10 Tips for Winter Holidays in Tirol

Winter holidays in Tirol are an unforgettable experience. Highlights include skiing in Austria's largest resort, cross-country skiing on the trails where the world's best biathletes compete in the Biathlon World Championships, and hiking in a snowy landscape where a cosy hut serving traditional food awaits around every corner.

During the winter months Tirol is a harmony of contrasts offering something for everyone. From belcanto arias filling the cold night air to a day of non-stop skiing in the mountains, visitors will find a perfect mixture of action and relaxation. Our ten tips for winter holidays in Tirol cater for sports enthusiasts, foodies, party animals, culture vultures and families keen to get out and explore the region.

1 · Trace the tracks of the ski stars in St. Johann

Angerer Alm in St. Johann, © Angerer Alm

The ski resort of St. Johann combines family-friendly facilities with challenging slopes often used by World Cup skiers to train on. With its perfectly prepared pistes, free practice lifts, large beginners' area, toboggan run and funslope with plenty of obstacles to ski over and around, this pretty resort in the east of Tirol is ideal for both young children and teenagers. At the same time, advanced and expert skiers will also find plenty to explore. Most of the slopes in St. Johann are classified blue (intermediate), but the "Sauregg-FIS-Abfahrt" is rated black (difficult) and will challenge even experienced skiers. During the weekend of the famous Kitzbühel downhill race on the nearby Hahnenkamm run, visitors to St. Johann can watch Austria's top slalom stars training in the resort in preparation for their big race just a few kilometres away in Kitzbühel.

St. Johann has plenty of cosy huts and welcoming guesthouses. The Angerer Alm hut combines the flair of a traditional mountain hut with excellent food. At the idyllic Penzinghof in nearby Oberndorf you may even bump into a few ski stars at the breakfast buffet.

2 · The Villgratental Valley: welcome to the sound of silence

Kalkstein in Innervillgraten, © Tirol Werbung/Bert Heinzlmeier

The Villgratental Valley in East Tirol is home to two villages: InnervillgratenandAußervillgraten. And that's about it. No ski lifts, no big hotels, no leisure centre, no après-ski bars. Nothing. And yet, at the same time, the inhabitants of this remote mountain valley have everything: an untouched natural landscape ideal for winter hiking and cross-country skiing, and a gentle way of life that takes a little getting used to for those accustomed to the hustle and bustle of urban life. But rest assured: after a few days even the most stressed-out city slicker will adapt to the gentle rhythmn of the Villgratental Valley. And one day, for the first time in years, you will suddently find yourself completely alone with nothing but snowy peaks and the sound of silence for company.

The philosophy which characterises the entire Villgratental Valley can be felt at the Natur Residenz Villgraten. Highlights in this cosy guesthouse are the natural pinewood beds and products made from local sheepswool. Before settling down for a good night's sleep, why not sample the delicious local mountain lamb in the award-winning Gannerhof restaurant?

3 · No fun like snow fun at the Hochzeiger ski resort in the Pitztal Valley

Fun in the snow at the Hochzeiger resort in the Pitztal Valley, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

Eyes down for a quick lesson in the regional dialect "Tirolerisch": a "Busserl" is a kiss; "abbusseln" means to cover somebody in kisses; if you say something is "zum Abbusseln" then that means you like it a lot. Get it? Got it? Good. And why do you need to know all that? Well, the ski resort of Hochzeiger in the Pitztal Valley is for children "zum Abbusseln". They simply love it. Babies and toddlers (10 months and older) will enjoy "Pitzis Kinderparadies", where mascots "Pitzi" and "Gratsch" will keep them entertained, while children aged 3 years and older can head out onto the slopes with trained instructors to take their first turns on snow in a beginners' area set away from the main slopes. The second half of the day is spent exploring nature, looking for animal tracks in the snow, racing each other on snow discs and building snowmen.

The Pitztal Valley with the family-friendly Hochzeiger ski resort in Jerzens is one of ten regions which have specialised in welcoming families with children. During the "Bambini Weeks" in January children under 10 years of age receive a free ski pass when accompanied by a full-paying adult. The Pitzis Schneeabenteuer children's activity programme costs €153 for three days.

4 · Riverside adventure for hungry hikers hikers in the Lechtal Valley

Snowshoe hiking in the Lechtal Valley, © Robert Eder

A hot dumpling soup, a filling portion of Tiroler Gröstl or simply a slice of good bread with mountain cheese and butter always taste good. But, as everyone will agree, they all taste that little bit better after being out and about in the fresh alpine air. A hut-to-hut hike in the Lechtal Valley offers those wishing to combine food and fitness with the ideal opportunity to do so. There are 18 huts dotted along the valley, each serving a range of delicious traditional specialties. Instead of queues at the ski lifts, busy restaurants and loud après-ski, why not enjoy the absolute peace and quiet of the Lechtal Valley, be it on touring skis, snowshoes or simply wearing a pair of warm winter hiking boots?

A total of 18 huts in the Lechtal-Reutte Nature Park Region have joined forces under the slogan “Eppas Guats” (literally "Something Good") to offer traditional dishes made using fresh ingredients from the local region. Fine accommodation to go with the region’s fine food can be found at the Hotel Gasthof Post in Bach.

5 · The most beautiful landscape, the best hotels, the ultimate in relaxation

The Karwendeltäler valleys next to Lake Achensee, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

What is the secret to being a good host? The owners of the finest hotels and guesthouses in Tirol know: professionalism, friendliness and a genuinely warm welcome; but also a traditional atmosphere where guests feel at home. In short: top quality service in magnificent surroundings. That is precisely what guests can look forward to at the Wiesenhof am Achensee. Located at the entrance to the idyllic Karwendeltäler valleys, a region with excellent winter hiking and cross-country skiing, this former farmhouse in the village of Pertisau offers everything you would expect from a four-star superior hotel erwartet – and a lot more. Highlights include a large art deco bathhouse and a selection of beauty treatments with "Tirolean stone oil", a natural product which has been made and used in the local region for many centuries to treat a range of ailments.

Visitors spending their holiday in the western part of Tirol should try the Lifestyle Hotel Jungbrunn in the idyllic Tannheimer Tal Valley with its award-winning spa. Alternatively, visit the Naturhotel Waldklause in Längenfeld in the Ötztal Valley for a combination of relaxation and wintersports action.

6 · Big, bigger, Arlberg: resort expands with new Flexenbahn lift

Skiing in the Arlberg region, © Tirol Werbung/Josef Mallaun

The Arlberg has always been a haven for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders. Now, from 2016/17, this area between Tirol and Vorarlberg can proudly claim the title of largest ski network in Austria. This has been made possible with the construction of a new lift, the Flexenbahn, connecting Zürs and Stuben/Rauz. This state-of-the-art gondola closes the last remaining gap in the network, meaning that all villages in the Ski Arlberg region – St. Anton and St. Christoph, Stuben, Zürs, Lech, Oberlech, Schröcken and Warth – can now be reached on skis. From this winter, skiers and snowboarders can look forward to not only 305 kilometres of pistes in one of Austria's most beautiful landscapes but also 120 fewer bus journeys per day (along with a major drop in car travel). Good for the environment and good for the guests!

The Himmlhof lives up to its name. "Himmel" means "heaven", and guests who spend their holiday in this former farmhouse in St. Anton can experience their own little piece of four-star luxury with a traditionally warm Tirolean welcome. Heavenly!

7 · Skiing all year round on the Hintertux Glacier

Hintertux Glacier - skiing 365 days a year, © Tirol Werbung/Regina Recht

Are you one of those people who in autumn desperately wait for the first snowfall of the season and in spring search high and low for the last few remaining spots of the white stuff high on the mountain? If so, help is at hand – in the form of the Hintertux Glacier. Austria's only year-round ski resort offers top conditions 365 days a year for skiers and snowboarders who can't get enough of wintersports. If you ever do get bored of the slopes then pay a visit to the Spannagelhöhle, the highest cave in Europe open to the general public. This underground realm deep below the glacier even has a few examples of glacier fleas, tiny animals which somehow manage to survive in this most hostile of natural environments.

One of the best things about being on holiday is not having to use your car every day. The four-star superior Hotel Alpenhof in Hintertux offers luxurious accommodation, a hearty breakfast and doorstep skiing.


8 · The art of distilling schnapps in Stanz

Christoph Kössler’s distillery in Stanz, © Agrarmarketing Tirol

There is no better time of year to discover the secrets of distilling schnapps than winter. As the flakes of snow gently fall outside, Christoph Kössler shows you around his state-of-the-art distillery with its glistening copper drums. The distillers here in the village of Stams have perfected their art over many centuries using the excellent fruits which grow in abundance on this sunny plateau above Landeck. In fact, the village has more distilling locations than households! And among the very best is the award-winning distillery run by Christoph Kössler.

Tirol is home to around 4,000 professional and amateur distillers, many of whom have been awarded national and international prizes in recent years. Visitors keen to learn more about this traditional past-time can visit a number of distilleries along the Tirolean Schnapps Route. The Hotel Tramser Hof is situated on the other side of the Inn Valley and offers luxurious accommodation next to a beautiful small lake near Landeck.

9 · Train like the stars: cross-country skiing in the Pillerseetal Valley

The fairhotel Hochfilzen, ideal for cross-country skiers, © fairhotel Hochfilzen

Cross-country skiing is the perfect sport for people of all ages and fitness levels. This gentle winter activity is easy to learn (not only for children!) and requires no more than skis, poles and boots. An ideal region for those who wish to try cross-country skiing for the first time is the Pillerseetal Valley. This snowsure area has 150 kilometres of well-maintained cross-country skiing trails groomed daily. Guests can also have a go at biathlon, a popular winter sport combining cross-country skiing and shooting. In 2017 Hochfilzen will once again host the Biathlon World Championships.

The fairhotel Hochfilzen has specialised in accommodation for cross-country skiing enthusiasts. It is the first passive energy hotel in Tirol and is located next to the cross-country skiing trails. Run by the Eder family, the faihotel Hochfilzen lives up to its name, from its an organic breakfast with regional products to its fair prices.

10 · Belcanto at Christmas: the Winterfestspiele Erl

The new Festspielhaus (right) and the traditional Passionsspielhaus in Erl, © Peter Kitzbichler

In 2012 a new operahouse was built in the quiet village of Erl in Tirol. This black building with sharp lines designed by the architects Delugan Meissl contrasts with the nearby traditional white Passionsspielhaus in the form of a snailshell. With the construction of the new building the director of the Tiroler Festspiele Erl, Gustav Kuhn, was able to add a winter festival to the programme. The main highlight of the 2016/17 season, which begins on 18 December with Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" is the opera "L’italiana in Algeri" ("The Italian Girl in Algiers") composed by belcanto master Gioachino Rossini.

A day on the slopes followed by an evening in the opera and a meal in an award-winning restaurant? The Gasthof Blaue Quelle, recently voted Austria's Best Pub, is just a few minutes' walk from the operahouses in Erl.

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