High living in the Austrian Alps
by Richard Visick, 17th March 2014
Here's how we got on...
Obertauern - the resort
Obertauern is barely an hour's drive from Salzburg airport yet, at 1,750m, it is one of Austria's highest ski resorts and, thanks to its location, one of the most snow-sure. It has one of the longest winter seasons in the Alps - this year the lifts close on 4th May.
The village is a rarity in Austria - a purpose-built ski resort. Don't let that put you off though. It may not be the archetypal 'chocolate box' village, nor the most tranquil, but it bears no resemblance to the concrete block monstrosities in France. The attractive, typically Austrian, chalet-style architecture is pleasing on the eye and gives the impression that one is in a 'proper' Austrian mountain village.
Of course the real advantage of the 'purpose-built' tag is that it brings real ski convenience. Most of the accommodation is ski-in/out, or as close as makes no difference and there is no need to catch a bus here.
Obertauern does not rival the likes of St Anton or Ischgl for party animals, but that is not to say that it is without any après-ski entertainment. Several bars at the bottom of the slopes provide traditional Austrian tea-time après, with loud music and even some evidence of dancing on tables.
For night owls there is also a variety of bars offering everything from a quiet cocktail to live music and late night dancing, but these are easily avoided for those who prefer their evenings a little quieter.
On two evenings each week the floodlights come on at the Edelweiss piste in the centre of town for night skiing until 9.00pm, and a relaxed party atmosphere takes hold.
With just over 100km of pistes, Obertauern's ski area is modest by 'super resort' standards and the vertical drop is not enormous, but the figures are deceptive and there is endless fun to be had exploring the various circuits you can make of the area in both directions.
This is an intermediate cruiser's paradise with the majority of the slopes being wide open blues and reds. You can clock up decent mileage on flattering, cruisy runs without encountering too many nasty surprises.
That said, other abilities of skier (and snowboarder) are also catered for. There are a couple of interesting blacks and, although not tested by us on this trip, the off-piste promises some decent challenges for experts. There are some good nursery slopes and, in the centre of town, a couple of baby slopes for the youngest skiers.
The lift system is modern, fast and made up almost entirely of gondolas and high-speed chairs. Despite the resort being busy due to the excellent snow conditions, we barely encountered a queue all week.
Obertauern also has some of the best piste maintenance we have come across. The mountain was alive late into the evening with an army of piste-bashers ensuring the slopes were in perfect condition for the following morning. This week, despite cloudless blue skies and double-digit temperatures they were in remarkably good condition, although they were starting to cut up as we skied back into town for our afternoon Weissbier, but that is to be expected anywhere at this time of year.
Hotel Steiner ****
The family-run, 4-star Hotel Steiner is superb. In our view it is everything a hotel of this standard should be, combining, as it does, comfortable accommodation, excellent facilities and an exceptional dining experience with impeccable service at all times.
It manages to do this without being pretentious or overly formal and the over-riding atmosphere is relaxed, yet refined. The owners' ethos is that service really makes the difference and, unlike some establishments, this is not just an empty soundbite in their marketing literature, they really do deliver on the promise.
During our stay we found every member of staff, without exception, to be faultlessly polite, friendly and helpful and you really do feel as though nothing is too much trouble.
The hotel has a huge variety of room types, from simple, but cosy, standard doubles, to large and luxurious suites and family apartments. Modern bathrooms, flat screen TVs, free wifi and comfy bathrobes should be, but are not always, standard in this quality of hotel and, naturally, this one doesn't disappoint.
The 1,000m² spa has everything you could possibly need to help you relax and refresh. An assortment of saunas and steam rooms of varying types, a swimming pool and jacuzzi and a variety of relaxation areas where you can recharge your batteries in complete tranquility. There is also, of course, a long list of massages and treatments to choose from for those who really deserve to be pampered.
The food. Where to begin? At first glance the unique full-board formula may appear unnecessarily extravagant, but when you consider that this hotel is no more expensive than most of a similar standard (and many of an inferior standard) on half-board basis, it is easy to see that it actually represents fantastic value for money. It helps of course that all of the food is of exceptional quality.
You can find something to eat (should you wish to) at any time from 7.30am until 9.00pm without having to pay any extra for it. The extensive buffet breakfast/brunch, with all the staples you would expect plus a few extra, rolls into an equally impressive lunchtime buffet of salads, cold meats, cheeses and hot dishes prepared for you at the open kitchen. Mid-afternoon brings a selection of snacks, both sweet and savoury (cakes to die for) and this is followed, from 6.00pm onwards, by the pièce de resistance.
Dinner is a 5 course affair of gourmet quality, bookended by more delicious buffets - salad and hors d'oeuvres to start, cheese (amazing!) to finish - and a minimum of 2 choices for the other three courses (main course is one meat, one fish and one vegetarian choice).
All of the food is imaginatively conceived, drawing on both local specialities and cuisines from around the world, freshly prepared and immaculately presented. Special dietary requirements can be catered for and a separate childrens' menu is available.
For those for whom lunch on the mountain is an expensive extravagance, those who want to ski hard all morning then come back to the hotel for a late lunch and a jacuzzi, those with hungry teenagers in tow or those who, like me, just can't say no to a slice of cake and a(nother) piece of cheese at 3pm, this could just be the perfect solution and could save you money to boot.
Drinks, both at the bar and in the restaurant are very good value. 4 euros for a large beer or a glass of wine puts to shame some of the extortionate prices charged by many hotels. (Note that smoking is permitted at the bar but the rest of the hotel is non-smoking).
There is a real family ambience about the hotel. The owners have young children of their own and it is evident that they understand the importance of ensuring that every member of the family is happy - not just 'if the kids are happy Mum and Dad will be', but the other way round too!
Certainly children of all ages are well catered for. There is a 'Kinderparadies', stocked full of toys and games to keep the little ones happy, and a Teen Lounge for older kids (and some grown ups), with table football, table tennis, Wii, 2 PCs and an assortment of other consoles and games. There is even a dedicated family area and sauna in the spa.
The hotel is located on the road into the village, 5 minutes walk downhill from the main street. Far enough out to avoid any noise, but close enough for an easy stroll into town (and it's downhill on the way back). It is very nearly ski in/ski out. The piste passes on the opposite side of the road, so you come out of the ski room (with heaters for boots and jackets), cross over the road, clip on your skis and ski off - and you can ski back to the same point.
It may not be the most luxurious hotel in the Alps. It may not have the most modern spa, the best food, or the most complete childcare. But it does score very highly on every one of these aspects.
When you combine this all round excellence with possibly the best service in the Alps and the fantastic value for money this whole package represents, the Hotel Steiner is not too far off perfection.
Contact us on +44 (0)20 3397 8450 or email@example.com for further advice or a quote