Short Getaway to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, Germany

The Garmisch end of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria

People don’t normally see Germany as a ski destination, favouring Austria, France, Switzerland or Italy instead.  But for a short getaway, Garmisch- Partenkirchen in Bavaria is ideal.  We were lucky to visit here for 2/3 days in mid-March. This was my first ski trip to Germany (I normally go to Austria or Italy) and I was impressed.   It’s about an hour & 30 minutes from Munich airport and you can get a train from the airport to the resort.  (The train was so cheap – approx €14 one way!)

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a bit of a mouthful but it’s actually two towns merged together (like Brighton & Hove) due to a marketing campaign for the 1936 Winter Olympics, which were held here.  We stayed in the Garmisch end of town, which I think was the prettier, more touristy part.  If you are into ski jumping, the Olympic Ski Jump here is one of the most renowned facilities of its kind.

The Zugspitze – Germany’s highest mountain.

GP is a fairly big town so it doesn’t have that cosy ski village feel.  But the Garmisch end is really pretty and has wonderful traditional German style buildings with beautiful murals/frescoes painted on many of them – and there are lots of bars, cafés and shops to keep the tourists amused. The town sits at the foot at the Zugspitze Mountain   – the highest in Germany.  It’s a truly beautiful setting and makes the soul soar just being there.

We stayed in the 4-star Best Western Hotel Obermuehle in Garmisch and it was fantastic.  It is over 400 years old and full of history.  Many of the rooms look out to the spectacular Zugspitze Mountain (we had a great view from our room).  The staff couldn’t be nicer or more helpful and there is a great shuttle bus service to the slopes and train station.  They will take you anywhere you want to go – within reason!

The Skiing

The Zugspitze Glacier

There is enough terrain here to keep a good skier amused for a few days.  On the first day, we decided to go to the Zugspitze Glacier as we were spring skiing and the snow conditions were best here.  However, be warned!  It took us an hour & a half to get there on a funny little train and nearly 2 hours to get back!  During the journey, you pass by the stunning Eibsee Lake and you get a great view of it.  There’s also a station at the lake so you can spend more time here if you wish.  Zugspitze is a classic bowl like glacier (when you finally get there) no trees, with a fair few blues and easy red runs – so ideal for beginners and timid intermediates.

Me at the bottom of the Hausberg ski area – pure joy!

The Zugspitze Glacier had to be done, but I preferred the much closer Hausberg area.  It only took a few minutes to get there on the hotel shuttle bus and it was absolute heaven.  The sun was shining and we had a glorious blue sky day.  Although it was March and the temperatures were creeping up, the snow was still good (a little sugary and slushy in places).  These are the kind of days that I live for and it was pure joy from start to finish.  The skiing will keep a good intermediate amused for the day – nothing too difficult but enough terrain to keep you interested – and in a spectacular setting. I loved it.

Although we were only here for a 2/3 days, our time felt much longer – in a good way.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited and I would love to go back and spend more time in Bavaria (in winter and summer).  I’m on a mission to visit the fairy tale Bavarian castles in the area – the most famous, Neuschwanstein Castle is near to Garmisch.  But sadly we didn’t get time to go there.  I will save that for next time!!

March 2017

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Skiing in The Hof (Bad Hofgastein) – Feb 2017

In early February, five of us headed off to Bad Hofgastein in Austria  – not to be confused with its bigger, more beautiful neighbour, Bad Gastein further up the valley.  More on that below…

Bad Hof is situated in the beautiful Gastein Valley, approximately 1 hour 30 mins from Salzburg Airport. (Although our outward journey took a bit longer due to weekend traffic and the small matter of our Crystal Ski bus colliding with a parked car!!  There was a bit of a ‘disagreement’ between the two drivers but we moved on eventually!  All very amusing afterwards but not at the time!)

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View from our hotel room in Bad Hofgastein

We travelled with Crystal Ski and stayed in the Salzburgerhof Hotel.  The hotel was a 3 star and very comfortable  – located in a great spot in the middle of the pretty town.  Our 1st floor room was perfect with a balcony overlooking a lovely square, with a fabulous view of the mountains.  The food was classic, no nonsense Austrian grub!  Lots of dumplings and cheesy things.   I’m a vegetarian and they managed to feed me well enough (and I’m quite fussy).   The staff were lovely and the ski bus to the main gondola stopped right outside – or it was a ten minute walk (without ski boots on).

Après-ski (We found it …eventually)

Bad Hof was great – but I had one (mediumish) problem.  Where was the après-ski??  It was VERY QUIET!!  This is unusual for an Austrian ski resort and I was surprised because it’s reasonably big, full of skiers.  I expect cheesy Euro pop everywhere and crowded après-ski bars.  In fact, this is the part of my ski holiday I love the most!  So if that is your thing, then Bad Hof isn’t for you!!   However, being the seasoned party animals that we are, we managed to squeeze some fun out of the place, so don’t let that put you off.

Our favourite bars were the Weinstube Zum Boten right opposite our hotel – friendly staff and lovely and cosy.  They let us gate crash a 30th birthday party on the first night, so happy days.  And the trendier Gastein Alm (across from the main gondola.

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Waterfall in Bad Gastein

On two nights, we headed to the bigger resort of Bad Gastein (ten minutes in a taxi and approx €50 between the five of us).  There is more apres ski action here but I have never seen or walked up such steep hills!!  It makes the Hovis advert look tame! Cruelly, most of the good bars are at the top of the hill (Mount Everest springs to mind).  So by the time you get to the bar, you are half dead and really deserve your drink!!

We went to the Silver Bullet  which is a massive bar full of drunk Swedish & Danish people (great fun!) and Haeggbloms Bar (full of hormonal adolescents, so we didn’t stay there too long).

Bad Gastein is an absolutely beautiful town.  It has an air of faded splendour about it with gorgeous period hotels situated on dramatic slopes along the valley.  On our last day, we were all skied out

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Interior of Kraftwerk

(not as young as we used to be) so we spent a few hours exploring.  It didn’t disappoint.  If you are visiting Bad Hofgastein, you must make the effort to visit here too.

I don’t know where we got the energy from, but we decided to walk down a precarious stair way (covered in snow & ice – the stair way of death) right to the bottom of the valley.  I’m so glad we did because we found the most wonderful bar/restaurant called Kraftwerk  – no not the 80’s German electronica act – it means power station in German.  This place was AMAZING!! I’ve never been anywhere like it
before.

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Giant magnets inside Kraftwerk

As the name suggests, it used to be a power station (c.1914) and it doubles up as a museum/bar/cafe.  It is at the bottom of a dramatic waterfall which flows through the centre of the town (and was used to power the place).  It was a brilliant bar.

 

It reminded me a bit of the old Frankenstein films as the place was full of dials and magnets.  But unfortunately, once you walk down to it, you have to walk back up!  But trust me – it really was worth it.

The Skiing!

The skiing is great but Bad Hofgastein is no place for beginners – so be warned!  It’s mainly lovely long red runs and some of them are more like blacks.  There is only one official black run in the resort but some of those ‘reds’ would definitely test you!  It is quite a big area and so will easily keep good skiers amused for the week.  When you’ve out skied the slopes around Bad Hofgastein,  the ski buses (very frequent) can take you to the surrounding areas where you can ski some more (e.g. Doftgastein, Bad Gastein, Sportgastein….)

The Spa – Alpentherme Gastein

There was a typical Austrian/German spa in the town, the Alpentherme Gastein. Apparently it’s a brilliant one and world famous, but you have to be naked to use it! OMG! One of our friends went along for an afternoon thinking he could turn up in his trunks…but oh no!  They spotted him and demanded that he stripped them off – which he did in front of his fellow spa users!  I’m sorry, but there is no way I’m going to be naked in front of a load of strangers – or worse in front of your friends!!

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Weitmoser Schlossl

The Schlossl

No ski holiday is complete without a fabulous schlossl – and Bad Hof has a very pretty one (Weitmoser Schlossl).  It is a ten minute walk from the Intersport Depot near the main gondola and you can go there for coffee/apple strudle or dinner.

We spent a beautiful sunny morning sitting outside on our last morning, while we were waiting for our transfer back.  A few hours later, we were back in rainy old Dublin!!

 

 

 

Although Bad Gastein is really beautiful, it is too big and the hills in the town too steep to walk around all week – so it lacks the Austrian ski village cosiness.   I was glad we based ourselves in Bad Hof Gastein.  It’s also really pretty but smaller – so it has more of that cosy Austrian ski resort feel to it.  And it’s easy to jump on a bus or get a taxi to Bad Gastein.

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Me in my trendy goggles – I love them
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All smiles until we walked up the hill…

 

 

 

 

February 2017

Channel 4’s ‘The Jump’ – You have to love this!

I’ve been watching The Jump (now in its 3rd series) on Channel 4 for the last few weeks.  There has been a lot of criticism in the press due to the extreme danger that the ‘celebrities’ are exposed to but I find it all highly entertaining.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-jump

If you haven’t seen it yet, each week an assortment of Z-listers (Brian McFadden, Arg from TOWIE, Heather Mills, Sid Owen, Sarah Harding, etc) line up to compete in various snow sports (ski jumping, snow cross, ski slalom, skeleton, etc).  They receive some training beforehand and are then let loose on the snow/ice – it’s absolute carnage with bodies being removed from the slopes after each event!!  Graham Bell is one of the experts on hand.

http://graham-bell.com

There have been so many injuries on this show that there seems to be hardly any of the original line up left.  But these celebrities have signed-up for this programme and know the risks.  As the show has been aired before, presumably they are aware of the injuries that previous contestants have suffered? Apparently, celebrities are queueing up to take part.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/celebrities-queueing-up-join-tvs-7409503

I do wonder why athletes would take part in this though.  It’s all very well for a ‘reality TV’ or soap star contestant to get injured as this won’t have a long term impact on their ‘career’  – but when athletes such as Rebecca Adlington, Beth Tweddle and Steve Redgrave (previous series) get injured, there must be repercussions for them – why would you take the risk?  Fair enough, most of these athletes have retired now but they are presumably still highly active people with some involvement still in sport. Beth Tweddle has suffered a particularly worrying back injury.

But as for the rest of the contestants, let the games continue!!  Personally, I love watching this each week as it broadcasts live from areas in and around Innsbruck in the Austrian Tirol – one of my favourite places in the world!   It is very pretty to watch and is frequently snowing – it just makes me want to sign-up for my next ski holiday!!  I am also extremely envious of the fabulous hotel that they are staying in – it looks like a castle/ a beautiful Austrian Schloss – I want to stay there!

‘Reality TV’ and Soap Stars risking serious injury (and possibly death) live on TV each week in the beautiful Austrian Tyrol – what’s not to like!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sauze d’Oulx – It was a hit!

I have just got back from a week’s skiing in Sauze d’Oulx, Italy (24th – 31st Jan ) and I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised!  I ski with the same group each year and we usually go to various resorts in Austria.  However, this year there was a group decision to try somewhere different and Sauze d’Oulx emerged as the winner.  The transfer from Turin airport to the resort is only an hour and 15 minutes and this is a big plus.  It also has a reputation for being very reasonably priced in the bars and restaurants, and I found this to be mostly true.  This is a great website to get all the info you need on the resort: http://www.sauzeonline.com   Sauzeonline provides a great weekly update on snow conditions, resort info etc on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNdFYjPS_Lo

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I arrived with fairly lowish (but hopeful) expectations as I had read that it was a bit ‘lager loutish’ and not terribly pretty to look at.  BUT THIS IS SO WRONG!  While there is a large British/Irish tourist presence and a couple of ‘British Bulldog’ type pubs, the rest of the place is a delight.  There are loads of really nice cosy bars/wine bars and cafes/restaurants/shops where you can avoid the ‘Magaluf on ice brigade’ and it is also very pretty and picturesque (unlike the neighbouring Sestriere, which is hideous to look at – more on that below!!).  My favourite bar was the Derby Bar which looked like an upmarket ski chalet with a beautiful fire and stacks of wood – it was a fairly laid back place where you could have a few cosy drinks.  The Vagabondi Bar round the corner was good fun too when the live band were playing.  The town was very lively at night but mostly in a good way.  There was a lot of fun around the place but it didn’t get too much. http://www.sauzeonline.com/apres-ski/

There is a beautiful little old town in the village and the narrow streets and tiled roofs are delightful.  The town also sits in a ‘bowl’ so you are surrounded by fabulous mountains at every turn.

Now about the skiing…..Again, I was very impressed!  Unfortunately we picked a bad year for snow (it’s an El Nino year – see previous post on this!).  There wasn’t a great deal of snow and many of the lifts/runs were shut.  But the lift company and piste management did a tremendous job to keep as many runs open as possible through use of the snow machines.  There are lovely long red runs that go from the top of the mountain all the way back down (Red 2000 was my favourite) and the setting/scenery is absolutely beautiful.  There are also loads of great mountain restaurants where the food is good and reasonably priced.

When the snow is good, this is one of the biggest ski areas in the Alps (the Milky Way) but this year, the ski area was much smaller due to lack of snow.  However, we did mange to ski over to neighbouring Sestriere one day.  http://www.sestriere-online.com   This is a purpose built resort (built for the Turin Olympics) and it is an eyesore!   It reminded me of the brutal industrial architecture that can be found in the Soviet block!  But if you are not too concerned with aesthetics, than it is a good cheap place to ski for a week – but not for me!  Sauze d’Oulx was a thousand times nicer – both in terms of the ski runs and the quality of the resort.

The food in our hotel, Relais Des Alpes, was the best I’ve ever had on a ski holiday.  It was very plentiful (didn’t lose any weight on this holiday!) and great quality.  The hotel itself was nice enough, but not as cosy and pretty as the places I’m used to  in Austria.  http://www.crystalski.co.uk/ski-resorts/italy-ski-holidays/sauze-doulx/hotel-relais-des-alpes/.  There was a spider in the bed on the last night – which really FREAKED ME OUT!!  It was BIG!!  But that isn’t the hotel’s fault!

We flew out from Dublin with Crystal Ski and they were very good throughout the week.  The reps were friendly and plentiful – they seemed to pop up everywhere we went.  They organised lots of activities during the week, including wine tasting and a ski away day to nearby Montgenevre in France. http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/skiresorts/resortintro.aspx/Montgenevre#.VrhqPYSfnFI

Overall, a pretty decent holiday – I would recommend Sauze d’Oulx.  I would like to return in a couple of years – but will try to pick a year where there is more snow!

 

Ski Sunday 2016

Ski Sunday with Graham Bell and Ed Leigh returns tonight on BBC2 (January 10th)!

I love watching this on a Sunday night.  It still has the best opening music/sequence of any other show on TV and is worth watching just for that!

Thankfully snow conditions have improved significantly across the Alps this week so sit back, watch and enjoy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006v8fc/episodes/guide

 

 

There is some snow in the Alps – finally….

The welove2ski website reports that some snow has finally arrived in the Alps – but not much!   Unfortunately, the current fall isn’t reaching the Italian resorts – which is where I’m going!

http://welove2ski.com/snow-report/december-14-2015

See my previous post: ‘Where is all the snow this year.’

Image below is from the Snow Report on the http://www.welove2ski.com 

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More Ski Resorts I’ve Known – Italy

I normally go to Austria for skiing but I have been lucky enough to visit Italy a few times – and I’m going there again in January – to Sauze d’Oulx near Turin.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/snowandski/italy/sauze-d-oulx/11235561/Ski-Sauze-dOulx-resort-guide.html

Canazei – This was the first Italian ski resort I visited and it was VERY COLD!!  Obviously cold is good on a ski holiday, but there was one early morning when the temperature gauge actually said minus 22 degrees centigrade!  This was the only ski holiday when I got wind burn on my face and came home with big red blotches on my nose & chin.  But it is a lovely resort – very pretty, nestled among the Dolomites.  The Dolomites are spectacular and turn a wonderful pink colour at sunset (I wasn’t normally up at sun rise to see this)!  One of the big attractions for Canazei is that it is part of the Sella Ronda ski circuit.

Check-out the review that I wrote for the RTE Travel site at the time.

http://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/travel/features/2009/0226/140692-canazei/

Courmayer – A stunning resort that sits at the bottom of Mont Blanc in the Aosta Valley.  The food was great and the quality of food in the mountain huts was some of the best I’ve found in ski resorts.  The village is very pretty and is full of Italian tourists wandering around in Armani gear (even the ski instructors wear Armani)!  The funniest thing is that the Armani clad tourists rarely venture onto the slopes – they prefer to sit outside the numerous cafes posing.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/snowandski/italy/courmayeur/