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How to spend a perfect weekend in the Austrian Alps


Away from the pistes, the Austrian Alps offers a wealth of luxury experiences of all kinds, as Sally McIlhone discovers

Sally McIlhone ,

From the glaciers of Zell am See-Kaprun to the world-renowned Streif downhill race track at Kitzbühel, the Austrian Alps is known for its skiing and winter-sports activities. However, curious travellers willing to look beyond the region’s perfect powder will find a host of other luxurious pastimes just waiting to be discovered.

The area has spas and wellbeing experiences to rival any destination. One of the most noteworthy is Aurelio in the exclusive resort of Lech, just a short distance from Sankt Anton. The luxurious spa – part of an equally well-appointed chalet hotel – offers a floral bath, Jacuzzi, herbal sauna, adventure shower and two indoor pools. Those who have over-exerted themselves on one of the resort’s more challenging runs should opt for a ski massage or simply reinvigorate with a facial or body treatment, safe in the knowledge that only the finest products from Valmont and Ligne St Barth are used.

For a more radioactive experience (literally), head to Gastein. The area is known for its mineralised thermal water, which is enriched with natural radon, the inert gas of which escapes from the water and enters the body through the skin. Bathing in radon thermal baths is said to help produce more red blood corpuscles and improve circulation, whereas underwater therapy is said to help joint problems and muscle aches and pains. Bad Gastein offers radon thermal-vapour baths in the town centre, in a building that dates back to 1827. Guests sit for 20 minutes in the vapour from the spring and can enjoy an array of massages after they’ve taken ‘the cure’.

Once you’re suitably unwound, it’s time to sample the Alps’ varied retail-therapy options. When in Salzburg, be sure to try the famous Mozartkugeln. The original confection was made by Konditorei Fürst and has spawned a variety of copycats from local chocolatiers as the sweet was never trademarked, but purists will be content only with the Fürst incarnation. The Mozartkugeln is made from a ball of pistachio marzipan covered in a layer of nougat and covered in delectable dark chocolate. Sample the treats and pick up some souvenirs at one of Fürst’s four Salzburg boutiques.

For another taste of traditional culture, visit the Salzburger Marionettentheater. Opened in 1913, the theatre gained an international reputation, touring around the world and performing everything from opera to Shakespeare. Recent shows have included The Magic Flute and The Sound of Music, all performed by skilled puppeteers manipulating beautifully painted wooden figurines. Seasonal productions are always popular, especially among younger visitors and those looking to indulge their inner child, so be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

For a lasting souvenir from the region, head to Kufstein near Kitzbühel and invest in some contemporary glass from Austrian brand Riedel, which can trace its roots back some 250 years to when its first glassworks was founded. To enjoy the après-ski spirit upon your return home, invest in a set of Riedel’s wine glasses or a fabulously intricate glass decanter; our favourites from the current line are the twisted spiral version and the carafe with a horse-head design within it. If you prefer to pick up an item you can use on your trip, opt for the travel case of four glass tumblers.

For something completely different, why not try spending a night or two in an igloo in Innsbruck? Cynthia Riddell from Glampinghub.com, the company that offers this unusual accommodation, explains its appeal, ‘Glamping [‘glamorous camping’] in an igloo in Innsbruck is a totally unique experience. Innsbruck is a treasure of the Alps, offering plenty of historical sites and modern architecture in town, with the slopes right outside the igloos.’ For those who might be concerned about the comfort levels inside the miniature ice fortress, Riddell is quick to allay any fears: ‘Glampers are offered an insulated mattress covered with soft sheepskin rugs and thermal sleeping bags to keep them warm at night.’

With everything from glassware and igloos to thermal spa treatments and delicious traditional chocolates, your trip to the Austrian Alps is sure to be the most pleasant of assaults on the senses.

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