Everyone going to Lech Am Arlberg goes there for the fun, whether it is for the skiing or those who find there so much else to distract them, they don’t have time to ski. This famous but relatively small village in ski resort terms has hosted many famous guests, most are very discreet but it is well-known that Princess Diana and the Dutch, Monaco and Jordanian royal families have also been frequent visitors.
The village is in the Vorarlberg west of the Tirol, it has real style and presence; the buildings stand back from the river that runs through the centre creating an appealing, spacious scene with snowy mountains all around. The rather grand department store evokes the atmosphere of a local Harrods; it is complemented well with some modern new buildings. I particularly admire them for keeping the commercial aspects low key with a lack of neon signs but the bars are buzzing with life, visitors spilling out on to the pavements enjoying themselves.
Lech village was a bonus for me as my passion is skiing, not necessarily for speed; they have a speed trap over a very short run; a tiny tot reached 56kph, his father topped that at 62 and I only reached 61 which was 3 mph faster than a five year old. You have to laugh.
The skiing in Lech Zurs (they always include this very small village) has been more than adequate for most guests, nevertheless, they want to keep ahead of the game. New lifts have been added to create the ‘Ski Arlberg’ region which is one of the world’s largest with nearly 200 miles of pistes and loads of off-piste opportunities. Most notably, it includes St Anton which is famous both for some quite demanding slopes and the liveliness of its Apres Ski.
Back to Lech, there is a something for everyone; they have good nursery slopes complete with ‘magic carpets’ – moving pavements instead of dreaded ‘T’ bar drag lifts. Later on they can try a dedicated children’s run with playful twists and turns. Novices can graduate seamlessly through the ever more demanding runs with the ski school. After 30 years teaching, my guide Julio was still as exuberant as child who had just discovered a new toy. A test of confidence is the 22 km ‘White Ring’ which comprises all blue runs except one red run. The cautious approach would say it is for intermediates, but if you have ambitions, pluck up the courage and take it turn by turn. Intermediates have an endless choice, there are few runs with scary drops or slopes; they are easily avoided whilst advanced skiers can seek out the black and off-piste runs.
Despite the dwindling number of snowboarders, they are well catered for. The snow was plentiful and the pistes well-groomed with just a few icy patches, on my final morning we had 6” of fresh snow, even on the more popular lower slopes it was still possible to find virgin snow at ten-o-clock.
If skiing for a week, I would recommend a trip over to St. Anton as it is very different to Lech. The village is in a narrow valley and feels rather cramped, as was the famous Crazy Kangaroo and other bars. I went over as everyone was heading for serious Aprez Ski. By comparison Lech does have a rather ‘blue blood’ image and a genteel, relaxed atmosphere; thoughtless ‘bombing’ skiers are rare, but there are plenty fast, considerate skiers. The run down into St. Anton includes a black run; it is more grey than black but the crowds heading home were the biggest obstacle. It could be a deceptive boast ‘I skied a black in St. Anton’.
Lech was the first ski resort to restrict the number of lift passes to avoid too crowded slopes, the crowding problem is normally limited to weekends, however, the modern and fast lift system certainly helps. Most resorts have boring buildings on the mountain, here they have used good architects; the lift stations are attractive and fit into the scenery. The mountain huts are traditional but I was very taken by the new Uber-Cool ‘Der Wolf’ restaurant/bar, a visual treat that also offers good fayre.
The skiing day is for most of us much shorter than working days, so your choice of hotel assumes great importance. Lech’s history revolves around farming, they have diversified as tourism developed so most hotels are very largely family owned. Our 4* Gotthard Hotel (quiet central location; lifts under 5minutes’ walk) is owned by the enterprising and highly energetic Walsh family. Their hotel and other interests are also their hobbies. The family’s bakery offers a big range to the extent that each day so there are new combinations of breads at breakfast. The ‘front of house’ is Nicole with an attention to detail that is admirable, both with the staff and the facilities. I stay in many hotels and it is rare to find one which is difficult to fault; I could not think of anything I would add; Clemens, Nicole’s husband, has recently developed a hay gin; it goes down a real treat!
There is an infectious ‘house party’ style but the informality of the service does not detract from the efficient and personable service. Several groups of friends return year after year and a big plus is that the hotel is spacious so you can always find a niche to chill out in private.
After a great day on the slopes it is hard to beat sampling the local aperitifs and grappas in the family owned Rettl Bar across the road from the hotel, followed by a massage in the comprehensive wellness spa. The statuesque Croatian masseuse gave me a thorough going over; tutting about some muscles that required attention. Then have a swim in the delightfully warm Pool before a delicious Austrian dinner and you will have had a great day.
Hotel Gotthard: www.gotthard.at
Lech-Zurs Tourist Office: www.lechzuers.com
Vorarlberg Tourism: www.vorarlberg.at
Tour Operator: www.crystalski.co.uk
Travel notes: Our flight; London to Zurich and the transfer were both just under two hours.