Spanning the border between the Austrian states of Vorarlberg and Tirol, the Arlberg region is famed for its extremely productive snow clouds and is home to one of the country’s best ski resorts, Lech-Zürs
Remember Bridget Jones hurtling down the mountain on skis in The Edge of Reason? Inadvertently entering a slalom race amid scenic, forest- streaked runs above a picture-postcard Alpine village? That was filmed on the snowsure slopes of Austria’s rugged Arlberg region; more specifically in Lech, which with its smaller twin, Zürs, forms part of the country’s largest connected ski area, with a whopping 190 miles of slopes to carve – from easy-peasy to pitch-black – and 88 ski lifts.
Although often referred to as one resort – Lech-Zürs – they are two villages in their own right, each with its own characteristics, and easily travelled between, be it by the free and frequent buses or – thanks to the extensive lift network – on skis themselves.
Picturesque Lech is all wood-panelled farmhouses, perched between towering Alpine peaks. As one of the largest ski resorts in Austria, it is undeniably popular due to the very welcome heated chairlift seats and purposely uncrowded slopes as the lift company limits the number of lift passes that it sells. It does get busy here during ski school starting hours but normally you don’t have to queue for more than five minutes anywhere.
While four- and five-star hotels dominate the centre of the village, there are cheaper pensions and three-star hotels on the outskirts and excellent ski-in, ski-out accommodation on the mountain at Oberlech, amid gentle, sunny slopes, making it a great base for a family ski holiday.
Although the area is perhaps best suited to beginners and intermediates, there is ski terrain for everybody, with off-piste possibilities and the famous 13-mile Weisse Ring (White Ring) – one of the world’s longest ski round trips – appealing to more advanced skiers. Although it may be started in any of the three towns (Lech, Zürs or Zug), most start in Lech at the Rüfikopfbahn, which connects over to Zürs. The run is very popular and well-illustrated maps can be found at shops and services around the village.
When skiing is finished, Lech’s après-ski tends to be sedate and the sort that goes on in hotels’ Champagne bars, piano bars, tea rooms and jazz bars rather than the beer-swilling, spontaneous dancing that St Anton is famous for.
In Zürs there’s a disco in the Edelweiss hotel and a piano bar in the Alpenhof. However, with its own nightclub, Vernissage, Robinson Club Alpenrose – open until late – is considered the best nightspot in town.
Mountains huddle around Zürs – a small village high up the Flexen mountain pass. Offering a typical Austrian ski holiday experience without the potential crowds of Lech, Zürs, perched at 1,707 metres (5,600 feet), is strictly a winter-sports community; when the season is over, the hotels close. A quiet piece of skiing paradise, Zürs has good snow and great lifts which start in the centre of the village. Zürs is lift-linked to Stuben, St Christoph and St Anton via Trittkopfbahn and Flexen gondolas allowing access to the entire Ski Arlberg interconnected ski area. Zürs has some good gentle runs and a nice kindergarten area, but the main appeal comes from the away-from-it-all long red runs on both sides of the valley and the off-piste routes they access. It also has a limited number of skiers – at least until about 10am, when the ski crowd descends from Lech and St Anton.
Accommodation consists of mainly ski-in, ski-out four- and five-star hotels, purpose-built in traditional style, and while there is some nightlife, it is quiet.
If you enjoy a spot of retail therapy, Lech has numerous boutiques. It also has its own small museum. Or take a stroll along the Lech creek towards Zug. The fresh mountain air, crisp snow and magnificent view of the surrounding peaks can’t be beaten. Cap it off with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the idyllic landscape back to Lech.
Visit the sport.park.lech indoor sports centre, or practise pirouettes on the open-air skating rinks in Zürs. The atmospheric campfire setting is perfect to enjoy with a steaming mug of glühwein.
If you have time, visit the lively and popular ski resort of St Anton, just 20 min utes by bus from Lech-Zürs. Hop on the telecabine to the top of Valluga, and enjoy stunning scenery.
Food and drink
Many of the hotels in Lech-Zürs offer full- or half-board accommodation, which can be good value if you don’t mind returning to the hotel to eat.
Away from your hotel there’s no shortage of slope-side snack bars where you can enjoy a hot chocolate with schlag (whipped cream) on a sunny terrace. Or if you need more sustenance, stop at one of the numerous ski huts for some traditional Austrian cuisine. The Seekopf mountain restaurant boasts amazing views from its terrace and delicious food from its kitchen, such as the Vorarlberg cheese spätzle in the ‘Holzgebse’ – tiny egg dumplings mixed with local cheese, fried onions and a side salad.
Back in town – and with most being in Lech – bakeries, gourmet restaurants with fusion menus and dark-timber chalets serve everything from international to regional and rustic cuisine. The modern and stylish Fux restaurant is noted for its good food and excellent wine list, or for a more down-to-earth meal there’s the cosy Cafe Fritz.
Where to stay
ROBINSON CLUB ALPENROSE ZÜRS enjoys a prime location, right next to Zürs’ main ski lifts and with a ski hire shop next door. It has comfortable rooms, a lounge with a blazing fireplace, a cosy bar with a dance floor, a nightclub and a sun terrace, not to mention the WellFit® spa – perfect for relaxing after a day on the slopes. The food is divine – from sumptuous breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets to decadent afternoon tea.
Families will enjoy the on-hand childcare, too, and the hotel can organise skiing lessons for both adults and children.
A week’s stay starts from £1,127 per person full board (based on two adults sharing).
TIME DIFFERENCE: GMT +1
VISA: Not required.
INSURANCE: Recommended, with winter-sports cover.
SKI HIRE: There is no shortage of ski and board rental shops in the resorts but they can be quite pricey if you just walk into them. If you want a bargain, book online in advance. Try Friendly Brändle ski and sports fashion (firstname.lastname@example.org, 0043 5583 2660).
LIFT PASSES: A six-day lift pass for the Arlberg region costs from €300 (£272) per adult, €259 (£235) for teenagers and €180 (£163) per child.
SKI SCHOOLS: There are a number of high-level ski schools available for all types of skiers. Try Skischool Zürs (skischule-zuers.at, 0043 5583 2611).
GETTING THERE: Innsbruck Airport is just one and a half hours away. Both easyjet.com and flybe.com fly direct from the UK.