Did you know that of all the big name ski resorts in the world, the Arlberg region was where skiing began? With Austria’s oldest skiing club founded in St. Christoph in the early 1900s. Along with drag lifts, cable cars and ski-instructors. Even parallel turns were first recorded at the first ski-school here in 1901. Cut to present day and the school is still considered one of the best. With the likes of Princess Caroline of Monaco a member, along with a few Olympic gold medallists, it’s also hosted high profile skiing competitions including the Alpine Ski World Championships and the famous White Ring Race. Now, with the newest Gondola launched in 2016 – Arlberg is the largest connected resort in Austria (5th in the world). With Lech one of the most affluent – in a less ostentatious way than some of the others, it has the highest concentration of award-winning gourmet restaurants in Europe, says Emma Whitehair.
The C&TH Guide to Arlberg
The Hotel Aurelio, Lech
As we arrive at Aurelio, its partnership with Bentley is evident in the cars lining the drive. Then there’s the distinctive yellow of a Veuve serving van on the deck, welcoming us at the main entrance. These brand alignments perfectly setting the tone for a luxurious stay in the what was voted the ‘World’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel 2018’ at the World Ski Awards. Located just off the side of the main piste down to Lech, makes this my kind of ski in-ski out. With zero traipsing with heavy equipment, just a short and steep slope ensuring guests hit the ground running before hitting the lifts. Don’t forget to say ‘hi’ to the Aurelio Alpacas on your way in and out though. They live just by the ski room. The town, with its chic boutiques and ski hire shop, Strolz, which has more in common with Harvey Nichols than Intersport – is also just a short stroll down a mountain path.
With a fuss-free and modern take on typical Austrian pine interiors, the generously proportioned and well-designed rooms here are well worth writing home about. With considered lighting offering numerous light settings, from watching TV or reading in bed, to make-up or ‘wellbeing’ in the bathroom. Even when you turn on the light to get up in the night, there is a soft illumination to orientate yourself down the long corridor to the bathroom. While the blinds can also be controlled by the same panels by the side of the bed. Allowing guests to enjoy snowy mountain views from the comfort of mountainous-ly fluffy duvets and pillows.
The spa has a stylish architectural feel, with top-notch facilities including a 22 m pool, thermal suite, sensory showers and vitality bar with complementary kombucha and the like. And if you forgot your swim shorts, the spa boutique sells the Orlebar Brown x Arlberg collaboration – featuring winter landscapes of Lech. It’s always a good sign when you hear the restaurant manager makes his own honey. And the team here clearly take pride in the food they prepare. The chef even created variations of his ‘Natural Art Cuisine’ menu around my flexitarian/vegan-ish requests. Where we enjoyed experimental cuisine featuring ingredients ranging from sour cream frozen in nitrogen to delicate mushrooms foraged in summer and conserved in brine. Making it easy to see why Gault Millau awarded the chefs and their team 3 toques.
Aurelio was the first luxury chalet hotel in Lech. So it seems apt that the brand celebrated its 10th year of business – 2019, by opening two partner chalets. Chalets we had the pleasure of being the first to visit when so brand spanking new, we could still smell the freshly cut pine. Both chalets are next level luxe, classic modern alpine with contemporary details such as black metal fittings from light switches to taps, creating an edge. To differentiate the two – Chalet Mimi is kind of like the more traditional grown-up sibling, while The Arula Chalets are a bit naughty.
The Arula Chalets
Two-interconnecting chalets covering an expansive 2,400m2, Arula is curated with achingly cool art from the likes of Jesus Had A Sister along with designer furniture including the sumptuous suede Baxter Chester Moon Sofa and mid century style sheepskin covered chairs. Then there’s the ‘Moments of Wonder’ that would wow even the most decadent guest. Cinema by the pool anyone? Perhaps you’d prefer to chill on waterbeds in the Himalayan salt walled room? Or enjoy listening to the self-playing Steinway in one of the lounges? With games room complete with DJ space down below and doors that open onto a spacious terrace featuring a huge hot tub, these chalets are crying out for some epic apres. arulachalets.com
The Post Lech
Somewhat an institution, Post is the Grande Dame of Lech. Part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group for more than 40 years, as its name suggests, the hotel was originally a collecting point for the imperial and royal mail of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Its last incarnation was a farmhouse, before being transformed into a luxury hotel. Still retaining its authentic “country inn” charm, with staff wearing traditional Tyrolean clothing (the décolletage enhancing dirndl much to my boyfriend’s delight). Talking of dress, while base layers at breakfast are de rigueur, dinner in the same restaurant – the slick new “Postblick” with views over Lech, is altogether a smarter affair. So, if gourmet is your thing, or you want to dine in the hunting lodge-style “Jägerstube” – restaurant, which has been distinguished with two Gault & Millau toques, perhaps hand luggage isn’t the best idea. Otherwise there’s always the more relaxed “inn” just off the buzzy bar, where no one will be judging you for wearing snow-boots at supper.
I flounced the dress code and went for the fancier option anyway, despite looking a little errr…cosier, than other guests. Delicacies served to include Chef Wagger’s signature ‘White foam soup from the vine tomato, with cream cheese ravioli and scallop’. Followed by Norway lobster (again with a side of foam), then perch with an incredible yuzu sauce. The meal beautifully ending with a bitter sweet Manjari chocolate dessert. Well, kind of finished. We only ordered three dishes from the four course menu, but were served around six in the end, with those delicious inbetweeny tasters that top chefs often like to serve. Meaning a few hours of leisurely dining, ending nicely with fresh mint tea and an after afters of petit fours.
From dressing up to undressing – the recently renovated spa and wellness centre, set over three floors is a contemporary style juxtaposition to the old school tradition of the hotel. Featuring a finnish sauna, salt steam baths and two swimming pools. One inside, with the option to swim against the current machine, and the other Lech’s only outdoor pool, which is warmed to 30 degrees. When you’re done swimming surrounded by snow and panoramic views of the mountains, the spa has an impressive offering of treatments. I recommend a sports massage with the resident physio. Which so so intense it left my shoulder throbbing. In a good way. Our bedroom, with mint coloured wooden bed, coordinating pink and mint bedding, and painted mural, was a little twee for my taste. However the real fireplace, freestanding tub and shower which doubles up as a steam room, more than made up of it. All in all, a cosy stay in authentic luxury alpine style. postlech.com
Arlberg1800 RESORT & The Hospiz Hotel St. Christoph
arlberg1800 is an unusual fusion of old world Tyrolean charm meets contemporary culture. Located in St. Christoph, a tiny village that is one of the biggest names in winter sports. Where once stood only a humble mountain refuge, now is the multi-award-winning arlberg1800 RESORT. Launched in 2015, the resort incorporates the picture postcard pretty-in-pink Hospiz Hotel St. Christoph. With its a rich history dating back to 1386, when opened as a shelter for travellers and the founding home of the oldest charitable association – the ‘Brotherhood of St. Christoph’. Now a 3rd generation family run hotel, linked by tunnel into the high altitude Art and Concert Hall. Which offers both guests and visitors the opportunity to experience concerts and exhibitions in the highest arts space in the world. Also under the resort umbrella, are is a number of new luxury suites and chalets. Featuring design details such as reclaimed wood, granite walls and wall to wall beds.
During our stay, we had the privilege of seeing a moving (yes, I cried) performance by an Austrian string quartet in the intimate concert hall. The curves of the auditorium’s undulating pine clad walls creating magical acoustics. We were also thrilled to see home grown British talent Adam Attew’s inaugural solo show of photo-real alpine art in the ‘Cathedral Gallery’. As a qualified ski instructor, the mountains are Adam’s muse, and he has taken to helicopter to access remote winter landscapes to paint. Mostly featuring paintings of the local Arlberg region, there is even a collaboration with PSD skis used as his canvas, Catch this exhibition until 1st of May 2019.
The arlberg1800 Contemporary Art and Concert Hall is not the only place to find culture in the resort though. Art is displayed in the unlikeliest of places in the hotel. Allowing for ‘The art of encountering’, as guests move around the hotel. Even in the spa – which has a fish sculpture, in a cage right next to the Kneipp pools. And in case you were wondering, this is a hot and cold water therapy in the form of wading pools. Just the thing for weary ski-legs, this treatment is said to strengthen immunity, stimulate circulation and invigorate the body.
The five restaurants at the hotel are literally haute cuisine, being the highest altitude prize winning restaurants in the world. I put the kitchen through their paces by going off-menu most nights and skipping on the gourmet offerings for more hearty fare. And the chef delivered. Mostly typical Austrian with a gourmet flavour, the Käsespätzle (kind of like a mac & cheese) was some of the best I’ve tasted. While the local specialty, the incredible-sounding and tasting, Kaiserschmarrn pudding, was savored in front of the biggest open fireplace in the Alps. Listening to a local pianist tickling the ivories. I mean, the Tyrolean dream. arlberg1800resort.at