With four of us travelling together on our European rail trip this summer, it made sense to rent an apartment instead of booking two hotel rooms when we were in a city for a few days. But as we only had a couple of nights in St Anton – and one was my mum’s birthday – we decided to splash out on a bit of luxury in the lovely Valluga Hotel.
Every winter, the town of St Anton am Arlberg in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps becomes a mecca for skiers and snowboarders. Rated as one of Europe’s top resorts, winter sports fans come from around the world to take advantage of its fantastic pistes and the serious après-ski partying after hours. But what happens when the snow melts and the skiers head home?
On a Swiss scenic train journey you can see a procession of lakes, snow-capped mountains, dramatic gorges, alpine meadows and pretty villages from the comfort of your train carriage seat. But along with its reputation for stunning scenery, Switzerland also has an equally well-deserved reputation for being an expensive place to visit. Two of the country’s most scenic train journeys – the Bernina Express and Glacier Express – travel through some of its finest scenery in special tourist trains with fancy glass-walled observation carriages.
I never thought I’d like skiing – I’m not hugely sporty and I can’t stand being cold – so it wasn’t until my late 20s that I was finally convinced to give it a go. And unexpectedly I loved it. The feeling of freedom as I finally mastered parallel turns and made it down to the bottom of the piste without falling over. The gorgeous mountain scenery, with log cabins fringed with icicles and fir trees laden with snow drifts.
I might not be able to fit a ski trip in this year, but each winter a part of my heart lies out on the slopes of the Three Valleys. This huge ski area in the French Alps, covering famous resorts like Méribel, Courcheval and Val Thorens, is where I learnt to ski and where I’ve been back again and again since. There are over 370 miles worth of pistes to ski or snowboard on, with pretty alpine villages and snow-dusted pine tree forests in between them.
When you think of ski resorts in the French Alps, it’s probably the big names that come to mind: Courcheval, Val D’Isere, Tignes, Chamonix. But there are hundreds of smaller resorts scattered across the Alps which don’t get the same amount of publicity, or visitors. I’d got the ski bug a few years ago and loved the whole experience – the gorgeous mountain scenery, the cosy log fires, not to mention the mulled wine and variety of cheese-based foods. I thought about spending a season in the snow but I didn’t fancy the hours of working as a chalet host.
Its name might change depending on which side of the border you’re standing, but the Matterhorn (or should that be Monte Cervino or Mont Cervin?) is one of the Alps’ most iconic peaks in any language. Its distinctive shape – allegedly the inspiration for the shape of Toblerone chocolate bars – towers over the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt at almost 4500 metres high. It’s impressive enough from ground level, but if you want to get a closer look you can take the train from Zermatt up to Gornergrat. The Gornergrat Bahn runs up into the mountains, through alpine meadows in the summer and past skiers on the pistes in the winter.
In the French Alps last week, I took stacks of the classic blue sky, white snow photos, but thought I’d try something different and see how they look in black and white. They were taken just outside the small mountain town of Méribel-Mottaret. Just along from the busy ski lifts, a path takes you into a completely different silent, snowy world. Paths for walkers and cross-country skiers lead around the frozen lake, the Lac du Tueda (complete with its ‘No swimming’ sign still visible poking up out of the snow).