Nothing says welcome back to the mountains like landing in Innsbruck. Here in the Austrian Alps, the runway sits deep in a ‘V’ of snow-shrouded peaks, under an hour from some of the country’s best family slopes.
Case in point, the linked village resorts of Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis: a quick ride away (mercifully, for my carsick daughter), following the Inn Valley, lined with the eponymous river, spike-spired churches and a castle-topped cliff. Fiss, an Alpine resort that still turns a seasonal hand to farming, is no less postcard-perfect. Our home, the Schlosshotel, may have a grand name but this is no austere castle. A former 1940s hunting lodge, now five-star spa hotel, it does a good impersonation of a gemütlich wooden chalet. Family-run, catering largely to families, the welcome here’s a welcome home. It’s 5pm, post-piste time and kids are padding around in rolled-down salopettes, bare feet silent on plush carpets, tummies replete with the sort of huge afternoon tea that constitutes a multi-course, fine-dining experience in most hotels. There are cocktails being shaken for couples sitting by open fires in the bar and parents are found snoozing on loungers around the indoor/outdoor spa terrace. The staff don’t bat an eyelid. If this is how Austrians live, says a look from my daughter, then sign me up.
We sign up immediately, thanks to the on-site sports shop and ski-depot, for kit, lessons and passes, while our cases are spirited to our room. There’s a lift up to the piste and toboggans to borrow but, at this late stage in the day, nothing competes with the lure of the spa’s indoor/outdoor pool.
If you can drag kids away from this glass-fronted beauty, you’re a more powerful parent than most. For starters, a soundproofed flume waterslide snakes down the entire side of the building, complete with rubber rafts. The huge spa areas for adults and families come with dedicated steam, sauna and treatment rooms making the impressively kitted-out kids’ club redundant for our tween.
On piste, when we finally get there, ample nursery slopes and two ski schools are on the doorstep while a gondola accesses 130-odd miles of ski terrain higher up the mountain. There are snow parks with ramps, jumps, tunnels and half-pipes, and on one run back to the hotel, a wooden pirate ship forms a bridge across an Alpine stream. We up the ante by skiing across to Serfaus to ride the Schneisenfeger. This coaster-cum-toboggan rattles the mile from summit to base station at 25mph and is deemed by the daughter as the best run of the season.
With a nightly five-course dinner served in the lovely piste-front salon, it’s pretty hard to pack it all in. Kids, sensibly, aren’t expected to sit like statues through this fine-dining experience. Few children sign up for the early nursery teas; instead they pick and choose from the a la carte menu, occasionally nipping up to the vast buffet of salads and cheeses.
It’s a wonderfully undemanding grown-up dining experience. And if a reward is needed, dessert — a la carte or buffet — comes with everything from macaroons and petit fours worthy of a Paris confectioner, to a gelato bar and not one, but two chocolate fountains because, quite frankly, what child should be deprived of the chance to drown a healthy serving of fruit and berries in both white and dark chocolate? The Haribos distributed on pillows at turn down seem almost rudely excessive (but are still welcome).
By the end of the week, we’re not sure if it’s the skiing or excessive eating that’s stretched our stomach muscles but, aching as we are, a massage is suggested. These are no token gesture treatments but proper Austrian interventions. The sports massage is up there with the best you’ll find anywhere with its name, while the duo experience with aloe gel is a first for both mother and daughter. And judging from the blissed out look in the tweens’ eyes, it clearly won’t be the last. Such are deliciously expensive family traditions made.
Sarah, and daughter, Ella (11)
How to do it
A family suite at Schlosshotel (sleeps three/four) costs from €235 per person (£209) for stays of four nights or more, full-board, including kids’ clubs (8.30am-9.30pm, ages two-teens), a daily programme of on-piste activities, and spa.
Published in the 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family