Want a challenge? Ski down the World Cup run of the Hahnenkamm, then dine at one of several Michelin starred restaurants in Kitzbühel.
Kitzbühel has the charm and sophistication of a wealthy Grande Dame that other resorts respect and allude to. Check if the snow conditions are good, then I would put forward the more than 750 year old small town of Kitzbühel. It is a winter (and summer) resort that you can return to time and again and still find more of interest both on and off the slopes. However, there is nothing stuffy here as the well-groomed pistes have a magnetic vibrancy. Today there is a big network of very largely modern, fast and largely queue-free lift system with some 58 lifts, the latest ones have heated leather seats and canopies on the chair lifts. Queuing for the lifts was not an issue.
Want a challenge? Ski down the World Cup run of the Hahnenkamm, or tackle some of the steepest pisted slopes I have come across. Not your scene; then the adjacent Kitzbüheler Horn mountain on the other side of the valley from the main ski area, it is very largely covered with gentle, most picturesque runs which does not attract the speedsters. I like to cover as much as possible in every resort, on the main ski area of Hahnenkamm and the linked ski area of Pengelstein, Susanne my guide for a day responded well and we passed by everything from the Kinderland nursery area slopes (there are blue runs right across the slopes) to off-piste. Overall there are some 145 miles of very varied pistes, whilst I covered 117 miles in three great days, I needed a few breaks in the atmospheric mountain restaurants, calling them ‘huts’ does not do justice to their culinary standards and service. Surely the huts are only just secondary to skiing. There are some sixty to choose from so there is a good mix from a quick snack to deep immersion in sumptuous dining, not forgetting the sunny terraces.
Rather than citing the names of individual runs, you can find plenty of runs across the skill range – they are all here within the ski area of 800m to 2,000m above sea level. Most of the skiing is below the tree line; the resort has invested heavily in snow cannon to give more reliable skiing. The extensive off-piste skiing is largely on the Pass Thurn area. If you want to show off your skills; there is a ski park where free-stylers can get air under their skis as part of the fun. At the end of your day skiing, heading back to the resort, at the end of the Hahnenkamm run, there is a popular restaurant, the Mocking – Das Wirtshaus, en route to sate your thirst. Other people like cross-country skiing, by accident I once followed a trail, I must admit the tranquillity of and scenery are still remembered many years later.
My style of skiing has never flattered my ambitions, a former racer suggested that I choose a rental gear specialist: Etz Sport 2000. After a bit of quizzing about my standards and problems, I was offered a niche brand I had never heard of, it proved a good choice. Their principle is that the big brands have to make too many compromises to cover a wide spectrum of differing needs. These niche brands can cater for much smaller numbers so tweaks cater for those individual needs. As to the extra service, I had parked some way off, after the ski fitting, they said, that I should drive to the shop and I could park illegally for a short while. I returned, and they leaped to and even took the skis to the car. Perhaps it was phycological but I thought the kit had enabled me to look a far better skier than I deserved. Over the three days we skied a total of 117 miles.
Some people just come for the beauty of the surroundings and for the endless range of activities and other attractions. The Kitzbühel area has been a wealthy area for centuries through their mining of silver; that wealth is reflected in the beautifully maintained historic centre where shopping and dining is focused. Out and about, walking and sitting at leisure on a sun-drenched balcony with a gluhwein in hand is ever popular. Still out and about in the evening one can ride in an ancient, converted farm sleigh drawn by two heavy horses under the stars fortified by an offering of homemade grappa. In addition to the restaurants, the nightlife in the resort has a good buzz with plenty of options with nightclubs, pubs and bars. There is also an organised torchlight hike in the Bichlach village with a stop for refreshments.
Children are well catered for, Lisi World has everything you would expect for those between three and surprisingly seventeen years old with a climbing wall. The nursery slopes are confidence giving as there would be no fear of falling off the mountain which surprisingly features in some resorts.
The skiing day is relatively short so accommodation is a particularly important element in a winter holiday. Again, the range of options is very wide, mostly offering a high level of comfort, both in new buildings and classic alpine chalets. This time, I stayed in the new Lebenberg Schosshotel, set a bracing walk or shuttle bus trip above the town. The most striking feature was the indoor rooftop swimming pool nearly 150 feet long with the most brilliant views; particularly at night. I prefer the more intimate characterful hotels where you know where you are when you wake up. Spoilt for choice, there is also the 5* classic Tennerhof hotel (it also has six chalets). It is family owned and furnished with many antiques; the atmosphere is very relaxing. The present building dates back to 1679, it has a pleasant garden, is located a short shuttle bus ride from the centre. Its claim to fame is twofold, its very high standards with award winning restaurant, spa and overall level of presentation/luxury. The other famous element is that Ian Fleming, who went to school in Kitzbühel stayed in term time at the hotel. He continued visiting the hotel for long afterwards. If you want to stay in a smaller, quieter community, there are the villages of Kirchberg and Jochberg which are linked into the ski area.
Dining is a highlight of Kitzbühel; there are several Michelin starred restaurants, looking wider, in the centre the hotel Tiefenbrunner’s restaurant, the Goldene Gams, has a very comfortable atmosphere to complement the food. Out of the centre, the Lebenberg Schlosshotel is modern and very good, especially the service.
The journey from Salzburg is only about 50 miles, the satnav took me on a different route than normal, I was surprised at the overall size of the town. There are many large and well-presented modern alpine chalets offering accommodation. It is on my list for staying next time I come to the resort.
The warmth of the welcome to Kitzbühel is great as it embraces you both in the atmosphere of the historic town and picturesque mountains. We should all try different resorts but Kitzbühel has a magnetism that has brought me back numerous times over the decades.
Kitzbühel Tourist Office