x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

My kind of place: St Anton

The Austrian town has reinvented itself to become one of Europe's top ski destinations.

The Tyrolean Alps around the Austrian town of St Anton have helped make this charming town one of Europe's top ski destinations.

Mike Powell /Getty Images
The Tyrolean Alps around the Austrian town of St Anton have helped make this charming town one of Europe's top ski destinations. Mike Powell /Getty Images

Why St Anton?

By popular consent, the Arlberg ski circus has the best slopes in Austria and St Anton is the jewel in its crown. In the 20th century, the no-nonsense party village was bisected by the main line from Zurich to Vienna: skiers queuing at the level crossing to get to the lifts flinched as high-speed trains blasted past. At the dawn of the 21st century, it realised its dream of putting the tracks underground, turning the centre into a green lung that includes a lake with fairy lights and a children's playground. With cars barred from the picturesque main street, the resort is charming, convenient and irrepressible.

I love St Anton for its amazing slopes and vibrant nightlife, but there is something for everyone in the five resorts on the Arlberg pass. The nearest neighbours are chic St Christophe and traditional Stuben, both with connecting lifts. For the past 700 years, the hamlet of St Christophe has been dominated by the Hospiz hotel, significantly more luxurious in 2011 than when it first sheltered stranded travellers in the 14th century. Stuben is the powderhound's choice: north- facing Albona opens up wonderful off-piste adventures. Lech and Zurs, deluxe linked outposts with heated chairlifts, are a short drive away.

A comfortable bed

St Anton has several handsome traditional hotels in the pedestrian zone, notably the Schwarzer Adler (www.schwarzeradler.com), the Post (www.hotel-post.co.at) and the Alte Post (www.hotel-alte-post.at), but the only five-star is Raffl's St Antoner Hof (www.antonerhof.com; 00 43 5446 291), tucked away on the edge of the village. It is a rustic boutique, with 37 rooms, most of them suites, an extensive spa and an excellent chef. Half board from €220 (Dh1,077) per person, per night. The Bergschlossl (www.bergschloessl.at; 00 43 5446 2220), a turreted luxury b&b, is as ski-in, ski-out as it gets. Double rooms cost from €157 (Dh770) per night.

Find your feet

The slopes on the Valluga above the village are awesome, with steep bowls and tough chutes for the intrepid, long cruisers for mileage hunters and base-level nursery slopes for never-evers. Thanks to the innovative Ferris wheel people-mover installed in 2006 from the resort to the mid-station at Galzig, it is now much easier to get around the mountain quickly. Until 2009, taking the gondola to Rendl, St Anton's second ski area, required a bus ride, but intelligent lateral thinking has contrived a replacement that runs directly out of the village.

Rendl has connoisseur's powder, but St Anton's historic "must dos" are the Schindler Kar and Mattun steps on the Valluga's upper slopes. The 15-person cable car to the top accesses the classic off-piste descent to Zurs, only permitted with a guide because the first section is above treacherous rocks. The 10km cruiser from the Vallugagrat to Stuben is a lovely intermediate rollercoaster: do it without stopping and you'll know you got out of bed. And that's without touching on the Kapall half of the mountain, linked to cheap and cheerful Nasserein. The Arlberg Ski School (00 43 5446 3411) was a benchmark when the pioneering downhill racer Hannes Schneider established it as a world first in 1921-1922 - and it still is.

Meet the locals

Head for the open-air ice rink for a game of eisstock, or Bavarian curling. First identified in a painting by the 16th-century Dutch artist Pieter Breughel, the sport took off in Germany and Austria 300 years later. The victor is he who lands his stock, a disc with a gliding surface and wooden handle, closest to the target rubber ring. Franz Klammer, Austria's legendary downhill champion, plays eisstock with the deadly accuracy that brought him an Olympic gold in 1976. Expect the same passion from his compatriots in St Anton.

Book a table

For the best long lunch in town, reserve a table by a picture window in the Verwallstube (00 43 5446 235250) in the Galzig mid-station. The menu is unexpected but delectable: lobster ravioli, baked monkfish, bouillabaisse with garlic mayonnaise, noodles with shaved truffle. In the evening, the Museum Restaurant (00 43 4556 2475) specialises in gourmet Austrian cooking. Put in your order and check out St Anton's history in the Ski and Folk Museum while your food is prepared. The setting is a handsome early 20th-century mansion with marble fireplaces and wood panelling from the Czech Republic. You can see it in The Chalet Girl, a romantic comedy starring Bill Nighy and Felicity Jones due to be released in February. The Hotel Montjola (00 43 5446 2302) serves eight varieties of fondue in a cosy ambiance.

Shopper's paradise

Most of the shops sell sporting goods at inflated prices. The windows in St Anton's pedestrian zone display the full range of designer wear in the new season's colours - red, purple and pink - backed up by top-of-the-line skis and snowboards. Antiques, jewellery and music are also available. The central supermarket supplies almost anything you forgot to pack. It's tempting to regroup frequently in cafes showcasing cream cakes.

What to avoid

Give Arlberg-well.com a miss. The eyesore building, the legacy of the 2001 World Alpine Championships, houses a starkly chilly wellness and leisure centre with indoor and outdoor pools, fitness rooms, saunas and hammans. The multi-purpose hall is used for international congresses and, more rewardingly, for high-profile tennis tournaments and events, such as the Arlberger New Year's concert, which is a regional star.

Don't miss

A romantic evening sleigh ride to the Verwall restaurant (00 43 5446 3249), a brisk 45-minute trot from the village centre. Originally a hunting lodge, it is now a picturesque tavern with loads of schmaltz. Don't forget the carrots.