Although I have enjoyed skiing in the United States for decades, I recently had the opportunity to visit four amazing resorts in the heart of the Alps that blew my socks off. Once intimidated by the language barrier and travel times to ski in Europe, I am now a huge fan. The amazing slopes and alpine hospitality in Switzerland and Austria are well worth the efforts to get there.
What’s different you ask? For starters, most of the resorts are located in non-commercial towns that offer unique cultural opportunities. Everything from the restaurants, to the art museums and winter activities were eye-opening experiences. Set in charming hamlets with breathtaking views, each resort had distinctive characteristics that set them apart from their US counterparts.
Sammy Salm, CEO of The Best of the Alps invited me to experience the mountains with a promise of first-rate skiing, personable hotels, fantastic dining and unparalleled beauty. The Best of the Alps included four resorts on my itinerary that I found to be quite accessible and wonderful places for families and couples to enjoy – Saint Moritz, Davos-Klosters, Lech Zürs am Arlberg and St. Anton Arlberg.
Interestingly, most Europeans take advantage of hiring private ski guides when visiting new resorts. English speaking guides not only help you get the lay of the land, they also show you the trails and how the lift passes and chair lifts work. In addition, they also act as tour guides with suggestions for the best places to eat and drink on the mountain. I found this to be particularly helpful.
The ski areas have well marked trails in English, not just the native language. I found it extremely easy to follow the signs and maps that are everywhere on the mountains. Renting equipment and ski clothes (if needed) is a breeze. Most resorts offer online ordering ahead of time so when you arrive you simply check-in and off you go! Ski lockers are available at the base of the mountain and upscale hotels provide ski valet services, eliminating the need to carry heavy gear around.
Cultural and family-friendly events abound during ski season. St. Anton am Arlberg hosts an annual nighttime Ski Shows on Wednesdays where the history of skiing is demonstrated live on the slopes and fireworks end each performance. Synchronized skiers dazzle the crowd skiing in tandem and ski jumpers deliver Olympic-worthy performances. “Ladies First” pampering includes special discounts on ski apparel, rentals, spa treatments and more during the month of January.
St. Moritz hosts an annual Gourmet Festival where cuisine from different parts of the world is highlighted – this year’s theme is the “British Edition”. Another annual tradition hosted in January is the 57th Annual Concours Hippique horse jumping show. Spectators are seated up close and personal to view the world-class competition. Families will appreciate the Zuoz Snow Park in the middle of the family ski area. Kids can learn how to do ski jumps safely and the little dips and bumps give beginners a chance to show off their new-found skills.
Davos was awarded the “Families Welcome” seal by the Swiss Tourism Association that means there is certified fun for children and adults of all ages in this village. Sledding paradise, Davos also has activities to get away from the snow – indoor and outdoor heated pools offer spectacular views of the mountains. Other indoor activities include horseback riding, bowling, rock climbing walls and miniature golf to name a few. Art enthusiasts will covet Davos’ Kirchner Museum, devoted to the German Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. It is the largest collection of his works in the world.
Kid’s Club Lech is a great way to introduce little ones (ages 3-5) to skiing and gives parents a break to shush down some slopes on their own and small group lessons are perfect for older children. Daring adults can ski off the beaten path with the ski school Heliskiing Program. Lech Zürs hosts local artisans in the hotels where visitors can purchase one-of-a-kind crafts to bring home as souvenirs of their time spent in the region. Epicureans will love the LöffelWeise series of events where guests can taste the culinary exchange between chefs of the area as well as international guest chefs. LöffelWeise literally means “by the spoonful” and is a great way to learn more about local cuisine.
Tobogganing, sledding, ice-skating, cross country skiing and even llama trekking, are a few of the sports that kids can join in with parents for a fun alternative to downhill skiing. Check individual resorts for their offerings.
Dining in the Alps is easy and casual or as upscale as you desire. All of the resorts in The Best of the Alps collaboration offer a mountain (pun intended) of options regarding international, local and family-friendly gourmet cuisine. Many of the restaurants offer outside terraces on the slopes with the best views in the world. Familiar favorites that kids will enjoy like fondue and bratwurst are everywhere and breakfast buffets are filled with little tykes in mind – pancakes, waffles and pastries will give them a treat. Adults will love having choices for romantic candlelit dinners and fun après ski bars. Sophisticated palettes will overjoy at the high level of gastronomic restaurants available in each of the villages. No need worry if you are unfamiliar with local delicacies, hospitality abounds in the Alps with English versions of menus in every restaurant and friendly wait staff who are eager to share the background and history of the local dishes.
Choosing the right hotel or rental property is easy once you know some insider information. Five-star hotels must provide 24-hour front desk clerks and offer amenities such as onsite dining and a full service spa. Four-star and four-star superior properties often offer more luxurious and spacious accommodations, but may lack the fifth star because they lack one of the amenities in the rankings. Do your homework, keep an open mind and check out the websites to find the best fit for your needs.
Where to Stay, Where to Eat and Have Fun
Hotel Carlton, one of St. Moritz’s best five-star accommodations. My favorite hotel features included: the ski valet services with rides to and from the Corviglia Ski Station, the nearly 13,000 sq. ft. full-service spa, and the enormous sun terrace for afternoon tea.
La Marmite – Chef Mathis’ specialties are pizza with freshly grated black truffles and decadent desserts. Located at The Top of the World on the slopes with magnificent views, it is expensive, but well worth treating yourself.
Al Lej da Staz – Let romance take the reigns, arrive fairytale style via fur-lined horse drawn carriage. Traditional Swiss foods with international favorites are served in a warm and cozy dining room.
Pavarotti and Friends – Après ski for adults must include Pavarotti and Friends (Plazza dal Mulin 3 7500 St. Moritz). Pavarotti look-alike Deny Mainente runs a wine bar to beat all others. He will pour a glass of excellent Bordeaux or Swiss favorite wine while belting out an occasional top hit from his separated at birth twin. Munch on antipasto or prosciutto and cheese to die for!
The Steigenberger Grand Hotel Belvedere is a hotel where local history and charm abound. Families can choose adjoining rooms and couples will love the relaxing spa and wellness center. There is an awesome terrace with fur-lined chairs to enjoy afternoon sun while sipping on a cocktail or two!
Hotel Grischa is a superior four-star hotel which is a five-star in my humble opinion. Perfect for families or couples who want to entertain, they offer reasonable prices for sleek and luxurious suites with full gourmet kitchens and large living spaces. For those who want to skip the dishes, five gourmet restaurants are located within the hotel.
Hoehenweg – A charming restaurant on the mountain, it is rustic and inviting. Great views await guests and authentic Italian pizza is served quickly so you can get back on the slopes quickly.
Hotel Seehof’s Amrein’s Seehofstübil – If you want a quiet romantic dinner or enjoyable evening with friends, this is the place for you. Every dish is plated elegantly and the wine selection is fantastic.
Hotel Arlberg is a warm and friendly hotel owned by a local family who believes that everyone who stays there should be treated like a close relative. The authentic alpine flair is juxtaposed with the modern amenities and the spa is divine. There are many charming pubic areas to gather as a family or friends wanting an après ski drink.
Hotel Aurelio is a modern meets mountain ski in/ski out lodge that is perfect for family reunions or romantic getaways. In addition to regular rooms, extravagant accommodations for larger groups are located in the incredible (2,100 sq. ft.) villa. The title of “Austria’s Best Ski Chalet 2013” is well deserved.
Rud Alpe – On the slopes, it is an easy in/out place to stop for a hot chocolate, coffee, aperitif or quick lunch.
Hirlanda Zürs Am Alberg – serves traditional Austrian and Mediterranean specialties.
Restaurant Alter Goldener Berg (The Old Gold Mountain) – super for Après ski wines on the terrace and traditional fondue in the dining room.
Hotel Tannberghof – the front porch is one of the village’s most popular après ski hangouts.
Hotel Pfefferkorn – lively bar where locals and visitors sip side by side on festive cocktails and sing along to popular international tunes.
The Alberg Hospiz Hotel is the most hospitable hotel in Austria! It also has the most amazing wine collections in the Alps – over 3,000 large bottles of the world’s finest wines. Comfortable public spaces and well-appointed rooms make it a natural treat in the moutains.
VerwallStube Wonderful 360-degree mountain views make this a most special lunch spot in the Alps. The bouillabaisse was a spectacular dish and the desserts were equally as amazing.
The Museum St. Anton is a combination alpine history museum and great dining destination. Hearty food and native specialties make it a local favorite.
The Post Hotel, in the heart of St. Anton, offers custom menu options for those who want to eat healthier and for those who want to splurge yummy Austrian dishes.
MooserWirt is the be all to end all après ski destination in Austria. Festive and outrageous fun is had during peak winter months where 2,000 people sing, dance and drink the afternoons away.
In no way did the hospitable resorts that housed me, the venues that entertained me, the restaurants that fed me and gave me world class beverages influence my opinion that The Best of the Alps destinations I visited were among the word’s finest.