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

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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!

 

More Funny Directski adverts (here they take on Crystal Ski)

This is brilliant.

In 2011, Directski.com angered Crystal Ski (part of the huge German travel company TUI Group).  Directski stated in a newsletter that their prices were, on average, “WAY” cheaper than Crystal’s.  A senior executive from Crystal contacted Tony Collins (owner of TopFlight and the father of Directski founders Anthony & Neal Collins) to complain.   Directski responded with this cheeky ad campaign with the slogan ‘Crystal Ski were so upset about our low prices they phoned our dad’.  The ad even features Frank Bruno and a Yeti.

Great YouTube films from Crystal Ski

No, I don’t work for them, but I think these Crystal Ski YouTube films are great.  Crystal Ski are part of the TUI Group and so have a huge marketing budget and I think they have put it to very good use here.

I particularly like this one below – Apres Ski in the City.  It made me laugh!! (Oh I have been there – many times!!)

And this one is great too – The Ski Explorers:

https://www.youtube.com/user/crystalholidays

Roll-on January 23rd – Sauze d’Oulx is calling!!!

2016 Ski Holiday Booked – Italy this time!

It was a relatively painless process this year.  We are a core group of five (of varying abilities) who ski (and argue) together.  There is usually much debate and wrangling over where to go.  We were surprisingly well behaved this year and unanimously decided on Sauze d’Oulx  in  Italy – it ticks lots of boxes for us.

We are breaking with tradition (as we normally favour Austria).  Having skied in Italy twice before (Canazei & Courmayeur – see my first blog for a review of Canazei), I know that Italy is a more laid back version of Austria – with better food (sometimes)!  Although Italy can’t match the Austrian après ski.   Having said that,  Sauze d’Oulx is supposed to be huge fun with great night life, cheap food & drink and fantastic skiing – so I am very hopeful!

We have booked with Crystal Ski and we got a good deal – price included a week’s ski pass and ski hire.

http://www.crystalski.ie/ski-resorts/italy-ski-holidays/sauze-doulx/

Our friends, ‘the independent travellers’ are doing their own thing and and have booked flights into Turin on Ryanair.  They are flying back from Milan – both airports are close to Sauze d’Oulx which can be easily reached by public transport.

We are going on January 23rd (to get over the January Blues) so the big countdown starts now – I’m so excited!

Here’s where we’re staying:

http://www.hotelrelaisdesalpes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again – Ski Season 2015/16

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I love this time of year!  The ski season has started and I’m looking forward to Christmas.  But where to ski this season?

Crystal Ski http://www.crystalski.ie  and DirectSki http://www.directski.ie  have launched their new brochures for the 2015/16 season.  I love the new graphics in the Crystal Ski brochure and Direct Ski have a great 1980s ski vibe in their new campaign.

The Irish Independent had a really good ski supplement a few Saturdays ago – if you are looking for ideas.

http://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ski/

Recommended Ski Review Websites:

Some great ski websites for reviews on resorts, latest news, general information, etc, are:

http://www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com

 

http://www.welove2ski.com  (This is a good site for checking out snow forecasts/conditions).

http://www.skiclub.co.uk

I normally ski in Austria because I love the Après-ski and pretty alpine villages, but a few years ago I skiied in Canazei, Italy. This is a lovely, pretty little resort in the Dolomites.  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/

Anyway, I will be back very soon to give you more ideas and info…..