Archive for the ‘Austria’ Category

Obergurgl: skiing mecca for non-skiers

April 10, 2011 5 comments

Ever heard of Obergurgl? If you are an avid skier the name probably rings a bell; if not, like me, and you’re an English speaker, the quirky name most likely conjures up images of gargling. (And, to take the subject of gargling a step further, its main street is called “Gurglerstrasse”.)

Some of the best restaurants and bars in Obergurgl are located on the mountain peaks .. either ski there or, if you're a non-skiier, there is a good network of lifts and cable cars to get you there without stepping foot on the snow.

The stunning village of Obergurgl and its surroundings, often called “The Diamond of the Alps” is located deep in the Austrian Alps at 1,930 meters, close to the border with Italy and in the heart of the Ötztal region. Obergurgl also frequently makes it into the top rankings of Europe’s best ski resorts.

It’s a mecca for Austrian and German skiing enthusiasts, upmarket British charter tourists, well-heeled Americans and a fair few show-offs, dancing around in their latest designer skiwear who seem to compete with each other as to who can do the most flashy stop outside the bars and cafes. Sitting just two meters away in a sun lounger, I was treated to a whack of fresh snow in the face from one such ski-gymnast but was happy that the skier, skis and poles did not land on my lap.  

With peaks of over 3,000 meters, Obergurgl can be a bit daunting for those who are a bit shaky on their skis. They have a great network of pistes so even if you spend a week here you won’t get bored with the choice. But, be prepared for a challenge. Even their blue slopes are quite a handful for beginners while the black slopes will test the best of the best, even if you’ve been on skies before you could walk. But the infrastructure is excellent – there are plenty of slopes, well marked out paths, modern state-of-the-art cable cars and an efficient network to get around and a good choice of hotels and restaurants. All against the panoramic background of the stunning mountains.

A ninety-minute drive from Innsbruck, the road to Obergurgl winds up and around the Alps but when you arrive at this mountain retreat, closed off from the outside world, it’s bustling but not too busy.  If you’re looking for cozy, small wooden huts and few people, this is not the place for you as the hotels are relatively large by Alpine standards, the restaurants are spacious and roomy with menus available also in English and the tourists are the main source of business for the local residents. But if you don’t want the hype and snow-boot-bar-dancing that is part of the nightlife at Soliden, just ten minutes away, Obergurgl has enough life without being over the top.

After two efforts to ski in theAlps, I’ve decided that Alpine skiing is just not my cup of tea. Spending 20 minutes squeezing my feet into the uncomfortable boots, walking around like a Robocop in these foot-killers and falling down slopes that are too high for beginners, lugging around my skiis and poles which you have to carry everywhere with you all day, walking up hills when ski lifts don’t work and sliding back down them on my ass, just don’t do it for me. But part of the fun is cozy dinners with family and friends, enjoying Kaiserschmarrn (one of the most delicious Austrian desserts. It’s like pieces of cut-up pancake served with apple puree and whipped cream) at lunch with a cup of hot chocolate, warming up in the sauna and Jacuzzi afterwards and sitting on a mountaintop with a coffee and a good book enjoying the spectacular scenery.  If you feel like being more active, there’s iceskating, toboggan rides, hiking and plenty more to keep you occupied.

So, if you are a seasoned skier or want to learn, Obergurgl is a great spot. And even if you’re not, you’re sure to enjoy soaking up the scenery and atmosphere.

Some tips

  • Where to stay: Hohenfels is a 3-star “Pension Garni” cozy guesthouse owned by the Scheiber family costs around EUR 47 per person per night including breakfast and balcony. It’s right in the village center and has a nice steam room and sauna to rest those aching joints after a day on the slopes. Staff are super-friendly, speak good English.
  • Getting there: From Innsbruck Obergurgl is a one-hour drive; around a 2.5 hour drive from Munich.
  • Ski rental: Mode Lohmann on the main street – around EUR 50 per person for two days, skipass extra.
  • If you’re tired of rustic Alpine charm, the modern and stylish Wine Lounge at the Hotel Crystal is a great hang-out spot.
  • For a restaurant and bar with a view, check out Top Mountain Star at 3,082 meters.
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