Snow Report: Austria's welcome still warm... after 50 years
Sunday 22 January 2012
I'm proud to say that my mother was one of the first package holiday tourists to venture abroad soon after the Second World War, when leisure travel began to lower its costs and thus widen its appeal beyond the upper classes.
In summer 1951 she booked with two other young female friends, then in their late teens, to travel for some 24 hours by rail to the Austrian resort of St Johann in Tyrol with Swan's Tours (now absorbed into modern-day Inghams).
A little over 60 years on, my mother turned 80 last week. My sisters and I decided she might enjoy a return to St Johann to see what had changed and what hadn't, this time going by air and travelling with the UK's biggest ski tour operator, Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk).
So what had changed? "It's bigger!" was not a great surprise, nor that travel comfort was much improved over the wooden benches of post-war European trains. But the fact that the original journey had taken longer than expected due to a French railway workers' strike seemed a timeless state of affairs.
"It's still beautiful," she said, which was a relief. St Johann, with its attractive decorated chalets and impressive church, is a delightful small town. My mother informed me that the men were all dressed in lederhosen back in the 1950s. This was no longer the case, possibly because it was -2C and Gore-Tex has now been invented.
The food was still good, though, both at the Hotel Park (00 43 5352 62226, park.at) where we stayed, and at the Gasthof zum Dampfl (00 43 5352 61659; zumdampfl.at), where my mother had stayed on that first visit and which, she reports, also seemed largely unchanged. We visited for lunch on our final day, discovering utterly delicious homemade food, but also that the owners had been in place only since last October so had no memories of the Swans Tours visitors of the 1950s. My mother recalled being amazed by how good the food had been back then too, coming from post-War Britain where rationing was still in place.
The young men who were keen to teach her to ski in the 1950s were less excited by the good food and all had dreams of travelling to America, my mother recalled. Many young Austrians did, and helped to found some of Colorado's now famous ski areas such as Breckenridge and Vail.
Those that chose to remain in St Johann didn't do badly. The resort is thriving and has overtaken neighbouring Kitzbühel in terms of population size. It's full of great shops and restaurants as well as a ski area that attracts many Brits back year after year – although perhaps not many that have been coming since 1951.
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