Ischgl, rated by many as one of Austria’s top three ski towns, is near the end of the steep-sided and heavily-wooded Paznaun Valley, in the heart of the Silvretta Mountains at the Western end of the Tyrol.
British skiers make up a relatively small percentage of its visitors, so you’re assured a different atmosphere to many other resorts. The skiing is cross-border, with many runs on the Swiss side centred on the duty-free village of Samnaun. And in Paznaun, the neighbouring small resorts of Galtür, Kappl and See provide delightful added attractions – either as a cheaper place to stay, especially for families, or as day-trip diversions from Ischgl.
Ischgl’s lift system, which saw its first cable-car in 1963, is now one of the most sophisticated in Austria, and the resort was the first to have an eight-seater chairlift. Samnaun was the first to boast a double-decker cable-car, and the whole area led the way in the installation of high-speed detachable lifts with magic-carpet loading and weather-bubbles.
The skiing is accessed from Ischgl by no fewer than three gondolaways and the vast slopes above the hub of Idalp soon swallows up skiers and boarders. The skiing, with 238 kms of runs served by 41 lifts, reaches 9,420ft and has a vertical of nearly 5,000ft. Its height ensures a long season, from the end of November to the beginning of May.
Ischgl was one of the first Austrian resorts to embrace boarding in a big way. It has hosted the European Championships and has one of the best terrain parks in Europe.
The resort is famous for big name opening and closing concerts, featuring such stars as Sir Elton John, Kylie Minogue, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Leona Lewis, Lionel Richie, Pink, Tina Turner, Jon Bon Jovi, Diana Ross, Enrique Iglesias, Rod Stewart, Peter Gabriel and Sting.
Eat, drink and sleep Ischgl
Ischgl is surprisingly compact, the two ends linked by an amazing airport-style moving walkway through a tunnel underneath the old village. But it is packed with top-notch hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This is partyville, with a legendary après-ski and nightlife scene – and high end accommodation, including an astonishing 72 four-star hotels and one of Austria’s best five-stars.
Many of the best places to eat are the restaurants of hotels – and Ischgl has one of the most atmospheric in the wood-panelled Paznauner Stube at the Trofana Royal. Celebrity chef Martin Sieberer is one of Austria’s most celebrated and eating here is a true gourmet experience.
The Hotel Madlein also has fine dining, as does the Post. Of the smaller hotels, the Jägerhof never disappoints with its cuisine and the dining room is charming. The Hotel Sonne is central and very popular. Allegra has an interesting menu and it’s possible to order until midnight.
For relaxed early evening dining, Salz und Pfeffer is good, with excellent pizzas.
A great place to eat and soak up the atmosphere is the restaurant of the Hotel Olympia, wood-panelled with 200-year-old pine.
The Trofana Alm morphs from a frenetic après-ski haunt to romantic restaurant at 7.30pm, and is the place for an informal yet atmospheric candle-lit meal.
Ischgl also has fine dining on the mountain, at both Pardorama – Austria’s highest gourmet restaurant – and at the superbly luxurious Alpenhaus, all slippers, leather chairs and open fires. Lunches at both these venues will stretch way into the afternoon.
And, back in the village, at the other end of the scale, you can get a toasted sandwich at 3am at Die Einkehr and there’s even a Burger King.
Wow – well, probably no ski village in Europe has a more varied or lively choice. Après-ski here is truly awesome – start off at the Romantic Hutt’n or the Trofana Alm if you finish your skiing at the Silvrettabahn end of town. If you ski down to the Pardatschgratbahn you can take your skis off and be within yards of Schatzi (at the Hotel Elisabeth), one of the Alps’ most well-known bars. Well-known, I should say, for scantily-clad girls in mini dirndls, dancing on the bar or on upturned beer barrels outside. Very fetching they look too.
But don’t miss, nearby, Niki’s Stadl, where you may well see Niki in late season conducting DJ operations from the cradle of a huge crane outside. The main bar is usually packed but you can have a quieter drink in the long conservatory overlooking the river. Nearby is the Kitzloch which has its moments too – and a few doors away is Toni’s Apres-Ski Bar, a little less frenetic and open until the early hours.
Fire and Ice in the village centre has bar football and pool, and Kuhstall, opposite is often heaving with people.
Later, the options are wide too, with nightclub options such as Pacha, the Post Keller, Trofana Arena and Living Room.
The Golden Eagle ‘English’ pub has a good selection of draught beer and Guxa is good for a quieter drink, as is the very pleasant and stylish Kiwi Bar, tucked out of the way opposite the church.
Accommodation is largely hotel-based, with some apartments available. And the bulk of the hotels are high end – Ischgl is one of the most stylish of resorts. The Hotel Madlein has gained a name for cutting-edge style, with some of its rooms displaying a minimalist Zenism.
The Elisabeth couldn’t be more perfectly located, right at the foot of the runs on the Pardatschgratbahn side of the village. The Solaria is traditional, warm and welcoming and the Jägerhof is one of our favourites. At the other end of the village, we like the Gramaser – as do the locals who frequent the restaurant and bar.
The four-star Post is right in the centre and popular with some of the stars who visit – while the five-star Trofana Royal is rightly credited with being one of Austria’s finest, also with one of the biggest spas (try the Cleopatra bath and bathe in asses’ milk).
But it’s also possible to find some good-value bed and breakfast gasthauses, and you’re never far from a gondola station.
More details of accommodation in Ischgl.
What’s happening in Ischgl for the 2010-11 ski season?
The big news this winter is the opening of a new luxury six-seater ‘designer’ chairlift, with heated seats and orange-tinted weather bubbles. The eight-million euro Lange Wand chairlift will run from the Höllenkar Valley, a little above the Höllboden restaurant, up to the Greitspitz, Ischgl’s top station at 2,872-metres – and open up challenging runs that drop down from the Greitspitz.
Dec 26: Christmas magic as the Paznaun children’s choir sing carols and other Christmas songs from around the world in the Silvretta Centre.
Jan 10-14: Sculptures in White, when art meets snow – snow sculptors from all over Europe compete to create the most striking masterpiece, and they stay on display all over the mountain until spring comes. Vampires is this winter’s theme.
April 11: Ski Race of Cooks – celebrity chefs leave the kitchen to see who’s fastest on the mountain.
Blue runs – 47 kms.
Red – 152 kms.
Black – 27 kms.
Off-piste ski routes – 12 kms
Total length of pistes – 238 kms. The ‘Eleven’ piste is one of the longest in Austria, with a drop of 1,472 metres. It starts at the Greitspitze, black at first, then consistently red all the way back to the village.
Forty-one lifts in total, with more than 800 snow cannon and 32 piste bashers.
Each of the Paznaun resorts, Ischgl, Galtür, Kappl and See has impressive toboggan runs. Ischgl’s is seven kilometres long and runs from the top gondola station at Idalp back to the village.