Travel agent Voyage Privé were offering a great deal on a week in Obergurgl, in the Ötztal Alps in Austria, with Inghams. A good Monarch flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck, flight time 90 minutes, meant that we arrived at about 1700, but the rep told us we then had to wait for two other flights to arrive from Exeter and Edinburgh. So we didn't leave the airport until nearly 1900, and got to Obergurgl 90 minutes later just as it was getting dark, to find that it had snowed that day (in August!).
On the way back at the end of the holiday, there were similar delays, meaning that we didn't get to check-in at the airport until just an hour before our flight was to leave. We barely had time to glance at the small airport shop before our flight was called. This was a shame as it meant that the only seats left were without any views of the magnificent ascent along and out of the valley between the mountains on either side of the plane.
A lovely hotel, small and friendly, run by the Köll family. Our room was excellent, with a separate seating area with a sofa, table, minibar, TV (inc BBC1 and Channel 4!), a writing desk area (though without an electric socket nearby), plenty of hanging and shelf space, space to hang coats, and a reasonable-sized room safe. The good big bathroom had plenty of shelf space, mirrors, towel rail, a bath with shower over, and a separate WC. Big wide windows looked out up the valley side (our room, no 307, was at the back), and a door led out to the east-facing balcony. Comfortable bed, with bedside tables and free power points on each side.
There's free WiFi internet access available in the hotel - I measured excellent download speeds of 3Mbps in our room. Ask reception for a user ID and password.
There's no tea or coffee making facilities, and indeed the hotel claim that boiling a kettle is not only not allowed, but even illegal.
There's a small but comfortable lounge area next to Reception, with windows looking down the valley, a bookshelf with a few books (mostly in German), and a "wine cellar", where they also hold fondue evenings once a week (a few euros extra). There's also a cozy bar and seating area, and a spacious dining room.
Food was excellent. For breakfast there is a good choice of cereals, bread and a toaster, an egg-boiler, lots of ham and cheese, rolls, fruit, juices, and a choice of tea or coffee.
Our holiday deal included a packed lunch every day, which included small ham and cheese rolls, a chocolate & banana bar, and a piece of fruit - apples were best. Sometimes we were given oranges, which are impractical to eat halfway up a mountain - I always feel I need a shower after eating an orange.
Dinner was usually four courses, starting with salad buffet and appetisers (bits of ham, sausage etc), then a soup, followed by a choice of two or three main courses (usually inc a veggie option), then a choice of the sweet of the day or ice cream or the cheese board. Only two rather overpriced red and white wines were listed on the menu. We were bemused to see that the more expensive wines were cheaper by the glass than by the bottle...!
From the centre of Obergurgl there's a bit of a slog up a path and the road to get to Hotel Olympia, but the walkers that are attracted to this hotel will take this in their stride.
There are about 400 residents in this small village where the road comes to an end at the head of the Ötz valley at 1900 metres altitude (over 500 metres higher than the top of Ben Nevis). However, the place is full of hotels and gets packed in winter for the skiing. It's a lot quieter in summer, when many of the hotels, restaurants and lifts are shut, but attracts those who like to walk in the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking, surrounded by mountain ridges reaching over 3000 metres, and with a score of glaciers overlooking the village in hanging valleys, cwms and at the head of side valleys.
There's a tourist information office selling maps and stuff, a Post Office, a doctor's surgery, a Spar supermarket, a bank, and several skiing gear/outdoors shops. From the village centre there's a bus service running down the length of the Ötz valley, with a spur up to the border crossing into Italy at Timmelsjoch at 2500m.
Just above Obergurgl is the "Zirbenwald" – a small pine forest, now a protected nature reserve, that is all that remains of the indigenous forest that used to cover the valley thousands of years ago. There's a circular nature trail, with a dozen information boards explaining the fragile high alpine ecosystem. Lots of Nutcrackers to be seen flying among the pine trees.
On the other side of the river is a path up past a couple of waterfalls to an area called Am Beilstein where archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of inhabitation as far back as 11,000 years ago.
There is a brilliant cable car that whisks you from the very centre of Obergurgl up to the top of Hohe Mut at 2670m in just 12 minutes. Here there's a bar/restaurant. You can check the webcam to see the weather conditions at the top.
Just a few km down the road from the village is the mammoth Hochgurgl cable car that will take you to the top of Wurmkogl at 3082m, where there is a bar/restaurant called Top Mountain Star. There's a pleasant half-hour riverside walk from Obergurgl village down to this cable car station at the bottom of the valley.
About 15 km further down the valley is the bigger skiing resort of Sölden, with another excellent cable car taking you from the centre up to the Gaislachkogl bar/restaurant at 3020m with sensational views of snow-capped mountain-tops and glaciers disappearing into the far distance in all directions.
We each bought a 7-day Ötztal card for €67, which is a pass for all the cable cars and public buses in the valley. It's fairly easy to make this pay for itself, as the cable cars typically cost €18 or €20. The card also provides free bike hire, and entry into various places such as water parks, adventure parks etc.
We used the Hohe Mut and Hochgurgl cable cars to take us up from the valley floor to begin various walks. From Hohe Mut there are various ways down. Two particular recommendations:
- Walk down into the Rotmoos valley to the Schönwieshütte (another bar/restaurant), then down to see the Rotmoos waterfall, and down through the Zirbenwald, past the Davidshütte for another beer, and then back into Obergurgl. Or after passing through the Zirbenwald, head down to the narrow bridge over the river, cross over and head up the valley past two waterfalls to the ancient settlement area of Am Beilstein. Retrace your steps back past the waterfalls, and carry on down the valley to the lower bridge over the river and up into Obergurgl.
- Walk along the ridge south east from Hohe Mut past the meteorological hut, and then left down into the Gaisberg valley. The path splits into two almost immediately – the left hand path heads down the valley, while the right fork leads to the snout of the glacier at the head of the valley. There are sensational views here in this quiet valley, where we heard and saw marmots whistling their evocative alarm calls to each other as we passed by. After posing on the glacier for photos, you can then walk down the deserted valley past wheatears and flocks of peculiar long-eared sheep to the cable car's middle station and be whisked back down into the centre of Obergurgl.
There are plenty of other well-waymarked and well-maintained mountain paths around Obergurgl, for example, a monster slog from the village centre up the side of the valley to the high Seenplatte past the Soomsee and Nedersee lakes, before descending to the Lenzenalm mountain hut and back to the valley floor to catch the bus back to Obergurgl. We passed up this magnificent walk as the weather forecast was for thunder that day.
We were very lucky with the weather. The snow that had fallen on the Saturday we arrived had nearly all melted by Monday morning, even at the tops of the cable cars, and it only rained one afternoon during our week. Most days we had bright sunshine, and we really needed the sunscreen we'd brought.
Good hotel, great surroundings. Would we come again? Yes, we'd love to, but we might base ourselves in the nearby resorts of Sölden or Vent, just for variety.