In search of: A ski resort for a non-skier

Hurl myself off an icy mountain top on two planks? No way, says Jeremy Atiyah. There are other ways to enjoy winter in Austria


I detest skiing. Why on earth would I take my holiday in a ski-resort?

I detest skiing. Why on earth would I take my holiday in a ski-resort?

Perhaps because someone else in your family is desperate to go skiing, but feels guilty about going without you. Or perhaps because ski resorts can be beautiful places in themselves, as long as they are not too crowded. Pertisau is a good example of this: set in a snowy valley by Lake Achen (Aachensee), it is hemmed in by the dramatic peaks of the Karwendel mountains of western Austria, a couple of hours' drive south from Munich airport. Your family can go downhill skiing, while you relax and enjoy yourself. The main point is to take a complete break from your everyday life, in a place where the air is extraordinarily fresh and clean, in a cosy family run hotel, with a spa and an excellent restaurant.

Hah. All that vile Germanic stodge, you mean

In fact, Austrian cuisine combines influences from French, Italian and Balkan, as well as German, cooking. Austrian white wines can be surprisingly good. In the Hotel Wiesenhof where I stayed, the food was excellent, with lots of duck and pork as well as good vegetarian options (and no sausage). There was excellent hot chocolate to drink between meals. The tarts and cakes were outstanding, especially the apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce.

So I'll just have to stay in and get fat

Not at all. The fact that you are not keen on downhill skiing does not mean you can't do any exercise. The village of Pertisau is itself a famously scenic place. Austro-Hungarian Emperors came here for their holidays, as did Sigmund Freud. Just take a walk round the village. Otherwise, you might try some cross-country skiing, which goes along the valley floor and is entirely non-scary. All you need is a bit of balance and the strength to pick yourself up every time you slip over.

But that sounds almost as bad as ordinary skiing

In that case you can always go snow-shoeing or Nordic-cruising, which are different ways of walking comfortably through, and across, deep snow. Neither requires the slightest skill and is hardly more tiring than walking. But they do enable you to walk through beautiful forest snowscapes, which you will probably have to yourself. And if even they don't appeal, you can try getting on a horse-drawn sledge instead, wrapped up warmly in blankets, and trotting along past the pines. The Wiesenhof offers the possibility for a group to ride out to one of the gasthofs in the valley for a traditional lunch of potatoes and pork and beer.

I'm not geriatric, you know

So you want an adrenalin rush then? Let me offer something that might appeal, if you are so averse to downhill skiing: snow-biking. Pertisau, in fact, goes so far as to call itself the "the world's first snow-bike region"; exponents refer to their bikes as "piste-ponies". Essentially you ride down slopes on a bicycle which has skis instead of wheels. The art is considerably easier to pick up than skiing (and vastly easier than snowboarding), to the extent that most people in my class could ride down the nursery slope in comfort, and at speed, after just an hour of instruction. Personally, I think you will enjoy it as long as you are not required to turn or slow down.

No thanks. I think I'll stay in my room

If you insist, by all means stay in the hotel, but don't confine yourself to your room. The best thing about the Wiesenhof, after all, is that it contains not only a swimming pool and children's room, but also a very special and luxuriant spa, where you can enjoy baths and Jacuzzis and saunas and steam-rooms and "treatments".

Treatments? But I'm not ill

That's what they all say. Only after they've smeared your naked body with mud or hay from meadows, or put you in one of their special baths of "stone-oil", will you know what it is to feel well.

My naked body? This is an outrage!

Oh, calm down. You know the central Europeans never wear clothes if they can help it. Locals have been bathing in stone-oil for 100 years. It is extracted from rocks in the valleys. It may look black and gooey, and smell of crude oil, but it sure helps to extract those toxins from your skin. And once you've got out of that bath, you can go and sit in beautiful, intimate tiled rooms with soft lighting, where steam is fed out through lavender and rosemary. Then you'll take a shower in a "mint mist", before going to recline in the warm meditation chamber, on a ceramic bed, in the nude, staring out through huge windows at the snow and the mountains, listening to recordings of Philip Glass.

The whole thing sounds perfectly hideous. I'm going to Florida.

I'm sorry, but you probably wouldn't be able to afford that. A holiday in Pertisau on the other hand will break neither an arm nor a leg. Inntravel (01653 629010; www.inntravel.co.uk) offers three-night and seven-night breaks in winter (between 21 December and 23 March). A week at the Hotel Wiesenhof costs from £594 per person sharing a double/twin room, including seven nights' half-board, return scheduled flights between Heathrow and Munich, rail and hotel transfers. Three nights on the same basis costs £396. Skiing lessons, gear hire, horse-drawn sleigh-rides, and hotel spa treatments are extras. You'll pay, for example, about £50 for six two-hour lessons in cross-country skiing, and about £3 per day to rent the boots and skis. The horse-drawn sleigh ride costs about £7 per person. In the spa, massages and stone-oil baths cost about £16 each. Guided walks and Nordic cruising, on the other hand, are organised free of charge at the hotel on certain days of each week.

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