Tucked away in a stunningly beautiful hanging valley in the Tyrol east of Innsbruck, Wildschönau is made up of three ski areas, Niederau, Oberau and Auffach – so hidden that many people fly by on the autobahn along the Inn Valley not knowing what a magical place is just a few hairpin bends away up the mountain.
Leave the bustling town of Wörgl and take the twisting road up to Wildschönau, then through a cleft in the mountains, and it really does feel as if you’re entering another world – a sort of Shangri-la cloaked in snow throughout the winter.
The valley is home to a collection of charming little resorts, which are also real living villages. The skiing here is geared to the needs of families, and is perfect for beginners and intermediates. But there is also, with a guide, a great deal of off-piste potential and it is the starting point for a great variety of ski-touring routes.
Niederau is the biggest village and the first you come to. Oberau is small and picturesque with a handful of lifts, while Auffach, further up the valley, has the biggest ski area and some excellent high level runs, with heavily wooded slopes protecting the snow.
There’s also an idyllic little oasis of tranquillity called Thierbach, a tiny village with one ski lift, a few guesthouses and a school with a few pupils – but a short journey by bus or car from the rest of the skiing, and for good skiers who choose to stay there, the possibility of skiing back home on a great off-piste run.
The Feldalphorn is the gateway for many ski-touring adventures – and you can drive as far as Schonanger, past Auffach, before the hard work starts. The tourist office and ski schools should be your first ports of call when planning a ski-touring excursion.
Eat, drink and sleep Wildschönau
This is a valley that exudes the good life – and plenty of excellent restaurants serve great food using lots of local produce. Bars are full of character and accommodation ranges from clean and comfortable to outright luxurious.
You won’t go far wrong eating at the Hotel Austria in Niederau – it’s where many locals head for as well as visitors, and has an international menu as well as local specialities. For Italian, try Ferrari – not on Tuesdays though…Austrian establishments still often cling to their one day off a week. And there’s the Pizzeria Milano in Niederau too.
Oberau also has a good Italian option, with a football flavour – Italia 90. You’ll get the red card on Monday though, their night off.
At the Kellerwirt in Oberau, Hans Keller is a legendary host of a traditional Tyrolean inn that has been in his family for six generations. He’s a Man United supporter but don’t hold that against him. The food is excellent and his wine list is legendary – try to get in on a wine tasting in the cellar, deep within the 12th century walls of the hotel. Maybe after some night skiing, when he often rides his bicycle down the piste.
Also in Oberau the Gasthof Dorferwirt is known for authentic Tyrolean specialities. At the Talhof in Oberau you can eat lamb from their own sheep and fish from the hotel’s own small trout farm, with the boss Josef Riedmann often at work in the kitchen.
At the Platzl in Auffach, chef Walter Frey likes to add his own twist to some traditional Tyrolean dishes – such as pork with pear croquettes or bream in a red curry sauce. And the Riedlhof Hut at Oberau should be visited – it has probably the biggest wiener schnitzel in the Alps, capable of hiding all the chips underneath.
Wildschönau has an exceptionally peaceful air about it – but hidden beneath the tranquillity are some lively après-ski bars. Bobo’s Heustadl Bar, next to the base area at Niederau, is the place to head for after skiing and it’s the favourite of many locals. In Auffach, the Grutt’n Bar is worth a drop-in, while in Oberau the Sno Blau bar at the Hotel Tirolerhof is one of the hotspots. The Starchenstuberl and the Keller Bar also draw the crowds straight after skiing in Oberau.
Niederau has the liveliest nightlife in the valley, with clubbers heading for the Cave Bar in the Hotel Staffler, O’Malley’s Irish Pub and the Dorfstub’n.
The very comfortable and friendly Hotel Austria is perfectly located across the road from the lifts near the base area at Niederau – and handy for the après-ski too.
For a truly luxurious stay, consider the Hotel Sonnschein, which has an excellent range of leisure facilities and is a great choice for families.
For more information visit accommodation in Niederau.
The delightful Hotel Silberberger, with its indoor swimming pool and spa, will pamper you in Oberau (and it’s noted for its cuisine too).
In Auffach, the Auffacherhof is close to the slopes and the lifts – and in its spa you can treat your skied out body to a whole range of saunas including Nordic, bio, infra-red or herbal. And you can try an air bubble foot spa and a hay flower bed. To be followed by a hot chocolate massage perhaps!
So, what’s happening in Wildschönau during the 2010-11 season?
January 29: The 13th International Brass Musicians Ski Championship, on the FIS track at Schatzberg.
February 4: Oberau Snowfest – lighting of fires, live music and ski demonstrations by the local ski schools. Free entrance, starts at 7pm.
Every Sunday: Ski Show at Bobo’s Heustadl Bar.
Blue runs – 15kms. Red – 43kms. Black – 12kms. Nursery slopes in all three villages.
Total length of pistes – 70kms. Total number of lifts – 25, with skiing up to 1,900metres.
Snowmaking covers 30kms of runs.
A 5km toboggan run at Auffach starts at the middle station at Schatzberg and snakes its way down to the village of Thierbach, where hot gluhwein will be waiting in a cosy stube. The run can be done by moonlight. There is a floodlit toboggan run at Oberau, open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but groups can book any day.
Wildschönau won the ‘Small but Excellent’ category in the German Automobile Association awards, taking into account family friendliness, variety, fun park, alpine skiing, Nordic walking, cross country skiing and après ski.
For more information about Wildschonau, visit Crystal’s ski holidays in Austria page.
Resort guide written by Rob Freeman