Surrey Life on tour: Off-piste activities in Lech Zürs Am Arlberg
- Credit: Archant
With more ski resorts increasing their offering to accommodate non-skiers, Rebecca Younger visited Lech Zürs Am Arlberg to discover the off-piste activities on offer
When it comes to skiing I believe there are two camps; those who can and those who simply cannot. I'm very much in the latter.
I never learned to ski as a child and the one and only time I had a lesson - in my late twenties - I flailed down the mountain in such spectacular fashion, I ended up in a heap at the bottom and now have a recurring knee problem as a result. Skiing is definitely not for me.
But that doesn't mean I'm willing to miss out on all the other delights that make up a ski holiday.
For me, there's nothing quite like seeing snow-topped mountains at the beginning of the season and as our plane descended into Innsbruck, en route to Lech Zürs Am Arlberg, they felt so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
The ski region of Arlberg is the largest connected ski area in Austria and world famous. Lech, in particular, was a favourite with Princess Diana, who used to come here regularly with her sons and stay at Hotel Arlberg - one of the area's oldest and most renowned hotels.
However, my travel companions and I were headed for one of Lech's newer hotels, Severin*s. Perched on a hillside overlooking the valley below and with views of the mountains in the distance, Severin*s provides the perfect mix of chalet and hotel life.
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Its 13 bedrooms are spread across two traditional-style Alpine cottages; one taking the form of a hotel and the other - The Residence - a plush four-bedroom chalet for groups, which was to be my home for the weekend.
As well as the usual luxuries you'd expect from five-star accommodation, such as huge beds in suite-sized bedrooms and roll-top baths positioned to make the most of the views as you soak, there's a cinema room, outdoor hot tub and a grand piano (which plays itself!) in the living room. I've stayed in a few chalets in my time and this is on another level.
The main hotel is just as luxurious with nine suites, a bar, restaurant (with a beautiful marine-blue kachelofen stove at its heart), hidden wine cellar and subterranean spa complex with gym, swimming pool, steam room, sauna and yoga studio.
In other words, plenty for ski refuseniks. The walls, floors, ceilings and doors are all made from 150-year-old reclaimed wood, which at times can make it difficult to navigate, but the entire place is warm, stylish, comforting and above all, wonderfully relaxed. The staff - led by hotel manager Cecily -are calm yet incredibly attentive. You'd be forgiven for wanting to just stay here and hunker down but the slopes - or in my case just the snow in general - is calling.
As the skiers left for the peaks, we set out on a different route - a hike through the Zug Valley.
Kitted out with snow shoes and sticks, and with our guide leading the way, we jumped on one of the free buses that run through the town to get us to the edge of the forest and then began our trek.
While the mountains are breathtaking, the forest is truly magical - I was fully expecting Mr Tumnus to pop out from behind one of the snow-covered trees and welcome us to Narnia.
There are various routes you can take and walking with snow shoes is surprisingly easy but get some advice from the equipment rental shop on the best routes if you're going it alone.
There's even an option to hike with llamas or alpacas, while more adventurous types can have a go at tobogganing.
You can also get a gondola up to Oberlech to experience Skyspace - a piece of immersive artwork designed by James Turrell.
Opened in autumn 2018, the dome's unique architecture narrows the field of vision of the sky in such a way as to generate a completely new feeling of space, time and consciousness. Just make sure you visit on a clear day or it won't be as impressive.
A big part of ski culture is the food and in Lech there is an abundance of excellent restaurants to choose - from the traditional to the avant-garde. Between them, they have been awarded more than 50 'toques' by Gault-Millau (a similar guide to Michelin).
With three toques (the maximum is four), the restaurant at Severin*s is nearing the top of its game. While there, we enjoyed dishes including smoked duck covered with a cappuccino made from Apine herbs, as well as the best dry-aged beef I have ever tasted.
But head chef Kevin Szalai is also making strides in the vegan world and offers an entirely plant-based menu too.
The annual Arlberg-Weinberg (wine festival) was on while we were in town, which allowed us to tour a number of the hotels and restaurants to taste some of their own food offering, sample the region's local wines and also meet some of the producers.
Retiring to one of Lech's ice bars for a glass of glühwein, I couldn't help but feel a small pang of jealousy as we watched the last of the day's skiers whizz down the mountain.
But as we strolled back to the chalet, watching the twinkle of the moonlight dancing off the snow as we walked, I realised that I honestly couldn't have been happier.
Need to know
Easyjet flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck start from £19.99 each way. Easyjet.com. Transfers from Innsbruck to Lech take just over an hour.
Rebecca was a guest of Severin*s, where rates start from 690 EUR for a Junior Suite and from 3,990 EUR for The Residence. (Champagne on arrival, breakfast and dinner included).
For more information on what to do in Lech and the wider Vorarlberg region, visit lechzuers.com/en
Three Foodie things to do in Lech
Tom Aikens at Severin*s
This season, Severin*s welcomes one of the UK's best-loved chefs, Tom Aikens, for a series of intimate dinners over the half-term period (February 17 to 23, 2020) in collaboration with Severin*s head chef, Kevin Szalai.
Dine at Lech's oldest restaurant
Head to Hus Nr.8 where, behind an Instagram-worthy wooden door, you'll find a friendly team dressed in traditional costume serving cheese and meat fondue, among other mountain favourites. Wash down the hearty fodder with a cool glass of Lech-brewed kellerbier.
This wine festival takes place right at the beginning of the season (usually the first week in December) and sees hotels and restaurants across the region opening their doors for free food and wine tastings. Vinnova, Vorarlberg's highest wine tavern, is open all year round. silvretta-montafon.at/en/vinnova