm by the time we had worked our way through all the delicious food, we thought it was time to head back down to the village for a few drinks.
Ischgl is well known for its active Apres-ski scene with a wide choice of restaurants from rustic inns to five star gourmet dining as well as more than 40 bars and nightclubs including the fabulous new Champagne Club. Situated in the basement of the Champagne Bar, we had the pleasure of spending the rest of the afternoon at the club sipping on beautiful chilled champagne! Before long, however, fatigue began to set in and it was time to head back to the hotel for some much needed pampering. Our hotel had a fantastic spa offering a range of treatment from luxurious facials to hot stone massages so what better way for us girls to unwind and de-stress our bodies after all that hard work!
Feeling rejuvenated and hungry we headed back down to the village for our next adventure! Now what girl doesn’t like to arrive at a restaurant in style? Well now it was time for a mode of transport none of us had experienced before…. Departing from Silvrettabahn mountain station we took the gondola up the mountain where we collected our Toboggans. That’s right, Toboggans! With one of the longest toboggan routes in the Alps we couldn’t wait to embrace our inner child and go slipping and sliding down the mountain. With our toboggans in tow we stood at the top of the mountain overlooking the twinkling lights of the village below us and the restaurant where we would be dining that evening. As each of the girls jumped on their toboggan and flew down the mountain suddenly my nerves kicked in and as I peered down the steep run watching everyone speed away from me, laughing and squealing with delight, my palms began to sweat, my body tensed up and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go through with it. Feeling slightly disappointed with myself, but secretly relieved, I started to make my way down the run to the restaurant on foot. Arriving in a lot less style and slightly embarrassed I joined my friends as we all piled into a cute mountainside restaurant for a traditional Tyrolean fondue. The fondue was epic and between the oil fondue with its bewildering array of meats and the delicious bubbling cheese fondue there was barely space left for the plates of French fries and jacket potatoes filled with sour cream. Somehow we managed to polish everything off though. After a couple of hours of eating and drinking Gluehwein (a delicious local drink similar to mulled wine) we were all completely and utterly exhausted so with an incredible first day down it was time to head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The following morning we were up bright and early again ready to head out for our second day of skiing and today we were venturing to the ski area of Kappl. I really loved Kappl, it is a beautiful place to ski and perfect for beginners. With its spacious pistes and fantastic instructors it’s an ideal place to get in some practice without the crowds. My second day on the slopes was even better than the first and despite it being a little bit icy which caused me to have a couple of falls, my confidence was growing and I was really starting to get the hang of it. We spent the entire day going up and down the slopes, progressively moving to steeper slopes. I didn’t want the day to end, but by 4pm the bars were calling so off we went back down the mountain for a little Apres-ski.
That evening we were all very excited about our plans for dinner as we were dining at the award-winning gourmet restaurant STÜVA based at the luxury Hotel YSCLA. After two days in ski gear it felt good to put some make-up on and get dressed up. Ischgl is known for being one of the culinary hotspots in the alpine region and STUVA has gone from being a hidden gem to becoming one of the top gourmet restaurants in the country so we couldn’t wait to taste what was on offer. The restaurant itself was really lovely with its small intimate dining room and soft ambient lighting and everything we experienced there was perfection from start to finish from the impeccable service to the huge array of gorgeous wines and, most importantly, the food. We had a 6 course tasting menu which was utterly divine and featured dishes such as goose liver, lobster and deer, all uniquely presented and served. We all agreed it was one of the best and most inventive meals we had ever eaten. After the amazing meal we moved into the lovely lounge bar for a few more drinks before finally retiring back to the hotel.
With our final day upon us we couldn’t wait to hit the slopes and make the most of it so we set off nice and early to our third destination which was the ski area of See. See is the smallest of the 4 Paznaun villages and has 9 lifts, 41kms of piste and was my favorite of the three areas we skied in. I’m not sure if it was because with each passing day I was improving so the skiing became more fun or it could have been because the sun was shining all day long or the fact that there was an awesome sky bar (or perhaps it was just because of the good looking ski instructor we had) or a combination of all these things but it really was a perfect day. We had so much fun. We were all properly skiing and managing to go down some pretty long and steep runs and between us we had very few falls and finally felt like we knew what we were doing. We didn’t want it to end but sadly after 6 hours on the slopes it was time to call it a day. We all left the slopes on such a high, the adrenaline of actually going down a proper run is something I have never experienced with any other sport before. I completely understand now why so many people get completely hooked on this amazing activity.
With a couple of hours remaining before sundown it was time to enjoy the last of the late afternoon sun over a few cocktails. I have to admit the après-ski part of skiing is almost as much fun as the actual skiing, never before has it been so acceptable to drink all afternoon! Ischgl certainly lived up to its reputation of having one of the best Apres-ski scenes in the whole of the Alps and I haven’t even mentioned their epic Top Of The Mountain open air concerts at the beginning and end of each season. Here they have huge stars like Rihanna, Robbie Williams, Elton John and The Killers playing and this year they had James Blunt perform at the opening concert and Thirty Seconds To Mars performing at the closing concert.
With this being our last night before heading home we had something special planned for the evening, a more relaxed mode of transport that I definitely wouldn’t be backing out of. We all made our way outside as our carriage awaited (our horse drawn sleigh that is). This was one of the highlights of the whole trip with two beautiful horses taking us on the 30 minute ride to the Wilderer Hut Mathon restaurant. It was so exhilarating as they picked up speed and galloped through the woods whilst we sat back looking at the bright lights of Ischgl in the distance and enjoyed the ride. The Wilderer Hut Mathon is a lovely traditional Tirolean restaurant which is also home to a range of local wildlife such as deer and ibex which roam around in the small park surrounding the restaurant. The restaurant itself was an adorable rustic hut with atmospheric lighting and interesting décor, visiting here is an absolute must. We feasted on beautiful traditional dishes such as regional game, trout from their own fish pond and produce from their farm. It couldn’t have been a more perfect evening for the last night of such a memorable trip.
Although skiing’s not the most obvious choice for a hen-do this was the most fun long weekend I have ever had with a group of girls and I can not wait to share my new found love of skiing with my husband!
INGHAMS is one of the main UK tour operators to Paznaun-Ischgl. We stayed at the 4* superior Hotel Brigitte in Ischgl, which Inghams offers from £1,099 per person including return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. For more information visit www.inghams.co.uk or contact 01483 791 114.
The best value flexible skipass is the 4+2, allowing four days in one of the ski areas and two in any of the other three and is from €213.00 for adults and €142 for children.
Further details on Paznaun-Ischgl are available from the Paznaun-Ischgl Tourist Office on 0043 50990 100 paznaun-ischgl.com or firstname.lastname@example.org