Sandie Kestell, Lonely Planet’s destination editor for Central and Eastern Europe, recently returned from Obergurgl in the Austrian Alps. Here, she highlights the destination’s best places to ski, eat and sleep in – and what you shouldn’t miss.
I’ve just returned from the Gurgl in Tyrol’s Ötztal Valley, deep in the Austrian Alp. I made the trip over a long weekend in mid-November for the opening of the 2022–23 ski season. Having never skied this early in the season, I was keen to check out snow conditions, get some practice after the long off-season and have a short wintry adventure in what’s known as the Diamond of the Alps.
The highlight was undoubtedly the skiing. The high altitude (between 1800 and 3080m/5905ft and 10,105ft) here ensures a blanket of snow from mid-November to late April – and it’s the first ski area in Tyrol to kick off the season (if you don’t count the glaciers). We crisscrossed between Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, chasing the sunshine, exploring the slopes and stopping into cozy mountain huts to sample the local cuisine.
In Gurgl, you must try…
Kaiserschmarrn: sweet Austrian chopped pancakes with a sprinkling of icing sugar on top and applesauce on the side. After a day of skiing between mountain huts and trying out the best local dishes, we took off our boots and climbed aboard the Hohe Mut Bahn I gondola and headed to the Nederhütte ski hut for our last stop of the day. In high season, this family-run hut is the place for après-ski, and although it was quieter on the Sunday night we visited, the après music still played in the background, offering a chill atmosphere.
We settled at a cozy table in the corner to await our last specialty of the day: Kaiserschmarrn, usually served by the plate. Yet my eyes widened as our waiter brought out a gigantic pan of the delicious chopped pancakes for the whole table. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, they were pure pancake-y goodness, with the applesauce adding another sweet dimension. And yes, we all had seconds.
Kaiserschmarrn (left) and Tiroler Gröstl (right) are Austrian comfort dishes that will warm up any skier
The top spot for Tiroler Gröstl in Gurgl is…
Top Mountain Crosspoint Restaurant, a table-service mountain hut at 2200m (7215ft) in Hochgurgl. This local dish is a hearty fry-up of potato, bacon and onion topped with a fried egg that originated (as the name suggests) in the Tyrol region. It’s the perfect dish to warm you – and fill you – up after a morning on the mountain.
We found ourselves here two days in a row, and I couldn’t resist ordering the delicious Gröstl on both days. The restaurant itself has a modern alpine decor with a sunny terrace and decorative nods to the owners’ (brothers Alban and Attila Scheiber) love of motorcycles, also on show in the adjacent Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum.
Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl
In Gurgl, I stayed at…
The four-star Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl in Obergurgl, a ski-in, ski-out hotel with plenty of modern alpine charm and friendly staff. The location couldn’t be better for skiers. From the basement boot room, you can take the escalator up to ground level, leaving you just a few steps from both the Rosskarbahn and the Hohe Mut Bahn gondola stations. This means you won’t lose any valuable ski time as you make your way from your accommodation to the slopes.
The hotel also has a beautiful spa and wellness area with an indoor and outdoor pool where you can relax and unwind after a day on the powder.
Sandie hits the slopes
In Gurgl, I got away from the crowds by…
Getting out on the mountain early in the morning. With 25 mountain lifts and 112km (7o miles) of slopes, the Gurgl ski area is extensive, with plenty of room for skiers and boarders of all abilities to find their own space to cruise around. Still, there is something special about being out here first thing in the morning with your own small group, when all you can hear is the sound of your own skis gliding over the fresh snow.
From Gurgl, you should bring back…
Edelweiss sheep-milk soap from Ovis. Full disclosure: I love bar soap, so when I saw this at Lohmann as I wandered through town, I couldn’t resist. It has a lovely scent and will remind me of the Alps long after I return home.
Sandie’s monocular (top left corner) came in handy for spotting wildlife on the mountains
The one item I recommend bringing to Gurgl is…
A monocular, which works like binoculars but with only a single small telescope. I used mine to enjoy the mountain views of the Ötztal Alps and South Tyrol’s Dolomites, see other skiers, and try and spot some mountain wildlife (I spotted a mountain goat from a gondola!). I prefer to ski without a backpack, so my little monocular fit in my jacket pocket with the other few items I took on the mountain.
Sandie Kestell traveled to Obergurgl at the invitation of the Austrian National Tourist Board and Ötztal Tourismus. Lonely Planet staff members do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.