It’s that time of the year where we look towards planning our programme for next season. Austria is a popular choice for many of our clients – and it’s easy to see why; with unrivalled après-ski, a fantastic snow record and excellent Austrian service. So, keen to check out some possible new additions to our programme, I headed to the Tyrol (and managed to squeeze in a couple of days on the slopes too!) Although Innsbruck would be the closest airport to fly into (at a 90 minute transfer) there’s no direct connection from Edinburgh, so I took the bmi regional service into Zurich, which was an easy 2¼ hr drive to my first stop, Lech. The snow was falling as I arrived, people were returning from the slopes and the après-ski terraces were busy. I wound my way through the village, past the beautiful village church, and took a quiet street down to the Hotel Panorama – my home for the next couple of nights. The rooms are spacious and the welcome was warm. Heike and her husband Gunther were the perfect hosts and always on hand either to provide you with a beer from the bar (right at the heart of the hotel) or to answer any questions about the resort or the ski area. Everyone in Lech is excited about the new connection to Warth-Schröcken which is planned for next season and will swell the ski area to 360km of pistes for winter 2013/2014. [caption id="attachment_5198" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Central Lech in the sunshine[/caption] After a busy couple of days exploring the village of Lech and visiting a range of hotels (watch this space!), I bade the village farewell and drove the 75 minute journey to Ischgl. Synonymous with wild après-ski and a crazy party atmosphere, Ischgl certainly didn’t disappoint. I was lucky enough to be staying in the stunning 4*Plus Hotel Elizabeth, which is right by the slopes and between two of the main ski lifts (the Fimbabahn and the Pardatschbahn). The resort strapline is “Relax. If you can…” and while there was certainly the opportunity to partake in the lively antics going on around the resort (don’t miss the Trofana Alm before 8pm), the Hotel Elizabeth offers a haven of relaxation on the doorstep of some of the resort’s best après-ski. From the stunning, newly-refurbished rooms, which are easily of a 5* standard, to the swimming pool and spa area (complete with bar, just in case you fancy a drink while you unwind) the hotel would be high on my list of places to go back to. [caption id="attachment_5221" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Rooftop bathing at the stunning Hotel Elizabeth in Ischgl[/caption] After an evening dining in the Weiberhimmel mountain restaurant, followed by the Austrian game of ‘Hit the Nail in the Wood using the Wrong Side of the Hammer’ (a classic, I’m informed!) we departed by Pistenbully and it was back to the Elizabeth for a night of rest before a day on the mountain skiing the Ischgl area. The weather was overcast, but we’d had some snowfall over the past few days so conditions were great and I couldn't wait to get my skis on. I decided to ski over to the Swiss resort of Samnaun – famous for its duty-free shopping (beware if you’ve got a large rucksack, the incognito police are patrolling on skis and check in case you’re attempting to bring back more than you should be!) After a quick strudel-stop in Samnaun, I made my way back onto the piste towards Ischgl and the huge network of chairlifts there – queues are minimal as the numerous 8-seater lifts sweep swathes of people up the mountain. Although visibility was limited, the conditions under-ski were great and my thighs were well and truly tested! [caption id="attachment_5205" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Strudel stop in Samnaun[/caption] The following morning I headed to St Anton – a must-do on the tick list of most advanced skiers and boarders. The town itself was bathed in sunshine and while I unfortunately didn't have the time to enjoy the delights of the mountain, I did have a chance to catch up with a number of our most popular hotels in resort. The Hotel Post, Hotel Alte Post and the Sporthotel are all traditional hotels located within a very close distance of one another, right in the heart of the town. I was staying in the Hotel Grieshof, which is just behind the main street, affording it a slightly quieter aspect and ideal for a stay in one of Austria’s most charismatic and charming resorts. Then finally, my last full day spent in Austria was certainly a memorable one. I returned to Lech to sample the ski area there. I’d heard so much about the White Ring circuit which includes Lech, Zürs, Oberlech and Zug. The current fastest time to complete the circuit is around 45 minutes and the winners have their names displayed at the end of the circuit, although the maximum amount of time allotted to complete it is 5 hours. Simply download the app, track your time and you too could be in with a chance of winning a heli-skiing trip with Hermann Maier. My entry is in (although I don’t think the champs have anything to worry about in terms of beating the 45 minute barrier!) [caption id="attachment_5202" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Bluebird conditions in Lech![/caption] With a bluebird day, excellent snow and a vast array of wide, cruisy blues and reds, topped off with heated chairlifts, Lech is a dream of a resort, particularly for intermediate skiers. The off-piste I hear is pretty special too, and don’t forget that you’ve got St Anton a 20 minute drive away if you’re hankering for further challenges. My lasting memory of Lech will be being faced with the stunning views at the top of the Rufikopfbahn. I wasn’t surprised to hear people whoop with joy as they skied down, surrounded by the marvellous scenery. To complete my trip, I spent the night at the incredible 5* Hotel Kristiania in Lech. This stunning, boutique hotel is second-to-none when it comes to service and it’s a tough ask to beat the beautiful views from the hotel restaurant. So, that was it – a whistle-stop tour of our Austrian programme! If you’re thinking about whether to try Austria for the first time or if you’ve been a convert for a while, feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to help you with your holiday plans - call one of the team on 0131 2438097 or request a quotation online and we'll get back to you.