Life

A Kirchberg winter holiday offers so much more than just fabulous skiiing

Austria's SkiWelt is one of the world's largest and most modern winter sports areas, boasting first-class skiing and also offering a dizzying array of other outdoor activities. Plus, as Margaret Carragher, who visited the resort of Kirchberg can attest, the hospitality is right up there too

Skiing in Kirchberg in the Austrian Alps, offers access to the world’s biggest lift pass alliance with more than 2,750 kilometres of slopes across 25 ski resorts

FROM a cable car high in the snowy Austrian Alps the last thing you’d expect to see is girls in bikini-tops and bare-chested lads lounging in deckchairs on a sunny bar veranda far below. But that’s spring skiing for you – and oh what a novelty it is.

Indeed everything about our Topflight late-season ski trip – the flight time (early afternoon, so civilised), the speedy airport transfer, the accommodation, the bright evenings and of course the destination itself – is positively delightful.

From Salzburg airport we arrive in the Tyrolean village of Kirchberg just in time for dinner to find the dining room of our Hotel Alexander jammed to the rafters and buzzing with atmosphere. Because as we are soon to discover, this is no ordinary hotel restaurant but a veritable shrine to gastronomy where locals and tourists alike flock to savour its culinary art.

With an extensive and inspired a la carte menu included in our holiday package, the five-course evening meals – featuring a choice of hot and cold starters, soup, salad, main course and dessert – prove to be one of the many highlights of our stay here. Then there’s the accommodation – none of your bog standard stuff but a spacious, self-contained first-floor apartment about a minute’s walk from the hotel itself.

Tricked out in traditional Alpine style – think cheery chintz and honey pine beams and panelling – our Alexander apartment features a living/dining room, kitchen, bathroom and a huge, dual-aspect bedroom with the snowy Gaisberg mountain visible from one window and a verdant spring landscape spilling in through the other. So far, so very, very good.

Next morning after breakfast – a humongous buffet with a chef in attendance to cook eggs any which way – the good man and I set out to explore our surroundings. Having enjoyed many ski holidays in neighbouring Kitzbuhel over the years, we are already familiar with the shared ski area, which means no valuable time wasted finding our way around.

Although the two resorts are just six kilometres apart, Kirchberg’s quaint little village vibe is a million miles from the atmosphere of its more cosmopolitan neighbour, a difference reflected in holiday costs, with Kirchberg a more affordable option.

And so, with the complimentary ski bus stopping just outside our hotel, it’s straight to the Fleckalmbahn cable car which feeds directly into Kitzbuhel’s 170 kilometres of slopes on one side, and links to the 284 kilometre SkiWelt on the other. With more than €27 million invested in its ski infrastructure the SkiWelt is one of the world’s largest and most modern winter sports areas with 90 cable cars and lifts capable of shifting 146,656 passengers per hour. It is also part of the world’s biggest lift pass alliance with more than 2,750 kilometres of slopes across 25 ski resorts accessible with its AllStarCard.

Then there’s the Alpeniglu Village, a fairytale world of snow and ice built every winter in the Kitzbuhel Alps and accessible to skiers and non-skiers alike by cable car. Featuring a hotel, church, restaurant, ice bar and sun lounge, this quirky igloo village brings ice and snow sculptors from across the globe to conduct ice-carving workshops and display their creative talents on annually changing themes in the LED-illuminated exhibition centre.

Buy a drink here and it’s served in a glass made of ice; book a room and you’ll snuggle down on a king-sized ice bed dressed with reindeer hides and high tog duvets. You can even get married here; in fact on a previous ski trip we actually saw a bride and groom in full wedding regalia emerge from the ice church in a cloud of confetti, and crack open a celebratory magnum of fizz at the ice bar.

Then there are themed parties and candlelit banquets and discos and firework displays; basically something for everyone, with the added bonus of free entry to all evening events. Nice one.

Sunbathing – clothed or otherwise – isn't unusual a sight when skiiing in Austria

Meanwhile, back in Kirchberg our Topflight rep Colin has been busy organising a calendar of events for the week. These include snowshoe hiking, snow biking, tobogganing and sleigh rides; there’s also the option of a day trip to Salzburg, home of Mozart, The Sound of Music and Stiegl bier. For the more adventurous there’s ice-climbing, night skiing and tandem paragliding from the top of the Hahnenkamm. And party animals will find no shortage of pubs and clubs in which to cavort till the wee hours.

But for us, there’s no beating the charms of our hotel, and in particular its restaurant. Having identified us as inveterate foodies from the off, the maitre d’ delights in our appreciation of the cuisine. Every evening he presents the menu with a flourish; every evening we agonise over it before opting for something wonderful. Because everything – from the herb-crusted veal to the saddle of lamb to the spicy beef to the whole grain vegetarian pizzas – is invariably sublime.

On our final evening, having worked our way through the entire menu, we opt for a basic lasagne al forno. And oh the joy of an everyday dish elevated to haute cuisine by the simple mix of top notch ingredients and expertise. We take a copy of the menu for inspiration even if there’s no way on Earth I could ever recreate the culinary masterpieces we’ve enjoyed here.

Then it’s back to the apartment to savour our last few hours in Kirchberg in the snug outdoor nook accessed via French doors from the kitchen. In the soft evening light it’s easy to see why the Austrian Tyrol is a year round tourist destination. When the snow melts, ski runs morph into hiking trails through lush woodland and verdant pasture; while the lesser-known lakes surrounding the Wilder Kaiser mountain range emerge from beneath layers of ice to be rediscovered every spring.

As a change from our usual bucket and spade jaunts, it is certainly worth considering. But for now we’re happy just to be here, soaking up the atmosphere of this idyllic little village. Kirchberg, you’re looking good.

FACT FILE

:: Margaret travelled to Kirchberg in Austria with Topflight, the Award Winning Ski Tour Operator voted Northern Ireland's Best Ski Tour Operator for 14 years in a row.

:: Margaret stayed at the Apartment Kirchanger a sister property of the 4* Hotel Alexander in Kirchberg. Topflight offer a selection of accommodation options in Kirchberg including apartments, 3* hotels, 4* hotels and pension bed & breakfast style accommodation.

:: Prices for holidays in Kirchberg start from £688 per person sharing based on staying in the 3* Lifthotel on a half board basis travelling in January. Prices include return flights from Belfast International Airport, return transfers, accommodation for seven nights on a half board basis, 20kg baggage allowance, taxes and the services of the Topflight representative in resort.

:: Topflight also have an Escorted Tours brochure featuring a selection of escorted tours for the summer / autumn period.

:: For more call Topflight on 028 9752 1168, visit your local travel agent or see topflightholidays.co.uk

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