Ski in and chill out

Far from the madding crowds, Danielle Demetriou discovers a stylish sanctuary in the often kitsch resort of Zell am See, Austria

The midday sun scorches the rosy cheeks of skiers squeezed into striped deckchairs more than 600m above sea level. Behind them is an ice bar in the shape of a sandcastle. A selection of life-size animals made from twigs dot the terrace. And the air is filled with an ear-splitting electro-techno rendition of "The Sound of Music". Welcome to party-time at Zell am See, the Austrian ski resort that may be famous for its breathtaking mountains and winter sports, but is equally deserving of recognition for its celebration of all things kitsch.

Alpine resorts, of course, have long been synonymous with excessive amounts of pine, hearty gastronomy and musically challenged nightclubs, and Zell am See is no exception. Hotel staff wear traditional Alpine dress; Crazy Daisy, the hippest joint in town, serves blue cocktails; and the steamy-windowed Irish pub is never empty. But there is one new venue in the Austrian resort that is refusing to conform to tradition: the Mavida Balance Hotel and Spa, which opened last December.

With its minimalist interior and emphasis on wellbeing, the Mavida is the antithesis of its more hedonistic Alpine counterparts. My plan is to determine whether it is more enjoyable to confine myself to the luxurious environs of a chic design hotel or to join the glühwein-swilling masses in the resort?

As I make my way to the Mavida for a kitsch-free weekend of inner harmony, I pass a bar resembling a giant cuckoo clock with huge outdoor speakers and wonder idly about what I may be missing. The hotel is in a prime location on the shores of the frozen Zeller Lake, which is encircled by the snow-capped foothills of the Gross Glockner, Austria's highest mountain at 3,798m.

From the outside, the Mavida appears to err on the plain side of modern. But once inside, the lobby's minimalist décor immediately confirms its status as a rival to the most sophisticated of urban retreats. There is not a painted cowbell or frosted pinecone in sight. Sunlit diaphanous curtains line the windows, architecture books are artfully strewn on sharply lined bookcases and dried plants from South America provide abstract ornamentation.

Each of the 47 rooms and suites is equally peaceful. A calming organic palette of beige and white is brightened with the odd splash of ruby red. The scent of wild fig candles fills the slate-tiled bathrooms. Best of all, beds are placed directly in front of a wall of sliding windows that frames a postcard-perfect vista of snowy mountains.

Sleep, it transpires, is taken very seriously at the Mavida. Guests are instructed to fill in a lengthy "personal sleeping menu" because "for your interior balance, a healthy and calm sleep is important". There are hard and soft mattresses, an array of pillows from spelt to millet, blankets for those with allergies and a helpful diagram to highlight which side of the bed requires which sleeping aid. All in all it's exhaustive and exhausting. Less demanding is the hotel's spa. As well as eight private treatment rooms and one opulent suite, there is a small but chic swimming-pool, a flotation tank, saunas and one room filled with nothing but reclining waterbeds.

A short while later, I find myself in an airy mirrored studio for the first in a series of activities arranged to help guests achieve that eponymous sense of balance. Standing face to face with Franz, my personal instructor in the ancient martial art of qi gong, I can't help but wonder if it would be more fun downing heart-warming glühweins while listening to techno-yodelling in some canary yellow mountain-top bar.

As the sun dips behind the jagged skyline, I clumsily copy Franz as he works through his body's energy blockages by bouncing with both feet rooted to the ground: trickier than it sounds. It may be down to Franz's gentle voice, the wonderfully named and hypnotic "wave hands like clouds" exercise or simply the hotel working its magic. Either way, an hour later, my hyperactive mind has been reduced to a soporific lull.

The lesson is the first of a string of activities that fill my days. I float on a bed of heavily salted water in a small, dark room. I have a one-to-one stretching class. I am even attached to a large contraption called "Dr Wolff's Back Check Machine", which highlights the weakest parts of my body.

Fortunately, food is also taken very seriously. The dinner menu in the sleek, bright restaurant is the antithesis of a traditional Alpine food-fest. From salmon mousse coated in leek and duck breast on gold millet to millefeuille with blood orange cream, we savour every stage of our five-course meal.

After perfecting the art of sleeping with an early night, I awake the following morning with the perfect vista of snow-dusted mountains - and am unable to resist the temptation of scaling a mountain with a pair of skis. But the transition from the Mavida to the outside world is not so easy. Stepping outside is like stepping into a Technicolor cartoon. I joltingly switch from a world of subdued neutrals to sensory overload.

Zell am See, only 80km from Salzburg, is perfectly located for top-class skiing, attracting hordes of international holidaymakers as well as car loads of weekending Austrians. As I climb into the dense blue sky on a chairlift, a mass of bright red bobble hats, orange scarves and yellow ski suits swarms beneath me. Every bar and café is throbbing with crowds of revellers shouting over indescribably loud music as they warm up with creamy hot chocolates. After an exhilarating skiing session, lunch consists of a satisfyingly hearty green pea and sausage soup, Kaiser beer and an extra large portion of apple strudel.

With aching knees, wind-burnt cheeks and heavy stomachs, we make our way back to the Mavida - whose calming serenity induces a feeling akin to stepping into a hot bath at the end of a long day in the office. The fact that I am about to sample the delights of the spa obviously helps.

I soon slip into pampered princess mode with a visit to the private spa suite. First stop, a private sauna filled with the uplifting fragrance of citrus aromatherapy oils.

Twenty minutes and one shower later, I'm taken to the next room of my suite, where I am pummelled with an organic body scrub. And just in case a microscopic iota of stress remains lurking in my body, I'm then led to a candlelit foaming bath the size of a small swimming pool. Platters of exotic fruit and herb tea are served as I melt into the bubbles. One rose quartz facial later, I'm pretty much incapable of standing up.

But I force myself to battle on. Just one treatment remains - one that is talked about by staff in near-reverential tones: the signature Blue Box. Unique to the hotel, the custom-designed Blue Box consists of a small circular room of balmy temperatures with cobalt lighting and two organically curved wooden beds taking centre stage. It is based on the idea that music vibrating through speakers built into the chairs creates a customised massage for the body. "Softer music for the women, more loud and aggressive for the men," adds Jeannine Meiners, the ever-smiling spa manager. "That's what they seem to like."

Expecting some low-key chill-out music to start playing in accordance with my gentler gender, I'm slightly taken aback when a crescendo of clashing sounds begins to resonate discordantly in the air - and down my back. I remain wide-eyed in surprise as the music - "a crashing symphony of high-pitched chimes" - results in tingling vibrations massaging the back of my body.

Gradually, however, something quite literally strikes a chord. The music, I find out afterwards, is designed to target parts of the brain which induce the alpha state that takes over the body moments before sleep. And my bemused disbelief is gradually replaced with a state of near hypnosis - or maybe I'm just exhausted by all this therapy. Either way, I am as spaced out as I am relaxed when I stumble out of the room 30 minutes later.

In the face of such concentrated "relaxation", I am determined to get one last blast of the outside world with a final skiing session. The following morning, as I rest between runs with a rejuvenating hot chocolate on a packed terrace, the euro-techno is momentarily replaced with a Last Night of the Proms-style recording of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", played full blast.

Kitsch? Absolutely. But would I really want an Alpine skiing holiday any other way? Definitely not, particularly now that hotels like the Mavida are providing a plausible antidote.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The writer travelled to Salzburg with Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) which flies from Stansted, Liverpool and Nottingham. SkyEurope (09057 222 747; www.skyeurope.com) flies from Manchester, and British Airways (0870 950 8950; www.ba.com) begins flights from Gatwick in December. To reduce the environmental impact, buy an "offset" from Climate Care (01865 207 000; www.climatecare.org). The environmental cost of a return flight from London to Salzburg is £1.80.

Zell am See is just over an hour from Salzburg Airport by coach; return tickets cost €29 (£21).

STAYING THERE

Mavida Balance Hotel & Spa, Kirchenweg 11, Zell am See ( www.mavida.at; book through Design Hotels: 00 800 37 46 83 57; www.designhotels.com). Doubles from €210 (£150) with breakfast.

The Blue Box experience costs €35 (£25) for 25 minutes. Three-day spa packages start at €193 (£138).

MORE INFORMATION

Zell Am See tourist information: 00 43 65 42 770; www.europasportregion.info. Austrian tourist office: 0845 101 1818; www.austria.info/uk.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits