Value for Money 69%
Ischgl is often overlooked by the Brits – which is baffling, given its full-throttle nightlife and high-quality intermediate pistes. If you like your après as much as your skiing, and think you might be too old for St Anton, put it high on your hit-list.
Andreas Steibl learned to ski in Ischgl when he was three years old. Since then, as General Manager of its tourism association, he’s had a profound influence on the resort – helping to pick the extraordinary line-up of stars who’ve performed at Ischgl’s opening and closing concerts. The Killers, Robbie Williams, Rihanna, Deep Purple, Diana Ross and Elton John have all graced its slopes.
“Ischgl is different – unlike any other resort I’ve experienced,” he says. “The streets are alive with vibrant bars, shopping and restaurants. It makes me feel like I’ve escaped the grey of everyday life and entered a different world.”
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 Ischgl now has a sophisticated lift system and broad, confidence-boosting pistes, whiile the old farming village has been replaced by smart hotels, cavernous spas and some of the most spirited apres-ski bars in the Alps. An airport-style pedestrian walkway, cut through the crag around which the town was built, provides easy access to pistes, shops and restaurants – regardless of where you choose to stay.
Alongside Ischgl’s buzzing bars and ego-boosting pistes, its international profile has been boosted by its Top of the Mountain Festival, which opens and closes the ski season.
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, Muse, James Blunt, and Robbie Williams. Recently, the focus has switched from British and American acts to European stars, and the popularity of the concerts has increased. Italian star Zucchero closed the 2016-7 season in front of a crowd of 18,200 fans.
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.
Guide to the Mountain
Years of investment have paid big dividends for Ischgl, which now offers one of Austria’s best ski areas for intermediates.
You can’t see much of it from the resort, though. The main hub of lifts and pistes is above the mid-mountain station at Idalp, and to get there you need to ride one of three swift gondolas from different parts of town. The luxurious Pardatschgratbahn is the most impressive. It has heated seats, as well as the world’s biggest height difference for a gondola, from 1251m in the village, up to 2624m at the top of the Pardatschgrat – with no middle station in between.
From Idalp, 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.
However, whenever the day dawns bright and sunny, it seems that almost everyone heads over to Samnaun in Switzerland to indulge in a cheesy mountain lunch and to fill their rucksacks with duty-free goods at supposedly bargain prices. Ischgl has even waymarked three Smugglers’ Runs into Switzerland, which are graded according to ability, and served by their own smartphone app.
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. If you don’t like playing icy people slalom, you might want to jump into one of the gondolas for the final descent.
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.
Some of the best snow-making in the Alps
Special mention needs to be made of Ischgl’s snow cannons and piste-preparation teams. During the notorious run of poor starts to winter, from 2014-7, they managed to get impressive amounts of skiing ready for their opening weekends at the end of November. In all, there are 1,100 snow cannons in the resort, and most of the pistes are above 2,000m, which means it’s usually cold enough at night to run them. It’s worth bearing both facts in mind if you’re looking for a snowsure, early-season destination.
Good facilities for freestyle skiers and snowboarders
Ischgl offers excellent freestyle facilities – although it no longer has a half-pipe. For the 2017-8 season, the snowpark features two lines of kickers, jumps and rails, as well as a “Funline” of banked turns and mini-jumps designed to get skiers of all abilities accustomed to three-dimensional snow. The park is served by three lifts and two large restaurants are conveniently situated next-door.
Day trips to neighbouring Galtur
For a day out, take the 15-minute bus to Galtur. “It’s a prettier, smaller 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 the Action Park with rails, a curved box, kicker tables, mogul field and a natural half-pipe.
Where to Learn
Idalp is the mountain hub where the ski school classes meet. There are no green runs here, and once you progress from the well-run nursery slopes, you’ll find most of the blue runs are a lot like reds – with some challenging sections. Less confident beginners will find that unnerving.
More experienced skiers will love the range of courses on offer from the Ischgl Snowsports Academy, including freestyle lessons for teenagers and an introduction to ski-touring. Meanwhile, in Galtur there are five ski schools to choose from.
The Ski Kindergarten at Idalp is run by the ski school and provides all-day care, and tuition, for children from 3-5 years old. No booking is required. There’s also a creche on the mountain taking children from two years old, which must be booked in advance (bear in mind that some hotels – notably the Seiblishof – have their own childcare programmes as well). Group ski lessons on the main pistes are offered for children from six years old.
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.
Well-heeled Germans predominate, attracted by the smart shops and buzzing bars – and of course the skiing. As a result, the resort is home to some very smart hotels. The Trofana Royal (pictured, above) is the grandest: a five-star superior hotel with 2,500 square metres of spa and wellness facilities, and two gastronomic restaurants run by Martin Sieberer.
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 Ischgl’s hottest after-hours nightclub, Pacha, in the basement.
Owned by the same family is the refurbished, and similarly chic Elizabeth Arthotel, right in front of the Pardatschgratbahn gondola station. All the rooms and suites here are south-facing and there’s a penthouse swimming-pool on the seventh floor. The hotel can also organise helicopter transfers to the airport. The Goldener Adler is in a 350-year-old building with modern interior and a wellness centre.
Cosy accommodation choices
The cute Hotel Jaegerhof is convenient for the underground walkway and has a friendly atmosphere. Welove2ski had a very enjoyable stay here recently. Meanwhile, 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 – one of the best in the resort. Hotel Christine is well positioned 100m from the Silvretta cable-car and houses the highly-rated Lucy Wang sushi restaurant.
For those who want more of a home-from-home, Ski Total’s Chalet Hotel Abendrot is the place. Its big bedrooms have excellent sound-proofing doors if you need a bit of a lie-in, and the location is quiet, too. 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 150mm 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’s interactive piste map shows the location of all its mountain restaurants.
Pardorama 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 both a self-service and a table-service restaurant. 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 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. Bodenalpe, in the Fimbatal area, serves large portions of home-grown produce. Paznauner Thaya 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.
“For a typical Austrian mountain restaurant try the Fluchthorn Alm 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.
Several of the village restaurants are award-winners
Ischgl’s gastronomic star has risen high in recent years, led by Martin Sieberer at the Trofana Royal. He has two gourmet restaurants at the hotel. The Paznaunerstube has three Gault Millau toques, and five stars from A La Carte (“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,” said a resporter.) His Heimatbühne, which revisits the staples of old-school Austrian cuisine, has two Gault Millau toques and three stars from A La Carte.
Meanwhile, the Hotel YSCLA showcases the cooking of Ischgl’s most exciting new talent – Benjamin Parth. He also has three toques and five stars. 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.
There are four other gastronomic kitchens to be reckoned with in Ischgl. The new Stiar restaurant in the Sport and Genusshotel Silvretta, the Schlossherrnstube in Schlosshotel Ischgl, Fliana Gourmet in Hotel Fliana, and the sushi restaurant Lucy Wang.
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. Meanwhile, lower down the price scale, Salz & Pfeffer is the place to find tasty pizza and pasta dishes in modern surroundings. Reporters recommend Baurakucha Loba for local cuisine in a defiantly rustic, low-key setting..
Where to Party
Ischgl’s apres ski scene is both supercharged and eclectic. Old-fashioned huts playing Tirolean oompah bands rub shoulders with chic nightclubs, smart cocktail bars, and no-nonsense drinking sheds, complete with scantily-clad dancers gyrating on the bar. It’s all very Germanic and good-natured, even if some of it is in questionable taste. There is, however, no denying its popularity. “Where to start?” asked one report 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 beneath the Hotel Elizabeth (“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, where a resident DJ plays to hundreds of revellers. 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.
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
If you fancy a change of pace, Ischgl’s 7km floodlit toboggan run beckons, from the top of the Silvrettabahn back into the resort. The gondola runs from 7-8.30pm. Then, it’s time for dinner – followed by a trip to the nearest nightclub. These include the Show Arena which is open till 4am and table dancing, and Pacha – of Ibiza fame – in the 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 Welove2ski’s feature Let Me Entertain You in Ischgl.