Twelve amazing resorts await my intermediate ski skills and discerning palette, and by the time I visit all of them, I should be an expert downhill racer well acquainted in the alpine culinary scene. The Best of the Alps is a collaboration of Europe’s finest ski and recreation destinations in historic upscale resorts. All are located in bucolic villages where gastronomy and fashion are in peak form. Last ski season I visited three of the elites: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Seefeld and Grindelwald.
Ski wide-open runs that offer room to leisurely shush down the mountain. Beginners, and intermediates like me, appreciate having plenty of space to practice form and improve technique. Thrill seekers will relish the famous Kandahar World Cup Race Track. The Free Fall portion of the run is an adrenalin junkies dream with a 92% gradient and a nearly 6,000-foot altitude drop.
Stay on the mountain at the all-suite Hotel das Graseck where health and wellness are as important to the vacation psyche as the scenic canyon views and grand snow-covered peaks. Accessible via reserved gondola (tiny, steep, and not for the feint of heart), Hotel Das Graseck is a holistic resort with an amazing spa. I felt truly zen-like in my modern alpine suite. Minimalist natural material furnishings allowed me to focus on the landscape, and the calming sounds from the bubbling brook below.
Optional health programs are customized for individual needs. Medical consultations and workups can be arranged ahead of time and taken care of discreetly in their dedicated treatment rooms. Diet and nutrition are important factors taken into account during meals. Main dishes are portion controlled, aiding foodies like me to stay somewhat in control, however the mouthwatering appetizer and breakfast buffets derailed my best of intentions at times. It was a bit too cold to brave the outdoor fire pit and beer garden when I visited, however I could envision enjoying clean mountain air while polishing off a freshly pulled brew in warmer weather.
See the AlpspiX floating platform above the summit cable car station that juts out over a 1,000-meter vertical drop. Panoramic views of the Zugspitze, Waxensteine and massive north face of the Alpspitze were exhilarating from this vantage point, however fair warning is in order. Sensory overload can overwhelm even the most seasoned mountaineer. After snapping some killer photos of the vista, I glanced down through the metal grate flooring of the platform and experienced a surreal feeling that I might fall into the abyss below. My heart raced uncontrollably and my legs shook like a leaf as I scrambled back across the 25-meter bridge to solid ground – it was truly awesome!
Stats: ALTITUDE 708 – 2962 m INHABITANTS (TOWN) 28245 GUEST BEDS (TOWN) 9600 RESTAURANTS 108 SHOPS 450 HIKING 100 km LIFTS 33 SKI SLOPES 203 km LONGEST DOWNHILL 6.8 km CROSS COUNTRY 28.5 km TOBOGGANING 8.6 km
Ski the resort in the Tyrolean Alps known for sun-kissed mountains, groomed alpine runs and non-stop Nordic cross country fun. Typically, I push myself hard to improve my technique first thing in the morning and catch as many runs as possible. However, when the afternoon thigh-burn takes hold, I feel no shame in unbuckling snug ski boots, ordering an Aperol spritzer and catching a few rays on the terraces at Rosshütte for après ski.
Noted as one of the most family friendly ski areas, Birky’s Wonderland has a charming sunlit terrace for parents to keep an eye on kids learning to “pizza pie” plow through the snow below while having a bite to eat.
Getting onto the slopes was the quickest I have experienced in all of the Alps. Seefeld has eliminated the hassle factor that often deters people from taking ski holidays in Europe. Convenient mountainside garage parking (free), ticket booths and ski rentals all next to each other streamline the process leaving more time to spend on the slopes, and less time in queues.
Stay a short drive away at the Interalpin Hotel Seefeld where over-the-top five-star accommodations, romantic dining spaces, and upscale activities are only exceeded in grandeur by the level of service provided to guests.
Competition for my free time at the Interalpin was fierce. Tough choices included an indoor golf clinic, a wellness treatment in the alpine-chic 50,000+ square foot spa, and a visit to the saltwater grotto. Prudish Americans please note, the sauna village and grotto are meant to be enjoyed “as God created you” – translation, completely naked.
Dining presented me with two amazing options. The Tyrolean-themed restaurant appealed to my admiration for tradition with carved wooden tables, chairs and ceiling; however the more formal winter garden restaurant with panoramic views won my heart. It felt like a dream to dine in this atmosphere.
Sample the local hot spots for coffee, creative cuisine and experience the Tyrolean hospitality firsthand. Plangger delicatessen is a specialty food and spirit shop where locals also meet up for a tasty cup of Joe.
Bräukeller Grill is part of the family-owned Hotel Klosterbraou that serves beer made in-house, and incredible tapas food in an underground cave with exposed gray-stone cathedral ceilings accented with candle light and purple up lighting. Natives filled the trendy spot teeming with laughter and frivolity ensuring my meal there was deliciously local.
Stats: ALTITUDE 1.200 – 2.100 m INHABITANTS (TOWN) 8.542 GUEST BEDS (TOWN) 15.142 RESTAURANTS 140 SHOPS 48 HIKING 142 km LIFTS 34 SKI SLOPES 37 km LONGEST DOWNHILL 3,5 km CROSS COUNTRY 271 km TOBOGGANING 20 km
Ski and Sled in the sporty village of Grindelwald with breathtaking Northface views of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland’s Jungfrau region. Intermediate skiers like me have tons of options for a full day on the slopes and I quite enjoyed The First (locals pronounce it as Fierce) area that is south facing and thus remains sunny for most of the day.
Sledding (or sledging as it is known here) is second to none. The famous run is the longest in all of Europe – 15 kilometers and a vertical drop of 1,600 meters. Mind you, hard work is involved if you want to capture the prize. To experience the entire trail it is about a two and a half hour walk with sled in hand to the peak. A break in between at pastoral mountain bars for a bite to eat accompanied by a hot mulled glass of wine (gluhwein) makes the trek palatable. I loved watching the little tykes on the shorter toboggan trails squeal with delight racing one another. Night sledding is the most popular winter mountain activity for kids, and the young at heart.
Stay at the Schweizerhof Romantik Hotel, a two minute walk from the train station. The hotel has a wonderful combination of staff with Swiss efficiency and warm village hospitality. Charming front desk clerks dressed in traditional Swiss mountain suits offered me and other guests a glass of Prosecco in the cozy library while they collected our luggage from the train station. (Tip: traveling in Switzerland by rail is super easy – check your suitcases and ski equipment in at the beginning of your trip and collect it at your final destination. For more details click on this LuxeGetaways article.)
Remember the hotel in the movie Dirty Dancing? The Schweizerhof traditions reminded so much of that quaint New England 1950’s attitude. Before dinner most guests had a cocktail in the lounge listening to the piano player, and I was no exception. I then reported for dinner and was shown my pre-assigned table, as are all the guests. Regulars’ preferences are noted for the next visit – very thoughtful. Afterwards people played cards by the fire in the living room, took in some time in the pool at the spa or joined the kids in the bowling alley for family fun. Wow, good old fashion fun and stunning mountain views to boot.
Rooms were on the smallish side, but very well appointed and designed with walk-in closets with cubbies for ski gear, modern bathrooms with powerful blow-dryers, plush robes and towels, and outlets aplenty for plugging in devices.
Sample the kitchen at Hotel Kreuz and Post. An institution in Grindelwald, the restaurant’s philosophy is “nature to table” where the owners boast that nearly 100% of the meats, vegetables and fish used in the kitchen are sourced locally. I dined on their famous Chateaubriand – huge portions and so tender it melted in my mouth. It lives up to its reputation. (Tip: the front room is quite nice, but ask for a table in the alpine room at the back. It is quieter and has a better ambiance.)
The classiest lunch in Grindelwald includes killer mountain views and posh desserts on the panoramic terrace of historic Hotel Bellevue des Alpes. Take the Kleine Scheideregg train route from town up some 2,000+ meters for an unforgettable meal en plein air. If the views don’t take your breath away, the cost may so be prepared to shell out beaucoup Swiss francs.
Stats: ALTITUDE 1034 – 3454 m INHABITANTS (TOWN) 4300 GUEST BEDS (TOWN) 11500 RESTAURANTS ca. 50 SHOPS ca. 62 HIKING 80 km LIFTS 44 SKI SLOPES 213 km LONGEST DOWNHILL 15 km CROSS COUNTRY 7 km