Travel journalist Jan Henderson discovers the famous Austrian ski destination is much more than just a party town
Consider these propositions – you ski hard and fast and you like to après ski and party the same way; you like to cruise leisurely blues and reds and would prefer to take it easy in the evening in a good restaurant; you need a good ski school and nursery slopes to get the kids up and running in a family-orientated resort for when you are not on the piste.
Sounds like you need three very different destinations for your hard-earned ski holiday – well, not necessarily so, because the combined resorts of Ischgl and Kappl in Austria can comfortably meet all three requirements at the same time. Let me explain…..
Ischgl, some 90 minutes from Innsbruck, has long held the well-deserved reputation as one of Austria’s pre-eminent party towns – the après ski bars are packed and buzzing from mid-afternoon as skiers come off the slopes, while a variety of establishments will keep the most ardent of clubbers busy until the early hours, if that’s your thing.
And then, of course, there’s the live music that bookends the ski season – concerts that have become legendary over the years. Ischgl pretty much wrote the book about about big, on piste concerts – quite a few places do it now, but the Austrian resort has been doing it longer, bigger and better than anyone else. Not a place to do anything by halves, Ischgl launched its then groundbreaking end of season live Top of The Mountain concerts at the end of March in 1995 with no less a rock superstar than Elton John. There’s also a big gig to kick off the season in late November, helping emphasise how long the slopes are open every winter.
Elton having set a pretty high bar, they have followed with a swathe of huge names from rock and pop over the next nearly-25 years with such household names as Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, Sting, Lionel Richie, Scissor Sisters, Stereophonics, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, Deep Purple, Muse, Elton again, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue and The Beach Boys, to name but a few. This year the ski season comes to a close with Lenny Kravitz headlining the Top of the Mountain concert on April 30.
So one way or another, Ischgl is a pretty happening place if you want to party and have fun – and that’s before you consider the skiing, which, after all, is the reason most people are there. I’m happy to report that the skiing is pretty damn good too, especially this year with some awesome snowfalls making for nigh-on perfect conditions. The Silvretta area lift pass gives access to Ischgl, Kappl and Galtür (a 20-minute free ski bus away), 330 km of pistes, amazing off-piste and some of the best snowboarding in the Alps. The area also enjoys excellent snow records until late into the season.
The resort makes the most of its proximity to the Swiss resort of Samnaun - a duty-free haven which historically encouraged contraband across the border. Marked 'smugglers routes' can now be followed using the iSki Ischgl App, with the most extensive 'gold' circuit covering 35.7km kilometres of piste, with a total vertical of 6,463m. Those who successfully complete their chosen circuit can enter prize draws every day, weekly and for each season.
For advanced skiers there's a good range of on-piste blacks and some fantastic touring routes, while intermediates can test themselves on the slopes of the Palinkopf area which offers an excellent selection of red runs, including some particularly challenging ones.
Which brings us back to our second original category – the blue/red cruisers with a taste for a more relaxed evening of cocktails followed by good food rather than dancing on the tables and partying into the early hours… Ischgl ably caters for them too. We stayed at the stylish and comfortable Hotel Brigitte, set a little apart, but still only a short walk from the buzzing town centre and offering a relaxed cocktail bar and a restaurant with an extensive and varied menu if you have opted for the half board option.
Venture out into the town and you have a wide palate to tempt you, from Burger King at one end of the spectrum to the fabulous gourmet experience at the 5 star Trofana Royal Hotel, where Michelin-starred chef Martin Sieberer creates mouthwatering works of art… I’m glad to say we experienced the latter, and it was a stunning delight to all the senses – a meal I will remember for many years to come. Of course meals like this come with a price tag to match, but there are plenty of excellent restaurants to enjoy in Ischgl for a less stratospheric outlay, without resorting to a Whopper at Burger King.
Ischgl is really a resort for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders – but if you are looking for somewhere to holiday with the kids, there’s Kappl just up the road and on the Silvretta ski pass. Named The Sunny Mountain, Kappl has a more modest 42 kilometres of slopes – mostly aimed at intermediates and a lot more laid back and relaxed than neighbouring Ischgl.
With a fantastic ski school it’s the perfect place to get the kids confident and up to speed while you cruise the blues, reds and friendly blacks – or maybe even some of the exceptional ungroomed and off piste opportunities on offer.
If you tire of the skiing, Ischgl has plenty of alternatives to offer you, including tobogganing, snow-shoeing, ice skating and especially an exciting zipwire, the Ischgl Skyfly, where you can fly down along a cable, suspended 50m above the ground, two kilometres toward the valley in the direction of Ischgl and reaching speeds of up to 85km/h. The Skyfly’s not cheap at 39 Euros a pop, or 25 Euros for kids, but it’s an exhilarating experience… and hardly scary at all!
There’s no getting away from the fact that Ischgl is one of the top party capitals of the Alps – but it is so much more than that, and really does offer something for pretty much every category of skier. Put it on your bucket list!
Inghams is offering a seven-night ski holiday on a half board basis at the four-star superior Hotel Brigitte in Ischgl, Austria, from £1,189 per person based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and airport transfers. The package is valid for travel departing on 23rd March 2019. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays or call 01483 791 114.
For independent travel, fly easyJet (Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Bristol) or BA (Gatwick, Heathrow) to Innsbruck. Use the booking facility on www.ischgl.com or www.kappl.com for a range of accommodation from apartments through to 5* hotels. Or book direct with hotels. For example, a direct booking at Hotel Brigitte is from €126 pp per night half board www.hotel-brigitte-ischgl.at
The Silvretta skipass, covering the four resorts of Ischgl, Galtür, Kappl and See is from €256.50 for 6 days. The Resort Options Pass is from €240 which gives four days in Ischgl and two in neighbouring resorts. Skyfly is €39 pp per ride.
The main UK tour operators to Ischgl are Inghams, Crystal, Ski Solutions and Zenith Holidays.