Date: 21st-28th December 2017
I am afraid this report has become a bit longer than intended and maybe merited. It was going to be my 1,000th post so thought I would indulge a bit but forgot not to post and used my 1,000th on replying to a question! Anyway here it is.
Our holiday: Family ski/city break holiday, consisting of myself, OH, 11 yr son and 7 yr old daughter incorporating a city break in Innsbruck for two days to visit the Christmas markets before heading to Hochzillertal.
Travel : Travelled on BA from Heathrow to Innsbruck on the first flight out. Didn’t get directed to family check-in at T5 for some reason, but no issues. Standard BA trip. It certainly is a fun in bound flight path into Innsbruck, exciting to see the sheer slopes out the window and especially when they are covered with snow! Plenty of large cabs at the airport waiting that could take 4 persons plus luggage including a ski bag. Or should have been an easy ride into town except for the driver who drove like a lunatic and refused to put the full address into the sat nav and so we spent some time roaming around the neighbourhood looking for the city accommodation.
Left Innsbruck for Kaltenbach by train, or tried to. Wanted to get an early train to get half a day of skiing in. Taxi was booked but a Toyota Prius turned up, too small, the taxi driver was not pleased and safe to say neither were we. Luckily we were next to a bus stop and one turned up in time to get us to the train station rather than waiting for another taxi (and we weren’t even sure the driver had called for another one). Not all would have been lost if we didn’t get the train as the trains to Jenbach went relatively frequently. It was an intercity type train, which had old style compartments for 6, but pretty much only just about sat down when had to get off change. Connected to the Zillertal valley train at Jenbach which was easy transfer to the next platform which could be accessed by lift. Tickets (or ski passes which include travel on it) were checked on the Zillertal valley train both times we took it (contrary to others’ experiences). Same route back except for taking the airport bus from the main Innsbruck train station to go straight out, very convenient and quick to the airport.
At Kaltenbach we got a bit caught out as the post bus that we wanted to get to our accommodation doesn’t run much at the weekend (or public holidays as we found). Also we ended up getting the wrong information from the local information guides on the local post bus services couple of times, they weren’t very good on its running during holidays. The ski bus which would have dropped us off at the same stop near our accommodation only brings people into Kaltenbach in the mornings and only goes out in the afternoon, not a continuous circulation as I thought they might be. Ended up taking a taxi to the apartment, so E15 for a very short trip then another to get us back to the gondola to get half a day in. On the slopes by about 1130 (just in time for lunch!).
Back home was on Easyjet. There was a bit of a snowfall the night before we left and wondered if there would be any delay to local transport, shouldn’t have been so silly, everything ran like clockwork except for EasyJet’s delay for de-icing. Not too busy at the airport coming back and there is a handy mini-market there for snacks if you don’t want to pay on-board prices. Uneventful apart from EasyJet conspired to lose our skis, along with a lot of other peoples’ luggage, some poor fellow had 3 bags lost. They wanted us to wait at Gatwick for them to hunt high and low but 90 minutes was long enough, made a report then headed home. Apparently they knew where the luggage was later that same day. I had asked on the form for them not to deliver to home for a few days as we were going on another short trip away. As no email confirmation came as was promised I rang up and of course no knowledge of the needed delay to delivery. Then the bag got into the hands of a completely useless courier who could not find our house (the only ones who have ever failed) and after many excuses/lies from the delivering courier finally got them back after about a week.
Innsbruck break :Stayed for two nights to the north of the city just across the river in an apartment booked on booking.com. . Had arranged to check in (or drop bags early at least) to then head into the city but no sign of the owner to let us in. Waited around for a bit until a neighbour took pity on us and called the owner’s mother who let us in. Apartment was decently sized for a short stay and well equipped except that there was a very odd and smelly stain on the sofa bed sheets but mother changed these. Odd that there was no microwave which was also the case in the skiing apartment, do Austrians not like them?
Headed into Innsbruck on foot, it was a picturesque scene walking through Innsbrucker Hofgarten with its cloak of snow. It wasn’t far but was too far for little feet so the rest of the time we bussed it back and forth. Sustenance was demanded and so found Strudel Cafe Kroll, where strudel mit vanilla sauce was ordered, good little café and became the favourite (as once our two find somewhere they like they stick with it as we shall see later). I headed on to get the Innsbruck city tickets at the tourist office (note that their website did imply that these can be posted out, but they cannot nor can they be put on their app (but coming soon), did ask that they change the website about the sending out bit but have not checked). The card is definitely worth getting if you intend heading up the Nordkettenbahnen due to that cost alone. We headed up it that afternoon for the view and to get our bearings. Amazing to have a ski area towering over the city itself, more impressive than I thought it would be but the runs don’t look easy. The funicular was impressively designed, both the stations and the cars. Had to ask the staff to run the second stage gondola up to the very top but good once we got all the way up. All the snow boded well for our skiing later. Had a quick look at the Hungerburg Xmas market on the way back down, small and would have been good for a drink with its view but more food was demanded. Back down to the city then ate in Stiftskeller, its bit of a rabbit warren and busy. We found a table in the basement, friendly service once we found the one (?) friendly waitress. Hearty, reasonably priced fare and variety of schnitzel was ordered. But the big shock was the smoking inside especially for the kids who have never experienced that in their lives, I had forgotten how noticeable it was and how very out of place it is now. Sauntered around the nearby Xmas market and Maria-Theresien-Straße nearby for a gluhwein, a choir was singing and a band playing carols from the golden roof, very Christmassy. Was youngest’s birthday and she was chuffed that it also snowed on her day on our way home. Great day all round.
On the second day we headed towards Schloss Ambras. Well worth the visit (but note to self to read the bus timetables properly as the first tourist bus does not run in the winter, weren‘t the only ones waiting at the stop though but other than that the public transport runs like clockwork). Again the castle and its park grounds looked fantastic shrouded in snow. Very impressive collections of armour, oddities from around the world given as presents to the Habsburgs, glass collection and the Spanish Hall. Two cafes there but visited neither as wanted to head back into town. Normal bus turned up before the tourist bus (so never took the scenic route) but got back into town quicker. Searched trip advisor for “Best Schnitzel in Innsbruck” and so lunched at the restaurant in Weinhaus Happ hotel just down from the Golden Roof. Looked promising as was populated by more mature well dressed locals rather than obviously tourist. We got lucky and scored the best table in the house, it was in the only bay window there with views up and down the street to the Golden Roof. What a find, great traditional fare. I had the boiled beef. Who thought boiled beef could taste so good, I wished I had ordered the big portion. Others went for the Weiner Schnitzel and were not disappointed. Better set up for non- smokers as smokers seemed be in another room with the doors closed. After lunch we headed for the various nearby tourist attractions, the City Tower, the Golden Roof and its museum, the Folk Museum and the not to be missed Court Church with its 28 life-size bronze figures that stand guard over the empty tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (Although the Folk museum is not a must do you need to go to the upper floors of it to access a viewing gallery of the Court Church). All within a few minutes’ walk of each other. More strudel at Café Kroll then ended the evening by wandering over to our final Xmas market at Marktplatz with it’s Swarovski tree and an old painted wooden carousel which reminded me of one I went on with my Granda many years ago so had to have a go. By this time it was raining so called it a night.
I would recommend a few days Innsbruck if you pass through. Very Christmassy indeed (but oddly wasn’t the case at the resort where we were for Xmas day itself). Even without the Xmas markets there is enough to see and do, good places to eat and drink and a very pleasant city to spend time in. And you can ski right there, what’s not to like?
The resort: Modern lifts were in evidence and investment in the ski area. Plenty of different levels of runs for different abilities. Enjoyed all the runs to the left of the Hochzillertal gondolas as you look at the map as the runs at the top (12s & 13s). Made it over to the Hochfugen side on the last day, nice long red runs on the Zillertal Shuttle side of the valley, went up the 8er Jet to the other side but the Waidoffen lift was closed for some reason and couldn’t access the blues up top. Didn’t like the reds on this side, rather tight and bitty. Didn’t loiter on this side as had to get back to meet up for a late lunch en famille. It was on this little trip that I had a bit of a fall, skiing some innocuous bumps between pistes I let the skis get away from under me, went up and landed on my straight outstretched arm and sent a very painful jolt into the shoulder joint. Thought I had done something really bad from the searing pain, dislocated it or ripped the ligaments but thankfully not. Very painful lower arm and hand resulted and did not bode well for getting down the hill or more importantly, for lugging luggage home the next day. Made it down and amazingly after a night’s sleep and a few painkillers felt much better the next day.
I wont talk too much on the terrain or snow as there are people on here far more expert to comment on these but thought there was a good variety of runs for all abilities. The now best skier in the family (who was the keen one having done it in a lesson) and I went down the Stefan Eberharter black/red at the end of a day. I did not find it pleasurable, while it looked ok in the mornings on the way up, by the end it was quite bumpy and icy, and also narrow. Seemed just a way of skiing down to the base but I was more than happy to take the gondola down. Slopes were well groomed and marked.
It got busier that I Iiked on the days after Xmas but to be expected when I guess people head to the slopes after Xmas. Ski bus was full on the way in those mornings and main slopes on the Hochzillertal side near the gondolas to the valley were very busy, but at least not many skiing stupidly. Very little in the way of English voices.
We met up with VolklAttivaS5 for about half a day on her tour of the area and did a few nearby runs for an enjoyable morning. She joined us for lunch, hopefully not too arduous an experience with two ravenous kids in attendance. And she kindly introduced me to Tiroler Gröstl, with my poor appetite due to a heavy cold I couldn’t do it justice but it is definitely on my menu now.
Ski School: For the kids I decided on Ski School Keiler as they have earlier start and finish times than the others which I think suits kids better and leaves more time in the afternoon to ski together, also they promised low class numbers of eight (but couldn’t promise). Much better than the 10-12 kid long snakes I saw the other schools running. In fact it turned out very well on this front due to the quieter slopes in the first few days on the week. First day they had both our two together for the first 2 hours, a bit pedestrian for the older one but doesn’t hurt to ski slowly with control, and as the younger didn’t head back to class after lunch (having had a cold and the sight of warm and well stock restaurant was too much) he then was the only student in his class for the 2 post-lunch hours. They were then put in more appropriate groups for the next two days, but in the elder’s class there were never more than three students in total so virtually privates. The only worry was that they don’t seek to attract English speaking students, no little UK flag on their website to translate it and on asking they said they only get 1-2 English speakers a month but the instructors all spoke good English and given that there were so few other kids it wasn’t like they were tied up speaking German most of the time. Ours seemed to enjoy it and they got on with the instructors, in fact after the first day is was “Lisa (the instructor) said this” and “Lisa said that”, which for them to listen and remember I took for a good sign. All the instructors were young (pros and cons), given that the cost of the lessons were similar to the other schools I assume the trade-off for smaller classes is they maybe pay the instructors less and so can only get the younger instructors? I booked via Check Yeti as booking with them offered free cancellation as there was some doubt that we were going at one point but wanted to get lessons booked, worked fine, no issues with it. At the start of the week the younger was a bit hesitant on the slopes having been on Norwegian blues before, I did manage to get her down a red but that was out of necessity having taken the wrong lift but by the end she was happy on the easy reds in short doses. The older one progressed well and I am no longer the best skier in my family so money well spent!
I had booked, after a bit of messing about, a short private lesson for the OH with SaraJ but on the day OH decided that her cold had not left her with enough energy to take it up. Rather than let it go to waste and despite not feeling all that well either I decided that my 10 year drought since my last lesson should be broken. Very much enjoyed the time after so long despite Sara spotting all my bad habits and I had a few things to work on. All my poor skiing later that week is my responsibility alone (see fall above)!
SaraJ was also more than generous with her help and advice with questions I had, so thanks!
On slope food : We ended up always eating (bar one ski school lunch) at Marendalm as it was near the main gondolas, slopes and the ski school meeting points. Once the kids have found their banker there is no enticing them to try somewhere else but it was not a bad choice. Plenty of choice, well priced, big portions and tasty. A favourite was the grilled half a chicken with a Kaiser roll for about E9.5, this is from the bar in the left hand section of the building, not in the self-service section.
Ski rental : Rented from Sport2000 outlet at the gondola base. Despite ringing directly I was advised to book on line on the Sport2000 website for the best deal. It was less (without mucking about with promo codes like those other site) that the other shop near the base. Paid on-line for 4* women’s skis but went my OH went to collect she was given some flannel about those wouldn’t suit her and upsold to pay another E30 for a women’s pair for her level. Not pleased I rang after the first day not wanting to go back on d1 to lose skiing time, they changed the skis next day and refunded the extra but had the cheek to deduct one day usage for skis we didn’t want. Both looked decent skis in good condition and OH said she couldn’t tell the difference. Not a great experience.
Got our skis waxed and edges done on a basic service (E22 each pair) at Ski Stock (the other rental shop at the base) after the last day, they had them ready the next morning for 7.3 or 8.30am depending on which person you talked to.
Accommodation etc.: Large! Much larger than a not dissimilar apartment cost we rented in France, both not at the base (but the French one was within a doable long walk). Very well equipped internally, 2 bedrooms which slept 6, underfloor heating, bathroom with bath and separate toilet, large kitchen with dining area, sitting room and formal dining and with communal drying room and boot driers. Very happy with it (but again no microwave?!?) Although not a huge walk to the bus stop we ended up renting lockers at the gondola base, not cheap at E4 per person per day. They were heated and deodorised (apparently). Got a little caught out by the supermarkets not opening on Xmas and Boxing Day, the petrol station shop didn’t sell milk but had a good line in booze.
We were self-catering but had booked in (as SaraJ had advised to do) for a Christmas Eve dinner at a nearby hotel, Hotel Rissbacherhof. And very glad we did as the meal and entertainment was fantastic, despite missing the pre-prandial gluhwein when I was shivering under two duvets with my cold at its peak before I dragged my sorry self down for dinner. Dinner was five excellent courses (adults E40), don’t know how we put it all away and was well in excess of the quality we expected from a small hotel. Entertainment part 1 was a small troop of trumpeters and a raconteur of what we think was the nativity, following were two musicians on accordion and full sized harp playing carols with sparklers on the tree, truly memorable. Pity we were suffering with the cold in various stages otherwise a few drinks would have gone down very well. Best thing was that Father Christmas still managed to find us and drop off a few small prezzies by the morning, kids even more impressed by his powers now.
Other: Went to the pool complex at Fugen. Well worth the trip. Great facility which the kids really enjoyed as did these old bones. But they have this timed basis to pay so you chose between 2-3 hours. I didn’t realise this at the time, this time includes any trip to the café, so when we wanted to go we had to buy another ½ hour but if you spend over E10 each then you got this back off the food bill.
Is there no Google street view in Austria? Privacy issues?
Conclusion: Would we go back to Hochzillertal? Maybe is the answer. Maybe if we stayed closer to the slopes or rented a car for convenience (a bit spoilt with more convenience from previous trips) if we stayed where we did again. Skiing was good, well priced and, as with our other recent trips we were lucky with the snow and the weather when there. I did ski like a muppet for the last two days, but trying not to let this colour my view and putting it down to the impact of the cold because otherwise if it was the new norm I would give up now. But we would happily to go back to Austria to investigate other areas. We really liked Innsbruck and I imagine Salzburg would be another great city break.
Any questions, let me know and I would be happy to answer.