Trail of the unexpected: Seefeld with children
Summertime in Austria: get set for the perfect family holiday, says Stephen Wood.
The day Manchester City FC moved out, we moved in. A different sort of clientele; a different sporting regime. Thanks to skilful marketing of the benefits of moderate-altitude training, Austria's hills are alive with professional football teams in summer, among them Borussia Dortmund, Paris St-Germain and West Ham United. Man City chose to begin its defence of the Premier League with a week's workout in mid-July at Seefeld, just above Innsbruck in the Tyrol region.
For our family team, a programme of aquatherapy had been devised by Lily, aged eight, and Stanley, who is six. I had other ideas, including a train ride to Garmisch-Partenkirchen nearby in Bavaria to admire its Lüftlmalerei, exterior frescos which give plain façades the most fanciful, trompe l'oeil architectural detailing. But for Lily and Stan the ideal Alpine summer break is spent entirely in swimming costumes in a routine of pools, water slides, lakes, cascades, diving and other water sports plus a diet of whatever unsuitable stuff, and digital distraction, they could get.
In keeping with their flash-the-cash style, Man City not only stayed in a five-star hotel but – so it was said locally – had special mattresses and lightweight blankets shipped in from Rome 'at a cost of €1,000 per person. Pity the poor players, then, when the rocket-like, 14th-century church of St Oswald, adjoining the hotel, rings its bells at 7am. The club requested the bells be silenced until a more civilised hour, but this church vs football clash apparently resulted in a home win.
Though a mere four-star, our hotel just a few minutes' walk from the town centre had perfectly adequate beds, and we slept well; but its big attraction lay elsewhere. The Alpenpark is a Kinderhotel, one of a consortium of properties in Austria (and beyond) which makes a point of catering for those with youngsters. I had heard a good report about the group, but doubts still nagged: "Kinderhotels" sounded like hospitality ghettos open only to adults accompanied by small children, where the interior design would be based on wipe-clean, bright plastic surfaces and the smell of disinfectant would hang heavy.
How wrong was I? Very.
Among the eternal verities of a British childhood, like blue for a boy and pink for a girl, is that summer holidays are taken at the seaside. But the arguments against peak-time family holidays in the coastal areas favoured by British parents – the French Riviera and Provence, the Costas and other parts of the Med – are stacking up. These are now crowded, traffic-filled places becoming prohibitively expensive. Hence the need for alternative destinations. To avoid being squeezed, frightened and fleeced, go from seaside to the other extreme, in the mountains.
Lily and Stan, for whom New England beach holidays with their extended family are routine, had a taste of summer in the mountains a couple of years ago, at the Rosa Alpina hotel in San Cassiano, in the Italian Dolomites. For Stan, that's a third of a lifetime ago, but he remembers just how good it was. He and Lily were bursting to go to Austria, even though their mother was staying at home. And when Stan got on the phone to her because, he said, "I want to give her some details of the hotel" – I knew I had another hit on my hands. "They fold up the duvets like a sandwich and we get a piece of chocolate every day and there's a very hard mini-golf where you have to go through a maze at the last hole and Lily won by two shots and by the water slide there's a great big bucket which splashes water everywhere ... " And so on, like a hotelier writing his own website review but without the punctuation.
Skiing is the key to all this. When a mountain village evolves into a ski resort, a tourist infrastructure is created. But though winter business may be good, in summer the facilities – even in Austria's excellent family-owned hotels – often remain underused. Austria, Slovenia and the Italian Dolomites have long had a UK summer clientele of walkers; now ski destinations are making themselves more attractive to families with a range of facilities and activities for kids.
To occupy us during our four-day stay, the Seefeld region's Guide for Active Guests had 68 pages of suggestions. The town itself promised 10 events ranging from a Bavarian veal-sausage brunch to the New England Ambassadors in concert. True, only nine events took place: the summer festival was cancelled because of poor weather, but luckily there's the Rainy Weather Programme leaflet. At the Alpenpark, the Filo's Club provided entertainment and activities for kids from breakfast until way past bedtime, and our tour operator, Inghams, chipped in with a Sunday pub quiz and guided mountain walks.
We did take a cable car up the Seefelder Spitze to a children's adventure playground which is so closely modelled on a mine that the kids looked as if they were doing work experience; we played Seefeld's two mini-golf courses, and we visited the Olympia centre for its pool and water slides. The other offers and my proposed Bavarian trip were ignored, but only because there was so much to do at the Alpenpark: it has a bowling alley, climbing wall, trampoline, pools (plus the splash chamber with its unpredictable dunking bucket), table tennis and more. They are all tucked away in corners so the place feels like a very good hotel, not a kinderhotel.
As we walked to the station to catch the train to Innsbruck, the kids listed the reasons why they wanted to come back to Seefeld. The Alpenpark, mainly; Austrian ham, which they ate every day at lunch, and, said Stan, the "peace and quiet". What! He was right; Seefeld was delightfully restful, unlike most seaside resorts in summer. But since when did six-year-old boys appreciate peace and quiet?
Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk) offers seven nights at the four-star Family Resort Alpenpark, Seefeld, from £729 per person, including full board, flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. The price also includes daily packed lunch, daily afternoon snack and cake buffet, a bowling evening, guided walks, Nordic walking, bike hire, six-days-a-week child supervision and an activity programme for children aged 3-12 and a crèche for small children. Innsbruck is served by easyJet (0843 104 5000) from Gatwick.
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