Value for Money 69%
Ischgl is overlooked by the Brits – which is baffling, given its full-throttle nightlife and high-quality intermediate pistes. So if you like your apres as much as your skiing and think you might be too old for St Anton, then put it on your hit-list.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
Ischgl is considered internationally to be Austria’s second most important resort after St Anton. The two ski centres, which are only 45km apart, developed along parallel lines during the early 20th century. But St Anton found international fame while Ischgl remained largely the private haunt of ski-tourers.
All that has changed in recent years. Ischgl now has a sophisticated lift system, and the old farming village houses a collection of smart hotels, cavernous spas and buzzing bars. An airport-style pedestrian walkway, cut through the rock around which the town was built, provides easy access to pistes, shops and restaurants – regardless of where you choose to stay.
Ischgl’s increasing international popularity is largely due to its Top of the Top of the Mountain Festival, which opens and closes the ski season. Some 20 years have slipped by since St Anton’s less famous rival in the Western Tirol put music in the mountain mix and magically conjured up a way of attracting new skiers to a moribund market.
Past concerts have featured Elton John, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Sting, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, The Scissor Sisters, The Killers, James Blunt, and Robbie Williams.
Other resorts across the Alps have wisely followed with a host of music festivals designed to boost ticket sales in the low season. But nowhere does it better than Ischgl, which has created a worldwide brand that it now zealously guards.
All in all, it’s a paradoxical place. The accommodation is mostly upmarket, and the clientele tends to be 10 to 20 years older than the 20-somethings that pack into the Mooserwirt in St Anton. But that doesn’t stop the Ischgl crowd from partying hard. From 3.30pm until dinner time the atmosphere is electric. It’s also good-natured. If all you’ve ever known is the surly swirl of the average British pub on a Friday night, you’ll be in for a very pleasant surprise.
Guide to the Mountain
The ski area in Ischgl has improved a lot in recent years, the 45 lifts upgraded and pistes widened on an annual basis. Intermediates will love it here. A vast cable-car – the Piz Val Grondabahn opens up a 3km-long red run as well as additional freeride terrain.
Main mountain access is currently by three swift gondolas from different parts of town that take you up to Idalp, the mid-mountain station at 2320m that forms the hub of the lift system. The luxury Pardatschgratbahn gondola with its heated seats boasts the world’s biggest height difference for a gondola, with 1251m from the base station in the village up to the Pardatschgrat peak at 2624m – with no middle station.
Lifts extend up to and over the ridge that forms the territorial frontier with Switzerland. Some of the best skiing is at Palinkopf, which at 2864m is the highest point, reached by two chair-lifts from Idalp. Long red and black runs sweep down into the beautiful Fimbatal on the edge of the ski area. The black runs tend to remain quiet, even during high season, and they would be classed as red in many other resorts. Some of the most rewarding off-piste runs here can be found off the Gampenbahn chair.
However, whenever the day dawns bright and sunny, it seems that almost everyone in the resort heads over to Samnaun to indulge in a cheese-rich Swiss mountain lunch and to fill their rucksacks with duty-free cigarettes, drink, perfume and electrical goods at supposedly bargain prices.
The return journey begins with a ride on what was the world’s first double-decker cable-car. Multiple chair-lifts – Ischgl had the first eight-seater – help to ferry skiers homewards. “The snow is always reliable although the reds down to town at the end of the day can be difficult and worn,” said a reporter. These are indeed narrow and steep – too difficult for many of Ischgl’s habitual clients, but that does not stop them trying…and falling in the path of others.
“Once you have negotiated the slight bottleneck of Idalp, Ischgl’s 235km of slopes are far from crowded. A six-seater heated chair-lift takes you up from Hollkar to the highest point at Greitspitz and from there you can ski the 11km run back to Ischgl,” says a reporter, “and don’t leave it until late afternoon however, as the lower slopes down to the village will be too crowded”.
This promotional video for the resort gives you a good sense of the slopes – with the exception of the difficult home run back into the resort. As you can see, most of mountain is above the treeline: spectacular on a sunny day in March, but a bit of an issue when there’s a blizzard blowing or the cloud comes down.
What the video also doesn’t show is how empty the slopes of Ischgl are in the morning. As you’ll see below, this is a party town and there are a lot of sore heads in the resort each morning. So keep an eye on the snow forecast before you get stuck into the Schnapps. Heaven awaits on a fresh-snow day if you get up the mountain early.
Fabulous facilities for snowboarders and freestylers
This is a serious snowboarding resort. The state-of-the-art snowpark for boarding and freestyle skiing has three lines for different levels of technique. The first is reserved for professionals who come here from all over the world. Then there are beginner and intermediate lines with more than 30 features, These include a quarter-pipe and a half-pipe called The Tube, 12 different types of jumps, rails, a fun box, wave rides, a ski/boardercross course, bump runs, and a timed speed run.
The park is served by three lifts, two large restaurants are conveniently situated next-door, and the Top of the Mountain Festival stage is close by. Samnaun has an obstacle park, designed with expert snowboarders in mind.
Day trips to neighbouring Galtur
For a day out, take the 15-minute bus ride to Galtur. “It’s a prettier, more friendly place than Ischgl,” said a reporter, and “although it only has 40km of skiing, the terrain is so varied you will feel as if you have covered much more ground than you actually have.” For freestylers there’s Actionpark and Heldenreich with jumps over rocks and boulders, and Zeinispark with its rails, a curved box, kicker tables, and boardercross.
Where to Learn
Ischgl is not the easiest place in Austria to learn because, once you progress from the nursery slopes, you’ll find that most of the blue runs here are a lot like reds – with some challenging sections. Idalp is the mountain hub where the ski school classes meet and the nursery slopes are located. There are no green runs here, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the lack of queues – apart from those on the rather steep home run to village.
Ischgl Snowsports Academy has plenty of good English speakers, but don’t expect to pick up any cutting-edge technique from most of the locally-born instructors – it even describes itself as “one of the most traditional ski schools in Austria”. However a variety of classes are on offer, including telemark, off-piste and skiing for the disabled. Check out Galtur ski school, too, for off-piste guiding.
The Ski Kindergarten (+43 5444 5257) at Idalp is run by the ski school and provides all-day care with lunch for children from three years old. Ski lessons are offered for children from four years old, and many of the hotels run their own childcare programmes. The toboggan run in Ischgl is one of the longest in the Alps and is floodlit every Monday and Thursday.
Where to Stay
The resort of Ischgl centres around Dorfstrasse, the long pedestrianised main street, under the Silvrettabahn gondola which travels overhead. It’s worth noting that during high season the street can be quite noisy at night, so choose a hotel that’s set slightly back from it, or ask for a quiet room if you’re not into the nightlife. An airport-style pedestrian walkway, cut through the rock around which the town was built, provides easy access to pistes and restaurants – regardless of where you choose to stay.
Designer-clad Austrians and Germans predominate, attracted by the smart shops and apres-ski venues – and of course the skiing. Consequently there’s a proliferation of smart hotels. Trofana Royal is Austria’s only five-star hotel to have three Gault-Millau toques. It also has a fitness studio and an extensive wellness centre – anti-ageing is the speciality here. The in-house kids club cares for children from the age of three years.
Design Hotel Madlein is owned by the Aloys family and is a minimalist work of art with Zen overtones. Among its many attractions is an excellent spa and wellness centre. The suites have glass walls separating the bedrooms from their en-suite Philippe Starck bathrooms.
Slightly incongruous – given the hushed, modernist glamour – is the presence of four nightspots including Ischgl’s hottest after-hours nightclub, Pacha, in the basement. The hotel offers airport transfers by stretched limo, with space for eight people with snacks, flat screen TVs and drinks from the onboard bar.
Owned by the same family is the refurbished Elizabeth Arthotel. All the rooms and suites here are south-facing and there’s a penthouse swimming-pool on the seventh floor. The Goldener Adler is in a 350-year-old building with an ultra-modern interior and a wellness centre.
Cosy accommodation choices
Hotel Jaegerhof is convenient for the underground walkway and has a friendly atmosphere. Hotel Seiblishof runs all-day child and baby care with a separate children’s restaurant. There’s also a Teens Club for 12-16 year olds during the school holidays, family rooms and special youth rooms.
Hotel YSCLA (meaning Ischgl in local dialect) is in the pedestrian area and has renovated rooms and apartments, a spa, the Guxa cocktail bar, and the gourmet Stüva restaurant. Hotel Christine is well positioned 100m from the Silvretta cable-car and houses the popular Caffe Ristorante Toscana.
For those who want more of a home from home, there’s Ski Total’s Chalet Hotel Abendrot, which is a cosy and comfortable four-star conveniently situated in a quiet location close to the village centre and a three-minute walk from a choice of lifts. You can ski back to within 50m of the hotel.
Hotel Martha is a pleasant four-star renowned for its half-board cuisine and run for generations by the same family. Rooms are decorated in contemporary Tirolean style and it’s conveniently situated 150km from the Silvrettabahn.
Hotel Zhero is in Kappl, 4km from Ischgl. It is cutting-edge in design, created from wood, stone and glass. There are ten different room types – including some with fireplaces and private Jacuzzis – and as well as hotel rooms and suites there are serviced apartments too. You can also stay in the quieter village of Galtur, 15 minutes’ drive from Ischgl.
Where to Eat
Ischgl has an interactive map that shows all of its mountain restaurants.
Pardorama (+43 5444 606 820) is a three-storey glass and steel building (it’s constructed from 1300 tons of steel and 1000 square meters of glass) at the top of the shiny new Paratschgratbahn gondola and houses a self-service and table-service eatery. It has high ceilings, glass walls and stunning views. The self-service downstairs gets very busy during high season. The Vider Alp is an alpine hut with a modern flavour. Restaurant Idalp Panorama (+43 05444 606 813) is at the top of the Silvrettabahn and is Tirolean style, with lots of pine and red tablecloths.
Alpenhaus (+43 5444 606 840) is home to the VIP Lounge, where Alpine style is mixed with a sophisticated design featuring cow skin, wood, glass and an open fire. If you’re here during high season you’ll need to book several days in advance. Bodenalp, in the Fimbatal area, serves large portions of home-grown produce. Paznauner Taya (+43 5444 5559) is a rustic place with table service upstairs, and a terrace with DJs and live bands. Downstairs is a cosy self-service with a good choice of food. Alp Trida Sattel is set on a ledge with fabulous views over the Swiss border.
Lunch in Samnaun and Galtur
Across the frontier in Samnaun, Vital-Hotel Samnaunerhof is good for Rosti and Wellness Hotel Chasa Montana has great pizzas. Schmuggler Alm has a terrace with sheepskin-covered seating and a lovely interior with log fires and a pizza oven. A reader recommends Alp Bella (+41 81 868 5783): “For stupendous views and excellent Swiss cuisine ski over to Alp Trida and the quiet slopes of Alp Bella, calling in at the lovely mountain restaurant there before heading back to Ischgl”. The interior is traditional Swiss wooden chalet.
The Marmotte (+41 81 861 8671), also on Alp Trida, is good value with pizzas cooked in the wood-fired oven. “For a typical Austrian mountain restaurant try the Fluchthornalm (+43 5443 8202) in neighbouring Galtur and don’t leave before you have a Marillen Schnapps which will speed you on your way back to the bus stop for Ischgl” said a reporter.
Some of the village restaurants are award-winners
The Paznaunerstube in the Trofana Royal has a Michelin star and three Gault Millau toques (“It is just perfect…the best ingredients, perfect wine list, the best chef in the most wonderful setting…the price is accordingly high but worth every penny.”) Chef Martin Sieberer is dedicated to the emphasis and reinterpretation of regional Tirolean cuisine. In the summer months he runs a cooking academy in the hotel.
Hotel Madlein serves light Austrian food inspired by the Far East. Caffe Ristorante Toscana is an Italian eatery inside Hotel Christine, which has a stylish interior. Stüva in Hotel YSCLA has 16 Gault Millau points and is presided over by Austria’s youngest award-winning chef, Benny Parth. Try the prawn consommé with lemongrass and ginger as a starter; roe deer with fig curd and Sauternes sauce for a main course; and Snickers 2014 – a pudding of nougat, peanut and caramel.
The Goldener Adler is known for its baked fresh trout, but don’t be surprised to find dishes such as ‘llama fillet from our own farm’ on the menu alongside the creatively prepared Tirolean specialities. Gasthaus Alt-Paznaun has a comprehensive menu of regional and international dishes.
One of our favourite restaurants in town is Lucy Wang, which serves excellent sushi and other Japanese fare. It is a good atmosphere and is popular, but prices are not cheap.
Lower down the price scale is Salz & Pfeffer (+43 5444 5918) is where to find tasty pizza and pasta dishes in modern surroundings. Reporters recommend Baurakucha Loba (+43 5444 5289) for local cuisine.
Where to Party
Ischgl’s apres ski scene rocks. But in a rather odd way. Old-fashioned huts playing Tirolean techno-oompah rub shoulders with chic nightclubs, and – most bizarrely – semi-industrial drinking sheds complete with go-go dancers gyrating on the bar. It’s all very Germanic, and is at times in very questionable taste. But there’s no denying the energy or popularity of the place, especially with its core audience of 30+ blokes. “Where to start?” said one of them recently about the resort’s bars. “There are so many to choose from and they’re all great.”
The action starts at the heated ice bar of the Madlein. It’s the largest of its kind in the Alps and is the place for people-watching. You can also watch pantomimes, wizards and clowns, stilt-walkers here. Then from around 4pm, the hardcore of the sozzled spectacle revolves around a wide choice of venues. There’s also the ski-in Schatzi Bar in the Madlein (“the dancing girls were great fun”) at the foot of the main home run.
The large and rustic Kuhstall at the Sporthotel Silvretta receives rave reviews (“best apres-ski in Ischgl” and “fantastic atmosphere”). Across the road is Feuer & Eis, which has a DJ. Meanwhile, the two-storey Trofana Alm next to the five-star Hotel Trofana Royal, is full to bursting almost every evening before dinner and spectacularly good-natured. The only problem is that most of the playlist these days is either German or Austrian. Welove2ski partied here recently and could sing along to only two of the songs.
Undoubtedly the most eccentric bar in town is Nikis Stadl. The music is spectacularly cheesy and – again – very Germanic. It makes no sense at all at first, but then you have a couple of drinks, and suddenly the bar fills up and it’s great fun. Cheaper and non-Germanic is The Golden Eagle Pub which plays British music. Guxa Cocktail Bar in Hotel YSCLA has a walk-in humidor for cigar connoisseurs.
The club in the basement of the Champagnerhütte is called the Champagne Club. Apres-ski takes place here between 3pm and 9pm, with the nightclub starting up immediately afterwards and running until 4am.
People used to be out drinking in skiwear until the late night, but now a new law in Ischgl makes it illegal to wear ski boots in town after 8pm. There is a 2,000€ fine.
Late, late nights in Ischgl
Coyote Ugly at Hotel Madlein calls itself a “table dance bar” and has go-go dancers. The most sumptuous nightclub here is the Arena, part of the Trofana Royal complex. It features live bands and dancing girls in cages.
Those still sober enough (and others, too) then tackle the famous toboggan run on Mondays and Thursdays. The track from the top of the Silvrettabahn is a gruelling 7km, with a vertical drop of nearly 1000m.
Remaining energy is expended on the late-night dance floors of Pacha – of Ibiza fame – in Hotel Madlein, which attracts celebrities. The stylish venue is where Paris Hilton once held her birthday party, which says it all. The dress code is ‘chic and fashionable’ and the club’s motto: ‘to see and to be seen’.
See also our feature Let Me Entertain You in Ischgl.