Austria’s Alpine resort Grossarl transforms into a winter wonderland

Five-star pampering awaits in Grossarl, an easy-to-reach alpine resort in a storybook Austrian setting

Grossarl Austria

In winter, Austria feels like a Christmas card come to life. On a winter visit to the market town of Grossarl, only an hour’s drive from Salzburg, the hamlet delivered a traditional Christmas punch with (sleigh) bells on: enveloped in snow, its church spire silhouetted by pine-covered alps and an Advent market bustling with life in the square, it offered a storybook-style enchantment.

The town is a handsome ski resort with a decent smattering of four- and five-star hotels and easy to access from Salzburg. But it remains largely below Brits’ radar, overshadowed, perhaps, by better-known SalzburgerLand resorts like Saalbach Hinterglemm and Zell am See. The language I heard most around town and at the breakfast buffet was German, and it gave Grossarl a more authentically Austrian feel than other ski destinations favoured by Brits.

Grossarl is part of Austria’s largest ski region, Ski amadé, which encompasses 25 resorts and 760km of slopes. Linked with the village of Dorfgastein, Grossarl is one of the smaller destinations in the union, boasting a modest 19 pistes over 73 kilometres, and a lack of ski links to the other valleys (a bus or car is needed) means Grossarl is rarely crowded. Best suited to intermediates with its mix of winding reds and blues, it felt like a relaxed, family friendly ski area. I stopped at numerous cosy huts for warming hot chocolate – the Hochbrandhutte on the 3b run, heated only by wood fire, offers rustic charm.

Back in town, we experienced Christmas utopia at Grossarl’s traditional Advent market. Set in the quaint town centre strung with lights and blanketed in snow, it is a festive hotspot with carol-singers and brass bands and packed with locals. Stalls selling trinkets, candles, decorations and pottery cast a warm glow over the square.

Grossarl takes particular pride in its nativity scenes, and alongside a life-sized manger display in the central square, the path leading up the hill to the town church features glass-fronted cases containing miniature nativity scenes that we stopped to admire. Near the church is a nativity-building workshop founded 20-plus years ago to encourage locals to make their own and keep the traditional practice going. Don’t miss a visit to the imposing baroque church named after its patrons, Saints Martin and Ulrich, who are featured in a central altar painting.

A horse-drawn sleigh ride helped us to fully experience the Christmassy feel. We took a Santa-style glide through the Hohe Tauern National Park at the end of the valley. Wrapped up warm and huddled under blankets, we were pulled through an idyllic marshmallow world of sugar-dusted pines over a carpet of twinkling snow. We stopped for a hearty lunch at the Talwirt inn, which also houses in its basement an impressive – and terrifying – exhibition of Krampus masks.

For accommodation, we booked into The Edelweiss, a five-star spa hotel at the forefront of alpine chic: a rare occurrence in tradition-bound rural Austria, where knotty pine and chintz still rule. The Edelweiss’s double-height reception area provides wow factor with an ultra-modern fireplace and local materials like stone and wood. Paired with elegant bucket seats, geometric lighting and parquet flooring, the result is a bold urban space beckoning guests to congregate over a drink.

Our Junior Suite Superior was a sleek room using attractive alpine wood that was complemented with neutral woollen fabrics, statement lights and a stone-and-wood bathroom.

Das Edelweiss’s owners, the extended Hetteger family, mingled with guests at dinner and over drinks, a welcome sign of their dedication that is also evidenced by regular upgrades: the hotel’s 2023 additions are 17 deluxe new family suites and a family spa with sauna and a water park spread over three floors. Boundless kids’ facilities and a kids’ club makes it a magnet for families, but there’s plenty of elbow room for kid-free fun as well. We gravitated to the vast adults-only spa area, a space so inviting that I envied my non-skiing partner his downtime there while I hit the slopes. Après-ski at the outdoor heated rooftop infinity pool, I soaked away aching muscles while taking in the filmic panorama, then relaxed in the myriad bubbling pools and saunas before dozing off on a floating sun lounger in one of the quiet rooms packed with comfy beds.

The treatment area offers an array of massages, imperative for me during a ski week. I treated myself to a full-body massage that sent me into a reverie as the therapist kneaded away all the tension in my aching legs.

The food was first-class. The Edelweiss’ main restaurant offers five-course dinners with ingredients sourced from the valley wherever possible. After kicking off our meal with a visit to a vast salad and cheese buffet, we feasted on venison pasta, pumpkin soup, deer cutlets and succulent pike-perch. An ala carte menu offers steak, pizza, and Austrian dishes specialties and a sushi chef prepares daily sashimi and California rolls. The hotel’s high-end Sirloin Grill & Dine restaurant serves up succulent steaks like Black Angus and wagyu prepared in an open-show kitchen.

Breakfast deserves a special mention, with a vast array of pastries, cheeses, fruits and those dark breads that Austria does so well.

Grossarl is a handsome town boasting high-end accommodation, excellent skiing and vistas like something out of a storybook. And considering it’s only an hour from Salzburg Airport, visiting couldn’t be easier.

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