Sölden, Austria

Photo: Hotel Das Central

The Alps are practically deserted. This is one of the few times, along with the world wars, that Europe’s highest mountain range hasn’t been packed with tourists in more than a century. Skiers normally rule the slopes all winter. During the summer, it’s usually an array of bikers, climbers, hikers, and rafters. But the coronavirus arrived at the beginning of the year. Ski resorts became the epicenter of the pandemic. All those tourists fled. Few have returned. So the Alps are yours.

Austria has the highest density of ski resorts in Europe. They’re not as big or as glamorous or as well-known as those in France or Switzerland, so they’re customarily a bit cheaper. Add a hurting economy, unoccupied rooms, empty restaurants, and abandoned spas for extra deals on destinations that are typically booked solid.

Sölden is one area that’s always packed. The ski town is in the Ötztal, a Tyrolean valley wedged against the Italian border. The mountain village was established in the 13th century. About 20 buildings, including the Berghof Sölden, still stand from this time period. The ski resort features Austria’s only BIG3 (three mountains higher than 3,000 meters), 31 lifts, and 91 miles worth of trails. It hosts the first World Cup races of the season, which regularly lasts well into May. The beginning of the Ötztal Glacier Road, the second-highest paved road in Europe, starts here, too. It leads to the Rettenbach and Tiefenbachferner glaciers. So tourists vastly outnumber locals here.

Photo: Hotel Das Central

Despite its location in the middle of Sölden, Das Central feels like an alpine oasis. The chalet-style hotel sits along the Ötztaler Ache, one of the Inn’s largest tributaries. Bergbahnen Sölden’s ski lifts are just a short walk away. Once inside, you’ll find pure coziness with wooden furniture, large fireplaces, and traditionally dressed staff members. Rooms include soaking tubs, SuitePads (digital concierges), and Salomon hiking backpacks. Balcony boxes are overflowing with colorful flowers. Plus high peaks frame the view in every direction.

You might be tempted to immediately snuggle up in your room. Not so fast. You won’t be spending as much time in there as you think. First, there are the restaurants. Feinspitz serves five-course dinners by candlelight. Ötztaler Stube offers traditional alpine cuisine in a rustic setting. Fondue is available in the wine cellar. While bistro dishes and cigars sit alongside bespoke cocktails in Marend Stube.

Then there’s Water World Venezia. It’s a three-story, Venetian-themed spa. Yes, it’s as luxurious as it sounds. Sixteen treatment rooms. Ten different types of saunas and steam baths. An indoor pool. A sunbathing lawn. A health buffet. And you haven’t even seen the treatment list, which includes an Alpienne salt-crystal massage. The only area you don’t envision yourself using is the gym. It may be a state-of-the-art studio, but it’ll be hard to stay inside when there are nearly 1,000 miles of trails—passing wildlflower-dotted meadows, glacier-fed lakes, prehistoric rocks, and rushing streams—just beyond the hotel. You don’t even have to share them right now.


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