Pinnacle Of Perfection
Welcome to Austria’s largest ski region, the Arlberg —a heady and decadent European playground.
It’s 11am and already skiers sip bright-orange glasses of branded spritz at slope-side bars in the sun. The joy of the late season is rippling through the Arlberg, blizzards replaced by blue skies while deep winter snow still blankets the 300 kilometres of slopes on offer, renowned as playgrounds of the rich and royal.
Long sunny days reveal spectacular alpine panoramas to their fullest as skiers look to cruise and navigate for kilometres via the 88 lifts and extensive network of runs that seamlessly link the villages of St. Anton, Stuben, St. Christoph, Lech and Zurs.
The allure of Austria’s biggest ski district, comes wrapped in alpine mystique—the area is hailed as the birthplace of modern skiing, and boasts some of the most magnificent on-and-off- piste terrain in the Alps. Now the world’s fifth largest ski region, the Arlberg has amassed a list of attributes that set it apart as one of the most appealing in the world.
ON THE MAP
It was in the Arlberg hamlet of Stuben in 1912 that teenage farmer Hannes Schneider invented the parallel ski technique that’s still taught today. He then opened the first ski school in Zurs in 1921—and soon, learning to ski became the height of European fashion. Schneider later exported “the Arlberg technique” abroad, while back home, enterprising locals made skis, clothes and boots to cater for an influx of visitors that included some of Europe’s most wealthy and powerful. By the 1930s, the former farming community’s fortunes had changed forever.
Nearly a century later, the region retains an historic charm like few other snowy European ski hubs—a large part of its appeal coming from having eschewed major hotel chains and other hallmarks of modern ski resorts to retain a local identity, one underpinned by a wealth of family-run establishments.
The formula has won the villages of Lech and Zurs, in particular, an enviable list of clientele—the privacy offered by the remote yet sophisticated enclaves is priceless. Between them, the two villages have the highest concentration of four- and five-star hotels in the European Alps. Shared histories between hoteliers have seen generations of return guests, many royals among them. Until Covid came, the Dutch royal family had not skipped a Lech winter vacation in 60 years. Princess Caroline of Monaco is another regular, while Princess Diana famously holidayed in Lech and taught sons William and Harry to ski here.
Still, the vibe remains low-key—streets lined with rustic chalets, a regular small- town bakery, the Backstube Café, on
the main street. Lech’s most revered establishment is Hotel Post, a former 1930s post office that today stands as a five-star Relais & Châteaux property; a place where men are encouraged to sport jackets for dinner. Third-generation owner and general manager Florian Moosbrugger presides over the expanded, richly decorated hotel, built around the original building’s structure.
“We offer a very intimate and discreet atmosphere—always have,” offers Moosbrugger. “This has grown organically. You cannot plant an old tree.”
This is most evident in the traditional Austrian décor that adorns the Post’s corridors, public areas and its 46 finely appointed rooms and suites of which no two are the same. All designed by the Moosbrugger family, expect ornate interiors of colourful antiques, and four poster or king beds intricately painted with folk art. The Post’s suites are among the Arlberg’s most generous, with the superior Kaiser Suite offering 114 square metres of opulence that includes a private sauna.
Gertrud Schneider, daughter of Othmar Schneider who won Austria’s first Olympic gold medal for skiing in 1952, is another to successfully transform her family’s historic chalet into an alluring five- star establishment, Kristiania. Yet the ebullient hotelier has swapped rusticity for modernity, the hotel awash with playful contemporary art and riotously coloured furniture evoking the feel of an eclectic ’60s mansion. Artists are often in residence and exhibitions held. Somewhat of a walking artwork herself, Ms Schneider’s favourite guest room is the Puccini Suite, a cosy two-level apartment on the top floor with magical views of Lech. Here guests are delighted to find complementary Bollinger on ice as they step into the suite’s lounge room, and upstairs, vases of tulips by the ensuite’s spa and king-sized bed.
A few doors from Hotel Post on Lech’s main street is another Arlberg diamond— the seven-level Strolz Sport and Fashion House. Skiing’s equivalent to shopping on Fifth Avenue or the Champs Élysées, the elegant boutique offers the world’s largest range of designer skiwear bearing the names Bogner, Fendi, Moschino, Bottega, Burberry, Versace and more. You can
also secure a pair of coveted handmade Strolz ski boots, or simply sip cocktails at the store’s elegant second floor bar.
Ultimately, the Arlberg would not have developed such an allure were it not for the blessing of epic terrain. The entire lift network is skiable on one ski pass, and the lengthy season runs from December through to April. Slopes are a perfect balance of easy cruisers, intermediate runs, steeps and off-piste, with stunning views across Europe’s highest peaks found from its highest point, the 2,809 metre Valluga.
To say one skis regularly at St. Anton, the largest, liveliest and sportiest Arlberg village, is indeed a badge of pride.
BEST CHEFS, BIGGEST CELLARS
The high quality of the area’s restaurants is equal to its luxury lodgings. The small patch occupied by Lech, Zurs, Zug and Stuben contains Austria’s highest concentration of top-end dining options, many in possession of Gault & Millau torques (think localised Michelin stars).
Tucked away in the middle of the charming hamlet of Stuben is one of the Arlberg’s most exceptional finds, the Foxbau Restaurant. The modern eatery, housed in a century-old building, more than lives up to its hefty three torques. Foxbau’s menu spoils for choice with crayfish to coq au vin, and is the only place to find saibling, a rare local freshwater fish with exquisitely delicate flesh which matches perfectly with the 2017 Gruner Veltliner Smaragd from Wachau on the Foxbau wine list.
A few valleys away is the tiny village of Zug, a pretty yet unassuming assortment of just over a dozen buildings clinging
to a hillside. Among them is the renowned Rote Wand restaurant, discreetly situated inside the village’s former 18th-century schoolhouse. Rote Wand has long figured among Austria’s best fine-dining establishments, and many top Austrian and European chefs have run the kitchen.
The latest is 28-year-old wunderkind Julian Stieger, who took the helm in October. Already a veteran of 2 and 3 star Michelin restaurant kitchens, he came to Rote Wand from Copenhagen’s 3 Michelin- star Geranium, a restaurant Michelin also happens to rank as Europe’s best. His move to Rote Wand was noted by observers as ambitious, stepping as he has into the shoes of Austria’s most acclaimed chef, Max Natmessnig. Stieger must now rise to the challenge of catering to one or two sittings a day of 14 diners who book months in advance to experience first-class cuisine in a location so remote it is only accessible on skis most of winter.
Elsewhere, in the Arlberg’s most elevated village of St. Christoph, lies Hospiz Alm restaurant. Aim for the award-winning platters of schnitzel (true) and piping hot kaiserschmarrn—a famous Austrian dessert of warm shredded pancake served fresh in the frypan with jam and cream. Claiming a table on the sundeck or upper terrace on a sunny day is to secure one of the most prestigious seats in the Arlberg.
Wash things down and slide into the afternoon by ordering from Hospiz Alm’s extensive wine cellar, which holds the world’s largest collection of big-bottled Bordeaux and Burgundy. More than 3,000 bottles line the walls and ceiling—from 1.5 litre magnums and jeroboams right up to 27 litre primats and a decadent Chateau Latour worth around $129,000.
Hospiz Alm’s owner, Adi Werner, started collecting wine in the ’70s at the behest of the kings, millionaires and presidents who made up his clientele at the time. Now, like so many others in the tight-knit Arlberg community, he too has created something truly unique, another one-of-a-kind experience that makes this pocket of the European Alps extra special.
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