The Otztal region of the Austrian Alps is one whose name may have a ring of familiarity. Perhaps it is via Otzi the iceman – a remarkable five-thousand year old mummy discovered nearby in 1991, virtually on the Italian border.
Alternatively it may be a notorious event back in the 19th century that rings a bell. Auguste Piccard, the high altitude balloon pioneer, crash landed on an Obergurgl glacier – an occurrence that made international news and kick-started the local tourist trade.
Skiers will be almost certainly be familiar with the areas main resort, Solden, as well as Obergurgl/Hoghgurgl. All are top resorts that line the sides of this fabulously scenic river valley. The latest, and very welcome, news being that they will all share lift tickets (3+ days) from the start of the 2017/18 season, allowing visitors to really make the most of all the ski areas.
These two ski regions also have something of contrasting reputations. Sleepy Obergurgl is a small and pretty mountain hamlet clustered around a pretty white church with a tall steeple. It has in recent years been connected to nearby Hochgurgl by a handy cross-mountain gondola, an upgrade that made the twin resorts a worthy international destination.
The link provides a very good sized local area which will keep most visitors more than happy. Advanced skiers will find just a moderate number of steeper pistes but in good snow the fabulous off-piste opportunities more than make up for any limitation in on-piste variety. The spectacular views from the top are worth a mention too – go to the Top Mountain star for one of the best panoramic views in the Alps.
The two villages attract a loyal, older than average and mostly up-market, following who return for the village atmosphere and some of the most reliable snow cover in Europe.
A few miles down the valley is Solden, a resort that has its own very recent notoriety – this time as a film location for the most recent James Bond film, Spectre. The ultra modern mountain restaurant Ice-Q most recognisable as the baddies lair.
It is a resort though with something of a Jeckyll and Hyde character. On the one hand it is a reasonably attractive resort, despite a busy main road, with a substantial ski area. On the other hand it has, up to now at least, an unfortunate reputation as a somewhat boozy party town.
The extensive winter sport terrain is the main attraction for the varied international clientele. It is extensive and suitably varied with the presence of two glaciers ensuring an ultra-long November to May season. It is also highly scenic with dramatic peaks and valleys within the area and remarkable panoramic views from the high altitude slopes.
Although the ski area doesn’t link easily, the two glaciers being on a bit of a limb, this means the it takes time to explore and reveal its treasures. These include some incredible long runs that stretch as much as 15km from mountain top to valley floor and super-atmospheric mountain hutten like the Gampe Thaya.
After the lifts close the nightlife can be notorious, with partying groups that start apres ski and continue late in to the night. There is not only dancing on tables but table dancing too – all advertised outside a series of roadside bars that dominate the town centre. There are very significant signs for optimism however.
The opening of the Giggijoch gondola has improved the ski area significantly whilst Ice-Q’s architectural appeal and the gourmet restaurant within have upped the quality quotient. Its not hard either to all but escape the apres ski crowds, simply by staying in secluded pockets of Pensionen and apartments – many of which sit close to the river, or on the hillsides above town – or by picking a top quality hotel and simply enjoying its facilities.
In the resort centre the stylish and convenient Hotel Vaya Solden has to be the best place to stay as well as eat and drink (see our review here) whilst other places like the Glanz Punkt, which includes a trendy cafe, cool gift shop plus bike shop and the classy 5* Das Central Hotel are both part of what is surely an unstoppable move up-market.
We have not even had a chance to mention the areas, very substantial, charms outside of the ski season. These naturally include plenty of walking, biking and spectacular sightseeing and, Bond or not, this is an area that we will hear and see much more of in the coming years.
For more general information visit www.oetztal.at
For skiing in Solden visit www.soelden.com
For skiing in Obergurgl/Hochgurgl visit www.obergurgl.com
For information on the Hotel Vaya visit www.vaya-soelden.at
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Otztal Tourism and Vaya Solden Fine Living Resort