SkiWelt is the collective name for nine villages that share 280km of piste and 90 lifts in winter, 700km of hiking paths, a dozen gondolas and 400km of mountain bike routes in summer. It has a total 76 restaurants and bars of which 50 are open all year round. It truly is a whole high-altitude world with everything you could want on a summer – or autumn – mountain holiday.
There’s a village to suit everyone here. Ellmau is the biggest with the best choice of shops, bars and restaurants, Soll is where to come for a buzzier scene, Scheffau is quieter but has a direct gondola up to the children’s areas, Going is for luxury living, and Westendorf is for all-round Tirolean village atmosphere. The others are Hopfgarten, Itter, Brixen, and Kelchsau (the latter is not connected).
Wherever you choose to stay, you can get up the mountain on one of the dozen gondolas that run all year round, carrying skiers in winter, walkers and cyclists – with their mountain bikes – from May to October.
This is the biggest natural playground in the Alps, with six mountain adventure parks: Lake Filzalm (complete with mud paddling pools) in Hochbrixen, Ellmi’s Magicworld (goblins and ghosts theme) above Ellmau, the Hohe Salve (reached by gondola from Hopfgarten and Soll), KaiserWelt (with the Jochstub’nsee mountain lake) above Scheffau, Hexenwasser (bake your own bread and visit an apiary) at Hochsoll, and Alpinolino (animal themed) above Westendorf.
All of them are theme parks without a hint of plastic, garish colours or ubiquitous cartoon characters. Children can escape from their iPads and totally immerse themselves in the outdoors and nature whilst learning about indigenous animals and the environment.
Here are just a few of the things you can do here between May and October:
Eat Breakfast On The Mountain
A great way to start the day is by having breakfast at altitude, in the fresh mountain air and hopefully in the sunshine. Some 20 huts offer breakfast, ranging from a ‘classic’ with bacon and eggs, bread, jam and honey, or a ‘traditional’ with white sausage and Tirolean music, to a ‘hunter’s’ breakfast (sausage and cheese plate) or gourmet (eggs, freshly baked bread and local honey, sausage, cheese, bacon, yoghurt with fresh fruit, pancakes) – each hut aims to create its own distinct taste and style.
Nothing to say about this really, except ‘elf and safety’ is sensible rather than gone mad here. Children are allowed to be children and even take a few risks.
Have a Cooking Lesson
Learn to make your own Tirolean specialities, such as Brodakrapfen (hot dampers filled with fresh cheese) and Daumnidei (potato dumplings), on the wood-burning stove as part of a two-hour lesson for both adults and children. Enjoy them with a glass of elderberry juice, or fresh milk provided by the cows outside the door.
Wallow in Mud
Get really wet and dirty at any of 60 ‘stations’ in the Hexenwasser theme park – all of them are natural experiences, including wading through moor mud. Others include dipping your weary feet into a bath of cooling shale oil, walking barefoot over rocks and stones, through streams and meadows on a long barefoot trail – it’s natural reflexology to revive the entire body.
Pit Your Skills Against Animals
In the Alpinolino park children (and adults) can see how they measure up to animals. Can you leap like a hare or run like a cat?
Go Jump in a Lake
There are nine lakes to choose from, with the most beautiful being the Kruezjochlsee, which is reached from the top of the Westendorf gondola. The lakes have shallow shores so you can get in and out of the water easily, although it’s a bit pebbly so water shoes could come in useful.
Lunch in a Traditional Hut
You’ll be able to feast on heartwarming Austrian dishes, such as Wiener Schnitzel, Tiroler Gröstl or Kaiserschmarrn in one of the many family-owned mountain restaurants such as Berggasthof Sonn-alm above Westendorf.
Sail on a Snowmaking Lake
Yes, you heard right…sail on a lake from which, in winter, water is pumped into snow-cannons. Weekly sailing trips accompanied by an experienced captain take place on Lake Jochstub’n.
Watch Lipizzaners Dance
Stay in the gorgeous Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt and you can watch the white Lippizaner horses from the hotel stud perform through a glass wall in reception, or see them in their stalls through an internal window at the in-house Sport-Eck shop. It all began when the hotel’s farmer owner won a Lippizaner in a charity auction, and from that day he decided to breed them. The hotel also has an on-site driving range, a tennis centre and a children’s farm.
Go E-Mountain Biking
This is why we came to the SkiWelt. If, like us, you live at sea level and don’t have the energy to bike up and down the mountains all day yet are keen to explore a large area, you can rent an e-mountain bike which takes a lot of the strain out of pedalling at high altitude.
You can hire a bike and a guide from GoingBike, so that you’ll know where you’re going. Our guide, Markus Hirtzinger, was happy to give us some useful mountain biking tips. Guides can also be booked through the local tourist office direct. The bike trails are easy along the valley floor, all of them clearly signposted, and seven gondolas in the area take bikes up free of charge.
Stay in a Family-Run Hotel
We travelled to the Tirol with Inghams and stayed in the resorts of Ellmau in the Wilder Kaiser region and Westendorf in the Kitzbüheler Alps.
Seven nights at the 4.5-star AktivHotel Hochfilzer in Ellmau from £699pp half board, including flights and resort transfers. The hotel is right well located on the high street and has a pleasant bar.
Seven nights at the 4-star Sporthotel Jakobwirt in Westendorf from £654pp half board, including flights and resort transfers. The family-run hotel is very friendly and nothing is too much trouble for the owners. Guests can keep their bikes in a lockable garage.
We haven’t touched upon the prices. They are extremely reasonable here: for example at the attractive Tanzbodenalm above Scheffau there’s Gulasch soup for 5.80€, spag bol 8€, Apfelstrudel 3.40€, soft drinks from 2.20€, a pint/half a litre of beer from 2.60€, coffee 2.50€. The SkiWelt Hiking Experience Pass lets you use the 12 lifts and 6 mountain theme parks: adult 58.50€, children 31€, both for six days.
Then there are climbing walls, forts and treehouses, obstacle courses, wooden skittle games, paragliding lessons, go-karting, zip-wiring, bike parks, tennis, hiking and Nordic walking tours, horse-riding, golf, barbecues on the mountain (with grills, food and all equipment provided)…and of course the very friendly cows.