12 days of Christmas: day 12

I obviously had to choose a wintery scene from last year’s Christmas spent in Seefeld, Austria. This picture shows cross-county skiers swooping down from the golf course and across the Attersee, on the other side from Wildmoos Alm. Sun, snow and a set of skis what more could you want?

Sadly, on this occasion, we were on foot having (wisely) decided not to overdo it as my beloved was still recovering from surgery to mend his broken leg. We had walked the 3km up to one of the many mountainside restaurants for a hearty lunch in the sunshine after a morning’s cross-country skiing on the relative flat in Seefeld.

This year we’re spending a few days over Christmas in Italy – a first for us. Our favourite hotel in Alassio contacted us with details of a special over Xmas which we were more than happy to accept. The Thalassotherapy will help with my beloved’s recuperation and, providing the weather’s fine, we can walk along the sandy shoreline.

Season’s Greetings

Decorated by my beloved

I’m going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging until the New Year. Consequently, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you, and your nearest and dearest, every happiness, good health and much success for 2019 and beyond………………………

 

Postcard from Seefeld: these are a few of my favourite things

I’m home and looking back fondly on our most recent vacation. Strolls down memory lane are comforting just so long as your memories are enhanced by the development of your favourite places.

We’ve enjoyed many vacations, summer and winter, in Seefeld, most spent at the InterAlpen Hotel, Tirol, about which I’ve already written. However, we’ve also stayed at another 5* star hotel in the centre of Seefeld and spent time at a number of other establishments.

1. Klosterbrau, Seefeld

We’ve tended only to spend week-ends here while passing through the area. Its biggest advantage is its central position in the town. As its name suggests, it was a former monastery dating from the 16th century which brewed beer. The hotel’s been in the hands of the same family since the early 19th century and it still brews beer which my beloved feels is some of the best he’s ever drunk. Now, he’s no expert, but that’s still quite a ringing endorsement. I prefer to highlight its excellent restaurant which easily caters for my regime and where we ate a number of times, including for my birthday, on our most recent trip.

The hotel has a lively atmosphere and its décor is a wonderful and carefully curated mix of old and new. As is expected, it has all the usual bells and whistles, including a lovely spa, to justify its classification. On the downside, it’s a much smaller hotel than the InterAlpen and can be quite noisy.

2. Café Moka Muehle at Hotel Elite

After a day’s activity, there’s nothing nicer than a coffee and cake at this establishment. The café was formerly separate from the hotel but when it was recently enlarged and updated, the café was subsumed within the hotel to give it a larger dining room. The café lives on in the bar and lounge area of the hotel and still, again according to my beloved, serves the best apple struedel in the area. We enjoyed many a coffee, hot chocolate and gluehwein here while my beloved tasted many of its home-made desserts.

3. Hotel Wetterstein Bar

The hotel overlooks the start of the cross-country trails and has built a large terrace and bar to benefit from its sunny position. Again, it’s another though more recent favourite pit-stop for coffee or Aperol spritz. It also has a menu with a number of dishes which I can eat, including oysters. However, you need to either reserve a table or arrive early to bag one in the sunshine.

In fact any place that has a terrace in the sunshine attracts punters in their droves. In the parade of shops opposite the Klosterbrau, the delicatessen has outside seating, in the sunshine, which is always busy.

4. Ferienheim

This is a small, local run restaurant just down the road from the InterAlpen. It’s popular with locals and has long been one of our favourite pit-stops for a drink on its sunny terrace or self-service lunch inside.

It’s close to the (in)famous Wildmoos Alm which is a veritable gold mine, heaving with locals and tourists who have walked, driven, caught the bus, hotel shuttle or a horse driven carriage to enjoy its lively atmosphere and colourful mein host. We always pop in for a drink but prefer to eat at the Ferienheim which serves better food at half the price.

5. Mittenwald

Seefeld is just over the border from Germany and we typically will spend a morning in the southern Bavarian town which boasts many prettily painted properties from prior centuries. Over the years, the town has not changed much apart from losing its major sports shop to yet another restaurant.

6. Munich

An hour and a half down the motorway is the Bavarian town of Munich, a big favourite of mine which sadly I’ve not visited for the past few years or so. Its Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), one of the largest and most well-known in Germany, dates back to those first held the 14th century and only moved to its current home in 1972.

However, for me its main attraction is the fully decked out 30 metre Christmas tree and the scent of mulled wine (Gluehwein). The market covers 20,000 square metres with the booths and craft stalls from numerous vendors stretching out from Marienplatz to the tower of the old town hall (Altes Rathaus), its inner courtyard (Prunkhof), along Kaufingerstraße and Neuhauserstraße to the Richard-Strauss-Brunnen and from Weinstraße to the Sternenplatzl at Rindermarkt.

The market isn’t Munich’s only attraction, as you can see from my photographs. It has much to recommend it all year round with plenty of cultural attractions aside from its shops and restaurants.

7. Innsbruck

Another old town worthy of a visit and we’ll be back here again in September for the UCI Road World Championships. Nonetheless, we had an enjoyable potter about with a pit-stop for coffee followed by lunch, followed by a spot of food shopping in one of its indoor markets.

8. Villa Caroline

It would be rude not to mention our holiday home, situated almost in the centre of town, close to all the action. It’s four identical 100 sq m, two-bed, two bath, apartments within a newish building (built 2007-8) with panoramic views. It’s well kitted out and even has English television thanks to its roof top satellite.

You’ll have spotted the key attraction for us. The two bathroom means I don’t have to share with my beloved – always a bonus  – and he can use the second bedroom as a dressing room. Hence I don’t have to share closet space either – perfect! We first stayed here back in 2oo9 during the summer so knew what to expect and it didn’t disappoint.

Thanks for the memories

In a way it’s inevitable that we’ve made comparisons between last Christmas in Australia and this one in Austria. Largely, I should add, prompted by Facebook constantly throwing up photographic memories of last year’s trip. I had said I wouldn’t do a “where were we this time last year?” and, to be fair, I’ve not overindulged. However, it’s hard to ignore the contrasts.

The biggest difference is, of course, the weather: summer v winter. This time last year we were sightseeing in Adelaide and the surrounding area, ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under, luxuriating in the heat (35-40C) and petting cuddly baby animals. This year we’ve been out either walking or skiing and enjoying the sunshine, though not the heat (-3 – +3C), visiting areas we love and know well. We’ve thought about “how long is it since we were last here?” This, of course, includes working out what’s changed since that last time.

In both instances, we stayed in self-catering accommodation. We like spacious flats where we can stretch out, which have separate bathrooms and many of the conveniences we’d find at home. I enjoy cooking with local ingredients and confess to missing the oysters and lobster tails of last year or, more specifically, the markets where we bought our produce. Aside from the local well-stocked supermarket, this year I’ve contented myself with Innsbruck’s food hall and one of my favourite shops in Munich, Dallmayr’s.

Markthalle, Innsbruck
Dallmayr’s, Munich

Of course, I don’t cook all the time. In Australia, it’s never hard to find a restaurant serving something I can eat. The only one’s which are “no go’s” are fine dining establishments with 6-8 course set menus. Austria’s rather different. There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, so long as you eat cheese and dairy. I am restricted to pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, large mixed salads and the occasional fish dish. However, the better the restaurant, the more likely it is to have or be prepared to adapt something on its menu for me. Meanwhile, it’s a refined form of torture watching everyone, including my beloved, tuck into some of my formerly favourite dishes.

It’s not all holiday though as we still have to keep the business ticking over wherever we are but my beloved tries to stay off the grid between Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, 2018 has gotten off to a great start business wise, and long may it continue.

One of the oldest bits of Innsbruck

 

Marien Platz, Munich

This year, we’ve spent just over a month in the same place although we’ve had trips to the surrounding towns of Munich, Mittenwald and Innsbruck. We’ve not explored as much as we did last year. Partly, this is because we’ve had many winter and summer holidays in this area and we know what we like to see and do. It’s less virgin territory and more of a trip down memory lane.

My beloved outside one of the many painted buildings in Mittenwald

Both holidays were pretty active in terms of both participating in and watching sport, though Australia definitely wins hand down. Largely because of the more favourable weather conditions but also because last year my beloved wasn’t still recovering from a broken leg.

I’m delighted to report that he’s been sensible – and about time too. He’s been much more cautious than before, when the idea of taking it easy for the first few days while he recovered his snow legs was total anathema. We’ve also walked a lot more than before, partly because of the weather and partly because my beloved’s leg gets tired after three day’s of consecutive skiing. He’s also stuck to the classic rather than skating technique on account of his hips.

Home sweet home

So, what are we going to do next year? While I would happily jump on a plane to Australia, I recognise that the business won’t allow us to have an extended stay and while a winter holiday was fun, I’ve become more of a fan of the sun. This was the last building block of 2018 and we’ve decided to spend it at home with occasional forays into Italy for some la dolce vita.  

 

 

 

40 years of Memorable Moments: InterAlpen Hotel, Tirol

We’ve spent many happy holidays in the Seefeld area so it would be hard to pinpoint one as being “The Best Ever.” Rather, happy memories have arisen on all our holidays. We’ve stayed in a number of hotels and apartments in the area but have a clear favourite, aside from where we’re currently staying.

On our maiden visit to Seefeld in 1986, we stayed in a self-catering studio apartment. The following year we stayed in a hotel we’d spotted while out cross-country skiing. The hotel is just outside of Seefeld in Telfs-Buchen, on a hill overlooking the Inn valley. It had opened a couple of years earlier, in 1985, and is owned by the Liebherr family who have one of their plants in the town of Telfs in the valley below.

Rumour has is that the late Dr Hans Liebherr wanted to build a home on the hill but planning permission was refused. Instead he built a large hotel, providing much-needed employment and business for the area. He maybe had the last laugh because as you drive into the hotel’s massive underground carpark, clearly marked on the entrance is “Dr Hans Liebherr, Alpenstrasse 1.”  He used to occupy the penthouse suite when he was in residence.

We so enjoyed our 1987 vacation at the hotel that we became frequent guests, staying there in high season, such as Christmas and New Year, mid-February and even low season in the summer. My parents accompanied us on a number of visits, including one in winter where my father manfully gave cross-country skiing a go. However, they tended to prefer visiting in summer when it was less slippy underfoot and the climate more temperate.

The whole area is a sports’ mecca and there’s little we’ve not tried: cross-country and alpine skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-skating, tobogganing, walking, mountain, fat and road biking, indoor and outdoor tennis, swimming, wild-water rafting and canonying. We’ve also watched a number of sports’ events such as ski jumping, ski racing and, in summer, tennis tournaments.

There’s a number of reasons why we liked staying at the hotel. Although it is large and has many (282) rooms, it never feels full. There is plenty of space to enjoy the hotel, and its many facilities. The bedrooms are spacious, the dining rooms are split into a variety of rooms ensuring that they are intimate and cosy, rather than noisy. Guests can spread themselves in and around the many bars and lounges so there’s never a problem finding a seat.

The hotel is relatively isolated and consequently it provides plenty of day and night time activities for its guests. Facilities have been added over the years including Europe’s largest spa in 2002, a lovely place to luxuriate and be pampered before enjoying the hotel’s indoor or outdoor pools.

Since our move to France we’ve visited Seefeld and the hotel much more infrequently but it remains one of our favourite places to stay. You may wonder why we’re not staying there over Christmas and New Year? It’s simple. The hotel, like most in the area, offers only half-board which frankly we now find all too much, even without taking account of the challenges of my dietary requirements. Plus, we now much prefer the freedom afforded us in a spacious apartment.

Postcard from Seefeld: back where we first started

I first learnt to ski when I visited my French pen-friend who lived in Grenoble. The whole family were excellent skiers and, after they taught me how to do a snow plough, I just tagged along. Never having skied before, I didn’t have any kit. Fortunately, the girl next door was the same size as me and kindly lent me some. I was conscious that unlike them I wasn’t swooshing down the pistes but nor was I making a fool of myself. I took to skiing like a duck to water probably because I was a reasonably proficient ice and roller skater.

Fast forward 15 years or so and I found myself heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a work colleague, a keen skier, for a week-end’s alpine skiing while we were auditing our Frankfurt office. I generally shied away from spending week-ends away with colleagues, the working day and evening for three weeks being more than enough. But as there were just the two of us on this audit, I kind of felt obliged. Unfortunately my colleague was a danger to himself and everyone else on the piste so I wasn’t keen to be seen with him. However, on the way to the resort, inspiration struck and I elected to go cross-country skiing. It was love at first sight and on my return home, told my beloved we had to give it a go.

Our first cross-country skiing holiday was in Seefeld, Austria, in 1986, chosen because of its reputation as a cross-country skiing resort. We spent two weeks in an apartment not far from the cross-country ski tracks following a course of instruction. I rapidly progressed, my proficiency as a snow plougher par excellence standing me in good stead, plus I’m pretty fearless. My beloved’s lack of hip flexibility – yes, even before his recent leg break – rather hindered his progress, but we were soon up and running using the classic technique. It would be some time before we progressed to skating.

We enjoyed a number of winter holidays in Seefeld, including one with my parents, refining our technique and skills. In 1990, my beloved decided we were ready to take part in the Engadine Marathon, a well-known winter sporting event in Switzerland. We spent the week before the main event taking part in some intensive training, which included a trial-run mid-week where I got lost – a tale for another time. On the Sunday we both successfully completed the marathon which was the first of our six participations, though the only one where we used the classic technique. That’s right, the following year we rapidly progressed to skating which, once you’ve mastered the technique, is an altogether easier and swifter proposition.

Aside from trips to the Engadine and to visit friends in Zell am See, we’ve spent many more happy holidays cross-country skiing in Seefeld and the surrounding area most notably a couple of years ago when we stayed in a hotel chosen by my beloved – big mistake! This time we chose to return to an apartment where we’d previously spent a week during a rather wet summer back in 2009, a rather more agreeable proposition in the town itself.

Over the years, we’ve skied all of the area’s cross-country ski trails many times, walked and ridden our bikes all over the area. We know it like the backs of our hands and while the resort has grown, it’s not lost its essential charms – at least not for us. It’s almost three years since we were last here and we’ve enjoyed spotting what’s changed and seeing how it has evolved.

The resort now boasts many estate agents. Back in the mid-80s properties for sale were advertised in a small display outside of the only newsagent, now the town sports many, including a very large branch of Engel & Voelkers, a decidedly upmarket estate agent. It also sports my other ritzy resort bell weather, a shop selling Il Gufo – a wickedly expensive brand of children’s wear.

This year’s Christmas vacation will be very different from last year’s but I’m not expecting it to be any less enjoyable!

12 days of Christmas: Day 12

It’s only appropriate that this picture was taken during our current winter vacation in Seefeld, Austria. This sums up everything I adore about cross-country skiing: blue sky, new snow, crisp empty tracks, at one with nature – bliss!

It just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with plenty of happiness, good health and every success for 2018.

Postcards from Seefeld II

A week ago we had just returned from a week’s vacation where –  and I only have myself to blame –  I allowed my beloved to choose the hotel. In the many, many years we’ve been married I’ve allowed him to book hotels only twice before, neither of which was an unqualified success. It’s just not one of his competencies. He’s blinded by the pretty photographs and forgets to check the small print.

My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace
My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace

The hotel wasn’t a total disaster but we won’t be returning. On the positive side, it was in a fabulous location, the rooms were spacious with south-facing balconies and it was a small family run affair. Usually a bell weather, but not this time. Mein hosts, along with their overly fussy totally coordinated decor and menus, were firmly stuck in the last century. They pitch their offering very much at the German retiree market, a segment with plenty of spending power and a desire to return year after year after year.

The hotel claimed to have WiFi throughout but I soon discovered that the service worked intermittently in the bedrooms. Four of us on the hotel’s second floor had iPhones and iPads and, a bit like the Germans and their towels, you had to get up early to hog access the limited bandwidth.

Non fully functioning WiFi is one of my pet peeves and the hotel will get marked down on my booking.com evaluation. And, while we’re on the subject of complaints, I’d also like to confiscate the chef’s mandolin, the use of which was willful and without reason. Marcus Waring wouldn’t have approved either! Chef also liked decorating the plates with little dots of balsamic vinegar which added nothing to our enjoyment of the dish and, another cardinal sin, painting stripes of stuff across the plates. I dare say that Mein hosts thought this the height of fine dining, but they’re wrong, it is not.

Serviette Folding

Frau Host had a firm grip on the book “The Art of Folding Serviettes.”  Every evening they were arranged in a different fashion and the table decorated with what I can only describe as knickknacks – so NOT necessary! Plain white linen table cloths and neatly folded serviettes please. The Saturday before we left was St Valentines Day and they’d gone totally overboard.

As I waited to check out, Herr Host was having a long conversation with a couple of regulars taking their leave. I swear that he clicked his heels together smartly and inclined his head as he shook their hands and bade them farewell for another year. I was not accorded the same courtesy. I sensed he knew I would not be returning. I half expected the bill to be laminated much like my “yellow card.”

Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks
Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks

I had committed the cardinal sin of omitting to fill in the registration card which was hidden among the pile of brochures in the bedroom. In truth, he’d run pretty much amok with the laminating machine and I suspect his wife bought him it for Christmas . Probably, the same year he bought her the one on how to fold serviettes.

Postcards from Seefeld I

My beloved and I spent last week in one of our old stomping grounds, Seefeld in Austria, where we both first learned to cross-country ski. We’ve been visiting the resort regularly for many years, summer and winter, though not so much since we moved to France. Our last visits were back in 2009, when we went cross-country skiing in February and cycling in June.
Seefeld
Seefeld
The resort has changed very little over the years and it’s like slipping your feet into a well-worn and favourite pair of slippers. I should at this point add, I never wear slippers. Along with cardigans and reading glasses, I think they shreak “middle-aged.”
That track has got my name on it
That track has got my name on it
We’ve skied all the resorts 250km of cross-country tracks, several times, just not on the same day! The tracks are graded just like alpine slopes from easy (green) all the way up to most difficult (black). My beloved always makes a beeline for the black  ones whereas I like to get my snow legs back first and will religiously practise a number of exercises before hitting the trails.
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church
Cross-country skiing, particularly skating, is all about technique. Get that right and you can glide along using the minimum of effort. If I’m obsessed with technique, my beloved is all about power. Combine our talents and you’d have a formidable athlete!
It's even nice walking in the snow
It’s even nice walking in the snow
Aside from the cross-country trails and downhill slopes, there’s  around 250km of walks. There’s nothing I like better than working up a head of steam crunching through the woods on virgin snow. It’s so peaceful. Well, apart from the noise I’m making.
This has our names (and forks) on it!
This has our names (and forks) on it!
Then, having burned off copious calories walking and skiing, it’s time to refuel with an Austrian speciality: Apfelstrudel, Germknodel, Kaiserschmarr’n. I’ve tried them all in the name of scientific research.
Bliss!
Bliss!
Last week we were blessed with that nirvana combination of clear blue skies, plenty of new snow and tons of warm sunshine. Ahead of the half- term vacations and Carnival,  the resort was busy but not overly so. No fighting with the Germans to bag the best and sunniest seats!