Winter Wanderings | Austria

Posted by on January 28, 2005

When Winter comes there are only a couple of choices: hunker down with a raft of Christmas gift books, send out for pizza, and read, OR plan a trip to the sun, or a trip to the mountains for skiing, or a trip anywhere but in the realm of slush and sleet.

Personally I can do it either way, or so I tell myself.  But I notice that in the last several days I am more and more looking forward to a trip we have planned to Southern California in mid-February.

There’s nothing basically wrong with snow, but that is NOT what we’ve been getting around here in central Dutchess.  Mostly it’s been the afore-mentioned slush and sleet.  A good snowstorm is a beautiful thing, and it was even more of a beautiful thing when I was an impassioned cross-country skier.  Maybe I’ll take it up again if the snow would only come, pure and soft, and leave us with a white mantle to cover our beautiful countryside.

Rarely have we traveled to snow country in the winter, but I remember especially a trip we took in 1999.  It was to The Netherlands, Germany and Austria in February. If any of you recall, I wrote about the trip that spring.   It was ostensibly a trip to the Netherlands to visit Dutch friends, where Jim would stay with my colleague’s husband, and I would travel to Lech, in Austria, for a Mediation Training Conference.  The other attendees had in mind lots of skiing along with the mediation training. Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a downhill skier, I planned to be a good student, but to have the evening camaraderie of my colleagues.

“Best laid plans” became the theme as we drove down the autobahn through Germany right into a blizzard.  This untoward event gave us a frightful eight hours, which I wrote about in this column years ago. (Taconic Press: WEEKEND, April 22, 1999)

I also wrote about the serendipity of our being billeted in a lovely village above Innsbruck called Lans, in a very chic country inn.

What I never told you about was our next few days in another town in Austria, where we stayed with others were waiting as long as possible for the avalanches to stop, so that we might finally get up through the pass to Lech.

Spending a week in the Austrian Alps, after six or eight feet of snow has fallen is probably old hat to some of you, but it is an experience I had not had before, nor have I had since.

When our chic little mountain retreat could no long house us, we joined some other colleagues, waiting and skiing several miles down the road.  Luckily, this very simple family-run hotel had a couple of rooms for us.  Now this was certainly the real Austria, very different from our first lodging, but actually more interesting and lots more fun. We reached Burserberg by a long mountain road, by now passable, but only to the lower heights.

On our way to Burserberg, we stopped to see if the Arlberg pass was open. Indeed not, in fact there had been two more avalanches during the morning.  When we stopped for coffee and croissants, there was a group of lift operators waiting to see if they could get to work in Lech. Undaunted by the frustrating weather, they were singing like a trained chorus, laughing at the snow drifts, the lack of skiing and the traffic jams, and just cheering everyone up, with just a harmonica and their voices, and a late morning beer for each.  This was a foretaste of the fun-loving Austrians we were about to meet.

Our location in tiny Burserberg was the Hotel Matin.  This village on a mountain plateau was at an altitude of 920 meters.  There was a marvelous feeling of “gemutlichkeit” in this inn, which is a family-run business with about thirty rooms. The food is first rate, and we soon found a few items on the menu that we ordered more than once. I especially loved the fabulous salad of radicchio, endive, bib and lamb’s lettuce with toasted sunflower seeds topped with lightly breaded warm moist morsels of chicken.

There was a cozy bar, a gorgeous view, and a hotel full of friendly people, all laughing at the predicament we were all experiencing. Many of them were more than happy to ski locally while waiting expectantly to get up to the higher regions of the Alps through the Arlberg Pass.  The wife of the owner soon knew us by name, and would attend to our every need, as well as any fancy hotel’s concierge. Even though she did not speak English, somehow she always knew what we needed.

I spent our several days there on long walks through snow laden trees along paths made for hiking, but perfectly passable for long morning hikes up and down the valley. One morning I took the ski lift part way up, then walked through deep snow down the Wanderweg. For a change of scene, we walked up to another hotel in the village for lunch, and then took a different path through the silent snow bound hiking paths, back to our home base.  The only sour note was watching 5 year old Austrian children schussing down steep slopes like Olympic champs, – and the fact that it snowed every day I was there!

While our first mountain village, Lans, and the first hotel, Zum Wilden Mann were almost perfect in décor and food and certainly worthy of one of Conde Nast Traveler’s “Best of ……” list, the Hotel Matin had a homey , friendly quality which quickly made one forget there was any place better anywhere in these mountains.

Although my memories of Burserberg are of huge amounts of beautiful white snow, I know that this area would also be perfect for a summer holiday.  I look forward to a return engagement with the Familie Holl at Hotel Matin in Burserberg, probably in the midst of July.

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