Planes, trains and automobiles… It is inevitable that you will take a scenic trip on all three in order to visit the town of Brandnertal: a quiet, and very often snow-filled, town enveloped by the awesome Austrian Alps. We headed on our Alpine adventure for a spot of skiing and lots of fun in the snow.
Our first stop en route, after a short flight from London, was Zurich, Switzerland. From there, visitors to Brandnertal (Brand) catch a train to Bludenz, which runs every couple of hours from the central station, then take a bus or taxi up to Brand. If you book a morning flight, do schedule a couple of hours to spend in Zurich; home of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate, warming cheesy fondues and storybook architecture. Children will love wandering down the cobbled stones, past wonky houses. Take a stroll up to one of the many viewpoints that flank the river for your first sighting of the Alps in the distance - your first taste of the epic views yet to come. Splitting up your journey will also help it feel like enjoying the first day of your holiday, rather than an entire day of rushed travelling.
The train ride to Bludenz is another couple of hours and I have never seen my travel companion (my younger sister) so very quiet. Hushed by the epic sights she saw from the large train windows, once out of Zurich’s underground tunnels, the view is breathtaking - and I don't use that word lightly. Whizzing past the crystal turquoise lakes, with the snow capped mountains growing ever closer the journey soon flies by.
You will more than likely be tempted to stay a while in the town of Bludenz, and you must plan a few hours stop at least, since it is the home of the Milka factory. The undeniable smell of melted chocolate filling the crisp mountain air will stop you in your tracks. But be warned, the factory tour and shop keeps unusual hours, so do check it is open when you plan on visiintg and don't be left (like we were) standing on your tiptoes, gazing longingly at the heavily reduced, supersize bars of Toblerone. Finally, a bus up the windy mountain roads took us to Brandnertal, where the sweet Hotel Wallieserhof was awaiting our arrival. A short ride, you can alternatively catch a taxi, which costs around 25 Euros.
We arrived mid-afternoon which, seeing as we had journeyed to the Alps mid-ski season, meant that the cheese toasties were streaming out of the kitchen by the dozen and hot chocolate was in full flow, gulped down by reams of rosy cheeked skiers. We had never skied before, except a trial hour at the Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre, but were well aware of the activity schedule including ski, snack, ski, après ski.
When it comes to skiing, it’s true what they say - teach ‘em young. In Brand, the number of pint-sized people on skis the size of golf umbrella handles far outnumber the amount of grown adults. And the kids are better at it, too. Nipping like agile creatures, swerving in, out and around, (both in the dining room and on the ski slopes), they flood every corner of the small, yet perfectly-formed town of Brand. Even after a short stay, we couldn’t imagine a more family-friendly place to take your wannabe snow girls and boys to learn how to ski.
More than that, I can see why they keep coming back. It feels like a community, where family comes first. And children are everywhere, in the ski schools, on the slopes (the really steep ones, too), in the cosy bars and in the funky hotels. The Wallieserhof is, so I am told by experienced skiers, far superior in decor to most ski resort lodgings, referring to itself as 'a design hotel in the Alps'. The bar offers a panoramic view out to these Alps - what more could you ask for? The restaurant serves up a breakfast of epic proportions, perfect for the active holiday du choix of the people staying there. We had the same Jennifer Garner look-a-like waitress and table for our whole stay, who served us delicious, traditional Austrian foodie fare alongside local knowledge, with a side of humour.
If you are looking for a family break away in a traditionally Austrian Alp town, then Brand is the place for you. Although, we would point out that you might want to brush up on your German before you make the trip. Our waitress was the exception, not the rule. The town is adept at looking after families, but it is perhaps not quite ready for an onslaught of visitors who can only speak English. This, it could be argued, is part of it’s charm. There is no English signage within the town and, not knowing any of the local language, we found it a little tricky to organise anything very much. There is a tourist information point, and we would recommend booking in things like skiing lessons, if you want to take them, before you leave. If you do need to hire ski gear, make sure you visit MuK Sports. The best place in town to kit you out, with boots that you won’t learn to walk in until the day before you leave and salopettes and a helmet that will make you sweat so much you will ski faster just to reach the après ski that bit faster - if you are first timers, like us. We sadly hadn't had enough instruction to be able to make it onto any slopes of note, but we did ride the gondola up to the top of the mountain. And even though it was sadly during a white out, it was nevertheless all part of the fun.
But fear not, if your family is like ours (love the Alps, love the apres ski, but not so much the skiing), there is still plenty to do when visiting Brand. After deciding that without an instructor to hand, we probably shouldn't be taking ourselves up a slope only to be frozen with fear, we decided to take a walk and build a snowman instead. Untold levels of fun. Luckily, overnight it had snowed, so there was a fresh coat of white stuff for us to jump right into. We strolled along the river in our salopettes (perfect for snow walks, as well as skiing), keeping to the path but making sure to jump into the biggest, crispest piles of snow along the way. From the snow path, we had an excellent view of the ski slopes where the participants now looked like ants fleeing from an unseen giant human foot. From this distance, the pursuit of going up and down seemed a little futile - but I’m more than certain this was a stroke of envy that my skills were not up to the job. Another strong case for ensuring your children have a taste of skiing early on in life. The removal of fear of falling from an adult height can do wonders for ski skill potential.
The scenery more than satisfied us and all the hard work throwing snowballs, making snow angels and trying to find somewhere to hire a sledge meant we were ravenous on our return to the hotel - perfect timing for afternoon tea. We also took another trip on the second gondola out of Brand, up the mountains, to a buzzing cafe restaurant serving excellent beer and hot chocolate - no need to choose, you deserve both. It was amazing to see children aged no more than one to two years, who could ski better than they could walk.
Back at the hotel, we retreated back to the inhouse spa. Word of warning, the Austrian people in general take a lax attitude to wearing anything at all in the sauna. We felt a little awkward in our bathing suits as opposed to going the full monty, which was the outfit of choice on the whole. At the pool, children enjoyed splashing and swimming around, their ski-tired parents taking a nap in the conservatory area, which boasts a picture postcard view of the surrounding Alps.
Another snow-necessary activity is sledging. A classic family pastime but which here you can do on tailor made slopes. However, don't shy away from the Alps if you are looking for a spring or summer holiday - the hotel and area offer plenty for families to do outside of snow season, too. You can enjoy bike rides, golf, tennis, hiking, horseriding and, of course, there is always the spa to retreat to. We are already planning our return visit which will include less of the skiing and much more cycling...
- A starting room rate for the full indulgence board for the family at Hotel Wallieserhof is: £144 per person per night for adults and £43 per child per night aged 7-13
- For more information, and to book, visit the Hotel Wallieserhof website
- At MuK Sports the hire fee is for 7 days from Adults is 64 Euro, Junior Under 14 is £36, Junior Under 8 is £23. Helmets up to 14 Years = free
- Travel from Zurich via Train is free for children under 16
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