So here we are at the very start of December in Austria and skiing is guaranteed. In fact, it would have been guaranteed a couple of months ago here because up on the Stubai Glacier it’s the non-skiing months that are in the minority – you’ll find snow here from October to June. So no worries about whether you’re going to be able to ski or not. You are.
The Stubai Alps are Austria’s biggest ski area, just 45 minutes from Innsbruck with 26 cable cars and lifts and 35 downhill slopes for all levels. The most family friendly area is the Schlick 2000 ski centre with 22km of pistes and Big Ron’s Kinderland – a kind of snowy amusement park – and plenty of traditional bars and lodges for refuelling. Kids under 10 travel free on all the lifts. In the area above the little town of Neustift, you’ll find the Elferbahnen slopes for those who like a challenge and the Serlesbahnen for beginners. Then there’s a high-speed ski course, the longest sled run in the Tyrol and, for arguably the best mountain view in the Alps, the “Top of the Tyrol” a floating platform at 3,210m with views of literally hundreds of summits and the biggest walk-in sundial in the Alps, part art installation, part time-piece. So something for everyone.
The Major and I have come to Neustift to enjoy a spot of early skiing alongside the more sybaritic delights of the Jagdhof spa-hotel. The Jagdhof is super-luxurious (it’s a Relais & Chateaux hotel) but also very Austrian – lots of wood and rustic charm, deep wooden balconies and astonishing views of the mountains with the glacier glistening in the winter sun. Our room is more of a suite with a wrap-around balcony; the sitting-room and bedroom both look down the valley to the glacier; and the bathroom is massive and filled with all kinds of Molton Brown goodies, as well as a massive wicker basket to use in the spa.
Walking around Neustift on our first afternoon, the Major suddenly recalls this was where he caught the bus with his brother (the General) when they went climbing in the Stubai Alps a few years ago. They “skied” down the glacier, he reminisces, in their boots – they were there in July when there was just bare ice and no snow. That was certainly not the case early the next morning when he caught the hotel’s shuttle to the glacier to find a fresh snowfall, a full day’s skiing and a sighting of two chamoix scampering off piste down the mountain at a pace only dreamed of by speed skiers.
Meanwhile, I headed to the spa. Now this is not quite as lazy as it sounds as I’d signed up for two morning sessions with one of the Jagdhof’s sports team, Julia. First we were in the pool for Aquagym followed by a Pilates session. As it turned out, I was the only guest to have signed up for either – so it was a private lesson both times. Lucky me! The hotel has a swim-through indoor-outdoor pool and we used both. Strangely, the water felt even warmer outside and the steam rose above our heads as we crunched and twisted and jumped for 45 minutes. No slacking here, or indeed in the Pilates class, where Julia treated me to a far tougher version of the one I do at home!
After a late leisurely breakfast, it was back to the spa for treatments. There was a lovely aromatherapy massage with the sweet smell of orange oil, plenty of added shiatsu and the manipulation of just about all of my limbs and joints. Then there was the facial, to be precise a !QMS Neo Tissudermie. This was my first experience of !QMS Medicosmetics, the brainchild of physician and cosmetic surgeon Dr Erich Schulte who in the 1970s was a physician and cosmetic surgeon at the University of Gottingen in Germany. Observing the effects of collagen in healing wounds without scarring and refining the skin, he developed a method for deploying soluble collagen in regenerating and rejuvenating cosmetics. I really don’t expect miracles from facials, but this came pretty close. In terms of results, I think this is probably the best facial I’ve ever had.
Jagdhof’s Joyful Spa has a number of !QMS treatments on offer. Mine lasted 90 minutes and started with cleansing and a double exfoliation with eyebrow shaping thrown in. Then the collagen serum was massaged in and, on top of it an alginate mask that was pasted on and felt as heavy as something applied by a plasterer. This dried out in a few minutes and was peeled off, revealing exactly where any lines or imperfections lay. “The mask doesn’t lie,” declared my therapist (another Julia) and got down to applying more collagen in a face, neck and décolleté massage with her self-declared “magic hands” (they are). I thought that was it – but no.
A wet muslin mask is applied to my face and then a Hydro Foam Mask with the texture of shaving cream is sprayed on top and an eye mask applied separately. I was surprised how tingly this felt (this is apparently what it’s supposed to do) then Julia removed the muslin mask and massaged the Hydro Foam in a bit more. At various stages she had showed me my skin’s progress, working on one side at a time so I could compare the differences. Now I looked in the mirror again for the final result and was truly impressed. My skin was lifted and plumped out, lines were minimised.
I bounced out, overjoyed, to meet the Major who looked at me and said, “You look shiny.” Never mind. At least I could tell. The Major was back from his day on the piste and we were heading for the private spa. This a vast suite with beds for treatments, a bed to relax on and a couple of swing seats made for two. You have a huge overflow bath, plus your own steam and sauna. They even give you a plate of fruit and a couple of glasses of champagne before departing and leaving you all to yourselves for two hours. Bliss.
The main Joyful Spa is vast – some 2000sqm. There are numerous relaxation rooms, with waterbeds or giant bean bags, swinging seats and beds with libraries, mountain views or roaring fires. There’s a hydro-meditation room, a salt inhalation grotto, outdoor and indoor Jacuzzis, every kind of sauna and steam, glacier showers and a fountain of youth. Spending a day here is not difficult.
I did have one more treatment to come – the REN Body Balance. REN is the Jagdhof’s other favoured brand. It’s British, high-tech but with only ingredients that are 100% vegetable or mineral based and favoured by Kate Moss, Uma Thurman and Sting. They do quite a few of their facials here but I tried out the Body Balance to “nourish, tone, relax and balance my skin’s microcirculation”. I emerged suitably baby-soft.
So when you’re not skiing or spa-ing, what to do? Well, there’s plenty of wanderen – the Austrians love walking in the mountains. You’re only half an hour from pretty Innsbruck, full of history and music and with a particularly atmospheric Christmas Market. Or you can eat. At the Jagdhof, you have three options. There is the main dining room (most people go half-board here) that offers a five course dinner every night, except Sundays when it’s seven. The wine cellar is considerable.
The chef is German Boris Meyer who has worked at Per Se in New York, NOMA in Copenhagen is passionate about using the local Alpine ingredients. In the fine dining restaurant, Hubertus Stube, he takes you on a culinary tour of Austria. But my absolute favourite was the Tyrol’s smallest gourmet restaurant. The fondue ski gondola has just one table for two to five diners and serves fondue (meat, cheese or chocolate). It’s wood lined, you choose the music – this is the cutest restaurant you’ll ever visit.
So, guaranteed skiing most of the year, fine dining and miracle facials. What’s not to like?
Jagdhof Spa-Hotel. Contact +43 5226 2666 111. For more information, visit www.hotel-jagdhof.at. Jagdhof is part of the Relais & Chateaux group. For more information, including details of other properties in the portfolio, visit www.relaischateaux.com. Finally, to discover other niche destinations, visit www.niche-destinations.com.