For me, the most important part of a ski holiday is the skiing. Lovely accommodation, great food, lively apres and fun off-slope activities are an added bonus, but not a requirement to having a good trip. That was how I felt until recently, read this review of Hotel Der Berghof ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg to find out what changed my mind.
A friend and I were lucky to spend the weekend before Christmas 2015 on a ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg. We were in fact triple lucky, firstly, we were on a ski holiday, secondly, it was about the only place in Europe that had fresh snow, and thirdly, because we stayed in the wonderful four star superior Hotel Der Berghof.
The towns of Lech and Zurs are in the Vorarlberg region of Austria. Vorarlberg is in the far west of Austria bordering Germany to the north, Switzerland the south and the Austrian region of Tirol to the east.
Lech and Zurs are part of the famous Arlberg ski area. Arlberg also includes St Anton and St Christoph in Tirol and Oberlech, Zug, Warth, Schrocken, and Stuben in Vorarlberg.
Although not fully lift linked, an Arlberg ski pass gives you access to over 350km of piste plus a further 200km of marked and avalanche controlled off-piste. Around half of the ski area is on the Lech Zurs am Arlberg side of the Arlberg mountain range along with Oberlech, Zug, Warth, and Schrocken.
The St Anton side of Arlberg, including St Christoph and Stuben, can be reached on a ski bus – there is a free bus which can get quite busy, or a paid bus which is a bit quieter. Alternatively you can ski between the two by heading off-piste, although you’ll need to be experienced, have a guide and all the safety gear.
We were staying in Lech, which is a very attractive town with a wide river running through the middle. Thankfully Lech avoided the concrete mania that swept through many ski resorts and retains an Austrian charm.
Lech is considered an upmarket ski resort that attracts Porsche driving Germans, and although the shops back this up, walking around the town it does not feel exclusive. Apart from the shops it is also not too expensive, with lower bar and mountain restaurant prices than most French resorts.
For a weekend break we were lucky to get four days on the snow. Admittedly arrival and departure were half days, but it is amazing how many miles you can cover in a few hours. With poor snow conditions across Europe, we were lucky to have 20-30cm of fresh snow and over 70% of the runs open.
As I mentioned, for me a ski holiday is all about the skiing – and what great skiing there is in Lech Zurs am Arlberg. In our two full days, and two half days, we explored pretty much all the open runs in the Lech, Zurs and Warth ski areas.
From Lech you can head up the mountain on either side of the river. From the same side as the Hotel Der Berghof you can take the Rufikopfbahn gondola, from the top of which you can ski down to Zurs via an undulating piste with a few flat sections. From the top of Rufikopfbahn you can take the Langerzug red run to return to Lech by piste.
On the other side of the river is the ski school and beginner area, plus a range of lifts that whisk you up the mountain. Most of the runs back down into the village are wide and reasonably steep blues. They are not great for beginners or nervous intermediates, but are a lot of fun if you are a confident skier or snowboarder.
Higher up the mountain there are some easier, more cruisey blues, for example from the top of Kriegerhornbahn back down towards Lech. Alternatively from here you can also drop down into Zug via marked off-piste, or head over to the Steinmahder lift that gives you access to a range of wide red runs and a couple of nice blues.
If you drop over the back of the Steinmahder lift there are more reds and blues plus some nice marked off-piste where we found some good powder. It is from the bottom of these runs that you can reach the gondola over to Warth.
The Auenfeldjet cable car, linking Lech with Warth, was opened in 2013/14 season increasing the lift linked slopes accessible from Lech by 50%. During the 14/15 season Warth had the best snow record in the Alps, and it receives over 10m of snow a season – a significantly higher average than neighbouring resorts.
I found that the slopes in Warth were quieter than in Lech, and that the blue runs were less steep and more suited to beginners and intermediates. Warth also has a few black runs to offer advanced skiers a challenge, those that I went on were not seriously steep, but the steepest were closed during our visit.
We did a few off-piste runs including a hidden valley where some nice snow had accumulated. Again there are a lot of marked off-piste trails, although unfortunately most of them were closed due to lack of snow.
Rather than big motorway pistes, the runs in Warth seemed to twist and turn their way around the mountain, which in combination with regular undulations made every run fun and interesting. For anyone on a ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg a visit to Warth is a must, as the slopes have a very different feel.
You can ski to Zurs from Lech by taking the Rufikopfbahn gondola. The run is part of the famous ‘White Ring’ circuit taking in Lech, Zurs and Zug. There is the option of an easy blue, a tougher red or more marked off piste trails down to the Schuttboden T-Bar, from the top of this there is a fairly flat blue that takes you to the Zurs ski area.
Alternatively you can hop on the free bus between Lech and Zurs. It takes about 10 minutes and means you can cut out the long, and in places flat, run from the Rufikopfbahn gondola. As with Lech you can head up the mountain on either side of the river in Zurs, but here there are runs back down to the town on both sides.
On the same side of Zurs that you access from Lech, there are a range of blue and red runs. Most of the pistes are fairly wide and a lot of fun for blasting around. There is ample between piste off-piste, plus a marked off piste trail which unfortunately was closed.
Heading over the other side of Zurs the Seekopf and Zursersee chairlift give you access to more red and blue runs and Zurs single black piste. There is also another marked off piste trail here which was a lot of fun playing in the fresh snow even if it was a little crusty low down.
The Muggengrat chair takes you to the highest point above Zurs offering a great view. You can take the blue back down under the lift, which has some nice off piste options on the side, or head on the Muggengrat-Tali run which is a long red back to Zurs with plenty of off-piste opportunities.
The other alternative in Zurs is a lift called the Madloch, which from the top has a red running coming back towards Zurs, or a marked off-piste trail to Zug. Partway down the run to Zurs you can take a marked off-piste back to Lech. Unfortunately this lift and the runs were all closed during our visit.
In combination Lech, Zurs and Warth make a formidable ski area. With around 70% of the pistes open we had a great time and felt there was a lot of variety of runs, excellently maintained pistes and mostly a fast and efficient lift system.
One weakness is there is only one black run in Lech and Zurs but there are a few more in Warth. However most advanced skiers will be thinking about the marked off-piste and backcountry opportunities. Of course this review of a ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg is only looking at half the Arlberg ski area, there is also the St Anton side to explore.
At the start of this article I said that for me the accommodation doesn’t really matter. As long as I have a bed, an ensuite bathroom, and I can charge my phone I honestly don’t care about number of stars, extra amenities, customer service and even food.
But occasionally I stay somewhere that reminds me how exceptionally good accommodation can elevate your stay to the next level. The four star superior Hotel Der Berghof was the most recent to do this. I just hope my review of Hotel Der Berghof can do the experience justice.
‘Service with a smile’ is a phrase that is often used, but it doesn’t convey the service we received at Hotel Der Berghof. Perhaps ‘Service with a smile of genuine warmth’ gets close, but really it was a step beyond that. To me it felt like ‘service with a hug from your parents when you haven’t seen them for a while’.
Every staff member, from reception to waitress and cleaner to concierge was happy, smiling and pleased to help you. The cleaners even laughed when I explained I had made a mess by falling asleep on the chocolate that had been left on my pillow – a far cry from being told off for not hovering a self-catering apartment properly in France!
In the sumptuous bar, with a real fire, drinks were brought to us at a leisurely pace. They arrived with a new drink just before you realised you needed it, but without feeling pushy or overbearing.
In the restaurant the waitresses gave you plenty of time to choose your courses, food arrived at a relaxed pace, and a meal could take an entire evening if you wish. However, on the night we were pushed for time it was no problem speeding things up.
Don’t get me wrong I love top quality food, but on a ski holiday I am happy with stodgy food such as pizza, burger or pasta dishes. This is because by dinner time I am ravenous from a hard day on the slopes, and to be honest even the most basic of foods would be treated as if it comes with multiple Michelin stars.
However, as with the service at the Hotel Der Berghof, the food went a step beyond what I expected – and that is not just because I was ravenous. All three evenings we had a ‘just finished skiing’ snack, which helped me make it through to 8pm for dinner.
Each evening meal consisted of five of six courses. It would start with a salad buffet, which included prawns bigger than anything we get in the UK, and many lovely dishes that changed each evening. Then followed a soup course, with traditional options such as Austrian pancake soup and inventive soups such as asparagus and smoked trout.
By now I could probably have stopped eating for the night but we were just beginning. A starter followed, nothing huge, but exquisitely presented and prepared dishes involving complex flavours and textures. The main for me was normally a hearty delicious meat dish, although I had fish one night which was excellent.
Next came dessert, one evening this was the lightest fluffiest moose I have eaten. This was then followed with a cheese board, offering locally produced and Austrian favourites topped off with an amazing truffle honey. Coffee anyone?
Breakfast was a buffet with a few hot options, including pre-boiled eggs that somehow were still runny in the middle and perfect every time. There were also a selection of breads, cheeses, meats, fruits and cereals. Plus there was porridge, a juicer and a waffle maker and very nice coffee, teas and fruit juices.
They catered very well for my friend who is a vegetarian with plenty of fine dining options that went way beyond what he expected. All in all, we were very impressed with the food so hats off to chef Gerhard Spanring.
The Hotel Der Berghof sits above the village looking out over the valley. However they have conveniently built a lift that takes you down to village level in the town centre. On the way down you can collect your gear from the ski room, where boots are heated and every guest has their own section.
There is an onsite spa with a bio sauna, Finnish sauna, traditional sauna, steam bath and infrared cabin plus a cold water bath to dip in between each all the heat treatments. There are also a range of massage and beauty treatments available at extra cost.
If you are driving over, or have a hire car, your vehicle will be safe from the ravages of the weather in the heated underground car park. Overall the ambiance of the hotel makes you feel at home, and as a very welcome guest.
No review of Hotel Der Berghof ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg would be complete without talking about the bedrooms. The decor is luxurious but modern, clearly with a theme and tastefully done. The beds are comfy, very comfy, in fact too comfy – I am still getting used to my own bed again a month later!
All rooms have ample storage, DVD payer, satellite TV and an Ipod docking station. Plus all rooms have strong WiFi access that worked fine for uploading photos to social media and watching videos. A nice touch was a complimentary fruit bowl and bottled water that were restocked daily.
The bathroom, while not particularly large, didn’t feel cramped. The shower had more buttons than the international space station, I spent a while in there each evening testing the various settings. The only negative was that each time I used the shower the floor flooded, although whether that was my fault or the shower screen I am not sure.
The cleaners came in at least twice a day. Once for a proper clean, during which they picked up and folded all my cloths – very nice of them but picking my pants off the floor is certainly not required! They also popped in over dinner to turn down the covers, tidy a little and add a chocolate to your pillow, which unfortunately I didn’t always notice…
The accommodation isn’t something that normally makes any difference to my trip, but this ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg was made extra special by the Der Berghof Hotel. I honestly can’t recommend it enough, and if you are the kind of person that finds the accommodation important, then you’ll appreciate it even more than I did.
We didn’t head out clubbing, although from what I understand there is a popular club in Lech, and another in Zurs, with buses running between the two towns until early in the morning. It is not the kind of place where you will party every night but somewhere that a surprise night may creep up on you.
This happened to us in the excellent Schneggarei Ski Hutte next to the ski school in Lech. We popped in for a couple of beers and ended up staying because of the fun but relaxed atmosphere, plus we were playing Hammerschlagen (the nail game) with the locals.
The aim of the game is to use the narrow end of a hammer to hit a nail into a waist high upended log. The owner of the last nail standing buys drinks for the others. Previously uninitiated into this game we ended up buying a few rounds, but I am pleased to say we didn’t lose every time.
We flew from Birmingham to Zurich on Swiss Air. Although more expensive than budget airlines, Swiss give free ski carriage making their prices very competitive. The transfer took just over 2 hours, you could also fly to Innsbruck Airport which is closest at 1 hour 30, or Friedrichshafen Airport in Southern Germany which is a 1 hour 45 minute drive away.
If you prefer to book a package ski holiday then Inghams, Crystal Ski, Ski Total and Ski Solutions offer a ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg. If you fancy a short break then Flexi Ski are worth checking out.
For an early season ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg we lucked out with the snow conditions in comparison to the rest of Europe. The pistes were in great condition and Lech Zurs had done a great job in opening 70% of the ski area.
In Lech, Zurs and Warth there are a great range of runs to suit all abilities, and there is a lot of off-piste to explore before you even head over to St Anton side of Arlberg.
As I said in my review of Hotel Der Berghof it is a lovely hotel. I won’t say it was wasted on me as I thoroughly enjoyed staying somewhere so good. The food was amazing, the service impeccable and it made what would have been a very good ski holiday into a fantastic one.
We hope you enjoyed this review of Hotel Der Berghof ski holiday in Lech Zurs am Arlberg. To find out more about Lech Zurs visit www.lechzuers.com, to find out more about Vorarlberg go to: www.vorarlberg.travel, and visit www.derberghof.at to book the Hotel Der Beghof.