To find the true treasures in life, it can be rewarding to seek out the quiet ones as they may reveal qualities beyond their description and image offering very individual experiences. You find it in anything from chefs through to skiing resorts; Slovenia hides lots of treasures including the acknowledged “ world’s best female chef”, dig deeper and there is much more to find. Not so difficult with ski resorts but, compared to, say; Aspen, St. Moritz and Courchevel 1850, Austria’s Lech am Arlberg is not on everyone’s radar, despite patronages from the Monaco, Dutch and Jordanian royal families as well as the UK’s Princess Diana and the princes. Hollywood stars including Arnold Schwarzenegger also come to avoid the limelight whilst on holiday.
This relatively small resort is tight knit and lies in a picturesque valley with a river meandering through the middle with a church adding to the attractive scene. The friendly atmosphere is rather genteel, but not too precious. Amongst the attractive buildings, there are plenty of bars and restaurants and just enough shops for retail therapists. The shopping is also a little different; they even have their own interpretation of Harrods with the Strolz department store; their ski shop opposite is surely unequalled in its splendour. And, where else would you find a magnum of red wine at over 600 Euros in the local supermarket?
There are no large hotels but there are now quite a few very luxurious chalets which are world ranking, including one that is the world’s most expensive (except for Russian New Year’s week). However, obviously at this level it is not at all about price but choosing a style that suits your tastes. The chalets line the side of the valley up to the largely car-free Ober Lech so they enjoy great views.
The area covered by the ski pass is 300km and includes St Anton, Zurs and St Christoph. Their picturesque pistes are varied with few black runs but there are some very achievable challenges for intermediates with the famous 22km ‘White Ring’ with a total height difference of about 5,500m. Ski the Ober Lech slopes in the morning as the queues on the main lift from the resort on the Rüfikopf side are a disgrace for a resort of this stature. Far better to use the hotel’s Bentley courtesy car for a short ride to another queue free lift.
After skiing, choose a bar along the main street and bask with a refreshing drink in the sun or seek out the ‘Hus No. 8’ bar/restaurant for its traditional cosy style. Go modern on the slopes and you will surprisingly find well-designed ski lift buildings, but more particularly the sleekly designed Der Wolf bar/restaurant sets the style of today. Very aware of the quality of the environment, Lech has reduced their CO2 emissions and improved air quality by building a biomass plant to provide heat and hot water for the resort, also by providing a free public bus service to reduce the need for cars.
The success of the award winning (Austria’s) ”Leading Boutique Hotel 2019” ten-bedroomed 5* Aurelio has spawned further high end accommodation with the development of their Aurelio Club next door with six rooms and two suites. Following on is their biggest and most challenging expansion; the three chalets nearby with the two Arula chalets which are nominated for the World Ski Award as the “World’s Best New Ski Chalet 2019”
This hotel and club comprise two suites and 16 generous rooms; the 1,000 sq. m spa is big enough to get lost in with the large pool being the hub of activities and, indeed, relaxation. The 46 staff are personable; they are quick to fulfil every request as they genuinely wish to ensure everyone enjoys their experience. The three in-house alpacas are fun but not so obliging.
The presence of cars spoil many resorts but Lech surely leads the way by gouging out the mountain to create large, unseen car parks, the Aurelio included. However, the Arula chalets are not near a road but nothing daunted, it took two years of excavation to create an underground car park. At the far end is a glass wall behind which is a party room with exotic graffiti decoration, passing through you take a lift down five floors to find a very long passageway. Opening the door at the far end you enter a hallway; with a chalet on either side, each with their own spa, cinema room, pool and sun terrace. The tonal qualities of the translucent Himalayan salt wall was a marvel. The chalets can be booked together or individually with a total of 29 beds (21 and 8), staffing is flexible including butlers 24/7.
Interior designs are traditional but a modern interpretation has been applied to produce an ultimately comfortable atmosphere which produces an intimacy, far from those chalets which are seemingly built to impress corporate clients. In addition, the owners have added an exclusive enclave of a new cluster of three chalets. The hotel’s vernacular design hides the modern facilities inside with its spacious and comprehensive spa together with a wellness section. Security is efficient but discreet.
The more famous neighbouring resort of St Anton is very different and to my eyes, its narrower valley seems quite cramped and lacks the charm of Lech. Nevertheless, it is legendary for both its challenging off-piste skiing and for its drinking culture - the young and adventurous Swedes almost made it their own really appreciating the low prices of alcohol. Whilst it is better to take the courtesy car to St Christoph to ski St Anton’s slopes, the resorts are now linked by a tortuous string of lifts (both ways on the Felexenbahn). If the off-piste snow is stable then it is more than worthwhile as it offers extensive challenges at all levels. However, the prepared pistes do not offer challenges for an intermediate skier, the only advantage over Lech is that some of the runs are longer.
Not so well known is St Christoph, a small resort where there is a rebuilt Hospice and cultural centre where I attended a fantastic jazz concert before dinner. A unique attraction is the largest collection of claret in the world outside France with the core of the collection in large bottles – up to 27 litres. The only way to buy the wine is to consume it on the premises as their pricing offers some extraordinary opportunities with newly fashionable, i.e. expensive wines, perhaps well below market prices. The prices are based on the purchase cost plus 5% for each year in storage, so wine lovers travel from far and wide to dine and enjoy the rarest of wines.
Whilst you will not find the inveterate night-clubbers in Lech, there is enough variety and activity to give the resort a bit of a buzz. There is a large core of guests who regard Lech as their relaxing winter home to which they return year after year – the atmosphere is infectious. I certainly look forward to returning.