How about a summer or autumn week in the Alps as an alternative to lying on the beach? The scenery is fabulous and you can hike, go biking, play golf or watersports…or just relax beside a lake when the sun is out or in a spa when it isn’t. If you like the idea then it might be worth considering the SkiWelt, which is an area of nine villages in the Austrian Tirol linked by a dozen gondolas in summer.
There are 700km of hiking paths, 400km of mountain bike routes, six theme parks up the mountain that are entirely created out of wood and metal – without any plastic – and 50 mountain restaurants that remain open outside the ski season. Prices are very reasonable here, especially during the summer months.
And if you’re thinking about booking a ski trip to the area for next winter, then there are more figures to consider. During the ski season a network of 90 modern lifts connect the resorts, there’s 280km of mainly intermediate piste, and the number of mountain restaurants grows to 76 in the ski season.
Here are four recommended places to base yourself in the area:
Westendorf is the place to stay if you want a typically Tirolean village atmosphere. The pretty little village is lively all year round, with a good choice of bars and restaurants, a few boutiques and souvenir shops, and a good shop selling farm produce. There’s also a lido open in summer, and a typically Tirolean fest every Thursday features a market with live music, loads of beer, and locals in Lederhosen celebrating something – summer, maybe – until the early hours.
The village is the setting-off point for lots of cycle trails, including a cycle path that runs all the way to Kirchberg and Kitzbuhel via Brixen-im-Thale and Hopfgarten. The more challenging trails are fun, too, with the beautiful Windau Valley on your doorstep. Here you cycle through tiny hamlets, past a fast-flowing river and waterfalls and on up to the Gamskogelhutte at 1850m.
The mountain walking is good too, with trails to follow from the top to the middle gondola station, and from the middle station down to the valley. At the top of the mountain is the Alpinolino theme park and you can follow the designated ‘Woodworm’ trail for more children’s activities on your way down the mountain.
Stay: There are lots of choices here; including Vital Hotel Schermer which is a family-run establishment with a pleasant bar featuring live music, a restaurant serving delicious cuisine (we particularly enjoyed their Wienerschnitzel), and a spa with swimming-pool.
There’s a buzzing atmosphere in Soll, particularly during the ski season. During the summer, the shops, bars and restaurants all run as usual. The village has lots of attractions including a leisure centre, and up the mountain you’ll find the excellent Hexenwasser adventure park for children. You can also try one of the many mountain restaurants that are open for breakfast as well as at lunchtime.
Stay: Hotel Eggerwirt is a comfortable family-run establishment located in the village centre, with a small outdoor swimming-pool.
Ellmau is the biggest of the villages in the area, with the best choice of shops, bars and restaurants, as well as access to the Wilder Kaiser mountains for rock climbing. There’s a weekly street market and one of our favourite Tirolean wine bars, Weinatelier Agnes (+43 5358 43398), is on the high street.
Up the mountain you’ll find Ellmi’s Zauberwelt theme park for kids, and close to Ellmau is the village of Scheffau, which has panoramic views of the Wilder Kaiser mountains, another theme park – KaiserWelt, and a fabulous turquoise swimming lake, the Hintersteiner See. The lake is clear and sparklingly clean.
Stay: AktivHotel Hochfilzer is well-located on the high street, has an indoor swimming-pool and some of the bedrooms have four-poster beds.
The village of Going is next door to Ellmau, but it’s a lot smaller and quieter. But this is where to base yourself if you want some real luxury. The 400-year-old Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt is the village hub, and the place where we ate delicious Kaiserschmarrn. In the Rustic Inn restaurant you can also order tasty local trout cooked in the traditional ‘miller’ style.
The hotel spa is one of the best we have ever encountered in the Alps, with indoor and outdoor rock pools, and a dazzling choice of treatments and therapies – including sports psychology and a free ‘guided sauna session’, grottos, saunas, and steam baths. There’s also a separate children’s Water World area which includes a water slide where kids can time themselves going down.
But this is not just another luxury hotel with good food, a fancy swimming-pool and spa: the hotel also has its own stud, a boxing ring where you can take lessons, a tennis centre, an on-site driving range, a bike shop where you can book a guide, and a children’s farm. From the reception you can watch the white Lipizzaner horses perform through a glass wall, you can also visit them in their stalls, or take a riding lesson.