The long, deep valley of the river Ötztaler Ache is lined with towering peaks and high-quality summer-holiday infrastructure. Expect everything from hell-for-leather mountain biking to giant spas and innovative water parks.
Altitude: 1368m (Sölden)
Lifts open in summer: 12
Walking trails: 1,600km
Lift pass: included in the free Ötztal Premium Card
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A short guide to summer holidays in the Ötztal
The Ötztal is unlike most of mountain resorts in Austria. You don’t come here for Sound of Music landscapes and tranquil strolls through hay meadows. Or at least, you don’t only come for that.
This is where you embrace your sense of adventure.
In part, that’s down to geography. The Ötztal is a 67km valley that burrows from the banks of the Inn river straight towards the main Alpine ridge. En route it passes through two of the Tirol’s most snow-sure winter resorts – Sölden and Obergurgl – and right from the start the mountains on either side are tall, steep and dramatic. In fact, 250 of them break the 3,000m barrier, and they climax with the mighty 3,774m Wildspitze near the far end.
The locals have built upon their natural advantages by adding some impressive infrastructure – and two undertakings in particular stand out. First is Sölden’s Bike Republic. Founded in 2015, this rapidly-expanding park is based around four bike-friendly lifts and an impressive selection of natural and man-made descents. A tangled spaghetti of enduro trails, as well as MTB and e-biking tours, extends beyond that.
Meanwhile, near the mouth of the valley, Area 47 is a water park that’s clearly been drinking too much Red Bull. Here, giant water slides combine with climbing, cliff-diving, rafting, caving and world’s highest high-ropes course to create an extraordinary adrenaline-soaked experience.
Add in 1,600km of hiking trails, 750 rock-climbing routes, trail-running, road cycling and the most exciting white water rafting in Austria, and you can see why this has become one of the great adventure playgrounds in the Alps. Anyone looking to spice up their season with a sense of grandeur, and the odd white-knuckle moment, needs to put it on their short list.
But the Ötztal has a more sybaritic side too
In the Ötztal, they take their relaxation just as seriously as their exercise. The Aquadome is the most striking expression of that. A spa and hotel complex in the village of Längenfeld, it’s home to hot tubs that look like giant soup bowls and a host of saunas, treatment rooms and pools. Meanwhile, above Sölden, you’ll find the ice Q. A striking stack of glass-sided oblongs set at an altitude of 3,048m, it starred in the 007 movie Spectre and is a gastronomic restaurant with its own brand of wine: Pino 3000.
You’ll find plenty of high-quality hotels too: notably Das Central, and the chic and designery Bergland in Sölden, as well as the Edelweiss & Gurgl in Obergurgl. As is the case throughout the Alps, their rooms are all significantly cheaper in summer than they are during the ski season.
But even if you do come for a five-star experience, make sure you earn it: the luxury will seem all the more spoiling when it follows a big hike or a bit of pedalling (even if it is on an e-bike).
Over 300 hotels, B&Bs and apartments supply their guests with Ötztal Premium Cards, which offer access to free public transport, free entry to the Aquadome and Area 47 water parks, and free daily use of the mountain lifts. Mountain bikers get discounts on the cost of transporting their bikes uphill as well, although at €120 for five days (2019 prices) it’s still a considerable add-on to the cost of the holiday.
If your accommodation doesn’t offer an Ötztal card, you can also buy one. In 2019, €58 for three days is the starting price. If you plan to use the mountain lifts four times during a three-day stay, it pays for itself.
Sölden’s Bike Republic is the star attraction
Yes, okay, in some respects Sölden’s Bike Republic is just another mountain bike park – one of many that have sprung up across the Alps in recent years (check out our mountain biking guide for some more examples).
But the name gives you a clue to how whole-hearted this enterprise is. Not only is it backed by some clever marketing (the Bike Republic recently declared its independence from the rest of Austria), it serves up a rapidly-growing array of well-maintained downhill trails, both natural and man-made. The Republic’s Youtube channel is of brimming with taster videos – including this nice one of the switchback Teäre line.
If you’ve never wheeshed down a mountain trail before, there are a couple of pump tracks and training slope in the middle of Sölden, on which to learn the basics of bike control. Lessons from mountain bike schools are available too (and highly recommended).
It’s worth pointing out that cautious beginners will find even the easy trails intimidating. If you’re scared witless rather than fired up at the prospect, go and pedal one of the gentler tours instead (see below): and save the downhill for later in the holiday.
But ambitious and/or experienced downhillers will have a ball. It’s not just the quality of the individual trails that impresses; it’s their length. The longest descent links three trails to create a muscle melting 12km route, dropping through 1,300 vertical metres. Meanwhile, the Republic’s 13 Enduro tracks throw gruelling uphill pedalling into the mix.
There’s more to Ötztal biking than downhill linesThere are lots of other ways to enjoy biking in the valley – including 14 classic MTB tours. The 5km Rechenau trail is one of the easiest. It keeps more or less to the valley floor on broad forest trails, and and climbs through just over 100m. Or if you enjoy power-assisted e-biking, Sölden offers four e-biking trails, including the Kleble Alm tour, which climbs through 636m to explore the forest trails and open pastures of the quiet Granbichl district.
Hiking in the Ötztal
This promotional video gives you a taste of what kind of hiking awaits along – and above – the valley.
A staggering 1,600km of hiking trails await: and as befits the highest part of the Austria’s Tirol, much of it is testing. You can tackle sections of the demanding, 246km Ötztal trek, pick your way along knife-edge ridges, overnight in high-Alpine huts, or maybe just catch a mountain lift and stroll back down to valley on forest trails, soaking up the magnificent views. The valley runs a programme of guided walks to get you started, and lists all the trails on its website.
The valley’s mountain restaurants are a key part of the attraction. For example, at Gampe Thaya hut above Sölden they make their own cheese and take a gastronomic approach to Tirolean cuisine. The hut itself is a treat. Here, wonky angles meet ancient timbers amidst summer pastures, and lunch is all the more delicious for having been earned by a four-hour hike.
Just be sure you’ve invested in the right hiking boots for the kind of terrain you’re going to tackle, as well as the right clothing. The Tirol’s website includes handy “what to pack” guides for multi-day hikes and one-day walks. And always bear the altitude in mind. Above about 1,200m, many walkers start to notice the thinner air. Above 2,000m they’re breathing heavily. After three or four days, many acclimatize: but you need to plan accordingly all the same. Start with lower-altitude and easier, shorter walks at the start of the trip.
Those who are really serious about their hiking, and are looking for a single base from which to make day trips, should book into one of the valley’s three villages certified under Austria’s Hiking Villages scheme: Gries, Niederthai and Vent. All three offer pretty and low-key bases, with plenty of good walks from the front door.
750 routes for rock climbers
Limestone and granite, bolted sports routes and unprotected, multi-pitch ascents, bouldering and Alpine mountaineering, beginner crags and via ferratas: the sheer size and sense of variety in the Ötztal’s climbing scene has made it one of Austria’s natural hubs.
There are, for example, 19 separate rock gardens of single-pitch sport-climbing routes along the valley. And two of the finest ascents in the Tirol are to be found here. Le Miracle (see video, above) follows a long and inviting single-pitch crag at Niederthai. The White Giant is another crack climb at Nösslach. Meanwhile, if it’s raining, there are five indoor climbing halls.
Anyone relatively new to the sport should book climbing lessons. There are experienced instructors available in almost every village along the valley, and plenty of easy routes along the valley on which to learn the basics.
Some of Austria’s best white-water rafting
The Ötztal’s other great outdoor pursuits are white-water rafting and kayaking. First-time rafters tend to start at the bottom of the valley – on the Imster Schlucht canyon of the river Inn. More experienced rafters tackle the Ötztaler Ache.
Kayakers tend to stick to the Ötztaler Ache. There are 13 access points, and the rapids range from levels 3-6 – from intermediate all the way to extreme (ie only to be attempted by teams of experts working together when the water’s favourable). In other words, this isn’t really the place to come if you’re new to the sport. If you’re experienced, it will probably be on your hit-list already.
Where to stay in the Ötztal
Variety is the watchword here. It’s not just you can book everything from a chic and well-oiled five-star machine to a middle-of-nowhere mountain hut. You can also choose between the buzzing mountain-bikers’ hub of Sölden and quiet, end-of-the-line Vent too. Generally, though, standards are high at whatever level you settle in.
With the Bike Republic on its doorstep, Sölden’s the obvious base for MTBers. It’s also a good base if you want to explore both ends of the valley, rather than sticking to one. But do bear in mind that the road up the valley (and over the Timmelsjoch into Italy) runs straight through it. Even though it’s not a major route, there is traffic up and down the valley each day. If that’s going to bother you, book somewhere that’s set back from the main road, or is up on one of the quieter streets on the other side of the river. Booking up in Hochsölden, above the main resort, works too, if you don’t mind the commute down to the lifts each morning.
Sölden is also full of bike-friendly accommodation, offering bike rooms, toolkits, and 24-hour laundry services (so you don’t have to spend your evenings bent over the sink in your bathroom, washing out your clothing, ready for the next day’s ride).
Das Central was Sölden’s first five-star. Run with considerable energy, its owners have been closely involved with many of the recent initiatives to raise the Ötztal’s profile. Book one of the upgraded rooms for the best mix of modern styling and timeless Alpine materials, get stuck into the three-storey spa. Other attractions include free childcare – at the Ötziclub (for three to 14-year-olds) – and excellent food. And of course prices are considerably lower in summer than winter.
The Hotel Bergland is where Daniel Craig stayed during the filming of Spectre. Chic and designery, it too has a giant spa, as well as over-sized double rooms, and lots of lovely Alpine textures in the decor – wood, stone, felt and wool, especially.
The four-star superior Castello Falkner has recently had a refit, converting all its rooms into self-contained luxury apartments, although it has retained its 1000 square metre spa, and has a steakhouse for those who don’t want to cook. Even the smallest apartment is large (50 sq metres) and luxe-y, and the price in summer is roughly half what you’d pay in February or early March in the ski season. The location is good too – away from the main road, on the quieter side of the river – and services include free bike rental.
Hotel Regina is another property with a huge wellness area and a swimming-pool, and is convenient for the Gaislachkoglbahn. The hotel also has four attractive apartment buildings: Alpen Panorama, 10 minutes’ walk above the village, Regina’s Residenz 1km from the resort centre, Regina’s Well-Apart and Regina’s Alpenlodge, both of which are near the Giggijoch cable-car and the town centre.
Appartementhaus Kraxner is a recommended budget option. “Amazing food – the quality was better than I’ve had in many five-star hotels,” said a reporter, and “wonderfully comfortable with exceptional food for the price,” added another.
Obergurgl bustles in winter: but the scene is much quieter in the summer months, when it’s principally a base for hiking. Many of its hotels remain closed for the season. In those that are open, you won’t exactly be roughing it. Prices are considerably lower than in the ski season.
Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl
Prime accommodation spot has always been Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl, in the centre of Obergurgl village and at the foot of the slopes. It is one of the resort’s original and best hotels. “This was our fifth visit to hotel Edelweiss,” said a reporter. “Great location. Everything is nearby. The food is delicious. It has a spa, childcare, and – more unusually – an indoor horse riding arena”.
Berg Vital Hotel Alpenaussicht is a hotel that has a sustainable philosophy. The kitchen uses products from the hotel’s own farm and neighbouring farms, with the aim of retaining as many minerals and vitamins as possible. Cleaning products are all natural, whilst warm water and heating is obtained from the hotel’s wood-chip plant and solar energy. The hotel is located near the Festkogel lift and close to a bus stop that takes you into the village centre.
Hotel & Apartment Alpenland
Hotel Alpenland is family-run, with hotel rooms, family suites, and apartments for up to six people. There’s a good spa area here with various saunas and relaxation rooms. Then hotel also has a children’s soft play area.
Popular with hikers, the three-star Alpenhotel Laurin in Hochgurgl is rated for its food and has pleasant and affordable rooms, which are simply designed. It is set 250m below the resort but has some great views of the surrounding mountains. The hotel has large sun terrace, which makes the perfect place on which to rest your weary feet. The wellness area has a sauna, steam room and hot tub.
At the far end of the valley, and very different from Sölden and Obergurgl, is Vent. It’s altogether quieter and less developed, although summer is its main season, when ambitious hikers come to bag the Tirol’s highest peak – the 3768m Wildspitze (overnighting in the Breslauer hut on the way up). The hotels here are mostly three and four stars, and much of the accommodation is in guesthouses and B&Bs.
Get a head start on your fellow hikers by staying at the Gasthof Geierwallihof, which sits by a farmhouse above Vent. Inside, the rooms are simply done, while the exterior is a pretty mix of sun-blackened timber and cascading geraniums. It’s the perfect half-way house for someone who wants to get away from the madding crowing without committing to a high-altitude mountain hut.
Natur & Alpinhotel Post
Looking for a greater sense of luxury? Check out the four-star Natur & Alpinhotel Post in the middle of the village. The hotel has a small spa area and a highly-rated kitchen, and the staff work hard to make everyone feel welcome. For the full effect, target the recently-upgraded Wildes Mannle rooms.
The four-star Hotel Similaun is a pretty four-star hotel, at the top of the village and typical of Vent’s low-key but welcoming style. The menu is both modern and thoughtful with lots of gluten-free and meat-free options. The hotel also has a recently-upgraded wellness area, with a steam room and two kinds of sauna (in case you didn’t sweat enough on the day’s hike).
The best restaurants in the Ötztal
The Ötztal’s mountain huts are its greatest dining pleasure. Their menus tend towards the hearty rather than the gastronomic: but that hardly matters as you settle, ravenous, at your table with an eyeful of Alps around you.
The prettiest are on the shoulders of the valley: grassy plateaux above the main valley floor, which often get more sunshine than their lower neighbours. Higgledly-piggledy Gampe Thaya, hung with cowbells, is a classic of the genre, and serves only Tirolean food. Cheese is the thing to eat here: produced on site from the cows grazing in front of you. Other great examples above Sölden include the Stallwiesalm and the Brunnenbergalm. The latter dates back to the middle of the 17th century and is the oldest managed hut in the Tirol.
For a complete change of style and scenery, head up to ice Q – set at 3,048m at the top of the Gaislachkoglbahn. An extraordinarily ambitious project, this fine-dining restaurant has 14 Gault Millau points and one chef’s toque, and sits you down amidst a crown of Alpine peaks. Its signature wine, PINO 3000, is the brainchild of the hotel Das Central, and is a blend of pinot noir grapes from Germany, Austria and the South Tirol. Lunch here is the perfect accompaniment to a visit to the new James Bond gallery next door: 007 Elements.
There are of course lovely huts spread right along the valley. The Hohe Mut Alm above Obergurgl is a magnificent place for lunch: set at 2,500,m on a grassy shoulder of mountain, surrounded by glaciers and sky-scraping peaks. A different kind of splendour can be found at the Crosspoint restaurant on the road into Italy: set next to a glittering motorbike museum. Meanwhile, the Sulztalalm is typical of the tranquil huts at the far end of the valley, above the village of Gries.
Meanwhile, in the valley, Sölden has the most vibrant restaurant scene in the summer. The Hotel Central’s Feinspitz restaurant is the gourmet hotspot, with 15 Gault Millau points and two chef’s toques. In 2016, it was Austria’s wine restaurant of the year. The cellar holds 30,000 bottles.
Fancy a change of cuisine? Head to Miyako in the Hotel das Zentrum. It’s a refreshing change to the culinary scene, serving Japanese and Chinese food, and Gusto is a popular venue, with different themes on different floors. Meanwhile, despite the Hotel Bergland’s reputation for its Tyrolean lamb, it’s becoming very vegetarian-friendly too. The Alps are not immune from the growing appetite for meat-free diets. Heiners is a rustic eatery with a sun terrace, that serves “innovative, good plain cooking”.