Off-beat Austria: Klammer’s Kleinkircheim

6th August 2013, by Rob Rees

The Nockberg Mountains in Bad Kleinkircheim

The Nockberg Mountains in Bad Kleinkircheim

I’m always looking to unearth new winter experiences. My ski trips are no longer about first to last lift and my clubbing days are definitely over, but as a keen skier who still wants to track hard for four or five hours but then unwind in calm luxury, I found plenty of relaxation in Austria’s Bad Kleinkircheim. You can fly to Saltzburg or Ljubljana in Slovenia but it’s less than an hour from Carinthia’s compact Klagenfurt airport. We couldn’t have started the holiday more relaxed either — hold bags delivered in minutes and our hire car en route ten minutes later. The joys of travelling through smaller airports.

The resort, nicknamed BKK, boasts many four-star hotels, thermal spas and fine dining. It also has a classy ski pedigree: it’s the home hill of Austria’s downhill legend Franz Klammer, who grew up on a farm in nearby Mooswald. In Austria “Bad” means spa — and as well as the many private spas attached to hotels in the town, there are two quality public spa complexes where you can unwind, imbibe the water and be cured of many ills.

The Römerbad spa was refurbished in 2006 and after an early ski finish I spent three unhurried hours sampling the multiple saunas and steam rooms, pools, hot tubs and chill-out areas. Best of all was the outside rooftop pool where I sat peering through the steam at skiers on the nearby Kaiserburg.

Like many Austrian ski resorts, BKK represents great value with spa breaks more affordable than in the glitzier European resorts. Half board in a four-star hotel starts at €70 per night and hoteliers here actively encourage long weekend breaks. We found a friendly welcome at the four-star Trattlerhof, right next to the Sonnwiesen lift. Run by young Jakob Forstnig, the fifth generation of his family, it’s a cosy 370-year-old coaching inn where we felt immediately at home in the hotel’s rambling rooms, sitting in front of an open fire enjoying the traditional afternoon tea of steaming yellow soup (Gelbe Supp’n; mutton, beef and pork, seasoned with saffron, aniseed, cinnamon, nutmeg) and hunks of fresh apfelstrudel.

It was easy to slip into this unhurried pace of life. We enjoyed a leisurely 9am first lift and a day’s cruising on mainly tree-lined reds. The north-facing Kaiserburg had the best skiing, shaded for most of the day but with excellent snow conditions. Sunnier, more open slopes lay above the village of St Oswald. We found it best to warm up here, and then track back to the summit of the Kaiserburg late morning for the exhilarating 5km descent of FIS K70, a top-to-bottom red run, where Klammer first won a senior race aged 18.

There are few runs for advanced skiers, although black 8, called “The Klammer World Cup Run” is as tough as any. With gradients up to 80% and tricky traverses, this 3.2km piste demands respect with a vertical drop of almost 1km. It twisted and turned as I powered through the forests with its gliding sections, humps and hollows testing all my skills.

If you book early, you can actually ski with “The Kaiser” Franz himself — a unique treat for 25 skiers, twice a season. Take a 6:30am first lift and you have the Olympic Champion and an untracked Kaiserburg to yourself for two hours — if you can keep up — all for the price of €65 including lift pass and breakfast.

The resort is relatively low-lying and set on the green rolling Nockberg hills. You feel like you’re on Lake District fells, although luckily there’s a lot more snow. Its location on the edge of the Hohe Tauern National Park and 500 state-of-the-art snow cannons help. Lifts are somewhat antiquated, with no covered six-man chairs and gondolas all busy with queues of 10 minutes mid-mornings. Thankfully, upgrades are planned to the lift system in coming seasons.

Carinthia justly prides itself on regional “farm kitchen” cooking using 100% local produce and in my 20 years visiting Austria, I’ve never eaten so well as I did here — particularly the Loystube and Einkehr. It’s hard not to put weight on here but BKK is heaven if you enjoy the good things in life and a classic Austrian winter holiday; perfect for families wanting a less frenzied ski scene or couples wanting a spa break.

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