From Aus­tria, with love

James Bond was here

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FRONT PAGE - NICK BOULOUS

The moun­tain scenery spread out be­fore me was among the finest I had ever seen, with more than 250 meringue­like peaks fold­ing into the dis­tance.

Yet my gaze was fixed else­where. Ice Q, a strik­ing, three-storey glass build­ing that gleamed in the sun like a melt­ing ice cube (hence the name), presided at the top of the wind­blown 3048m sum­mit of Gais­lachkogl. And I wasn’t the only one to be so cap­ti­vated. Last year, the pro­duc­tion team of the new 007 film Spec­tre had been scour­ing the Alps for a lair fit for a Bond vil­lain when their search ended here.

Fol­low­ing in Bond’s per­fectly par­al­lel ski tracks brought me to Solden, a sleepy re­sort in the South Ty­rol.

The ar­rival of Daniel Craig and Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Sam Mendes was big news for this quiet but spec­tac­u­lar cor­ner of Aus­tria, home to a lit­tle more than 3000 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing ski guide Nor­bert. “They closed the moun­tain in or­der to film but no­body minded. Ev­ery­body is very ex­cited,” he beamed proudly. “It’s a real hon­our that they chose our lit­tle vil­lage.”

For the first couple of months this year, the quiet ac­tion of the vil­lage’s gon­do­las and ca­ble cars was ramped up with high-oc­tane snow­mo­biles, ex­plod­ing 4x4s and a con­voy of As­ton Martins as Daniel Craig took to the slopes, bran­dish­ing a pis­tol, for one of the movie’s ac­tion se­quences. The shoot was shrouded in se­crecy.

What else would you ex­pect from the world’s No 1 spy, and the fa­mously tight-lipped movie fran­chise?

Nor­bert, like most lo­cals, was con­vinced that moun­tain­top Ice Q would be the ul­ti­mate hide­away for Spec­tre bad­die Franz Ober­hauser, played by Christoph Waltz.

De­spite be­ing one of the best restau­rants in the Otz­tal Val­ley (the long­est in the re­gion) and one of the most in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­tural land­marks in the Alps, it hasn’t al­ways been such a slick spot.

A €4.5 mil­lion ($6.7m) in­vest­ment trans­formed the sum­mit, re­plac­ing the tired old ob­ser­va­tion deck that pre­vi­ously stood here.

Stretch­ing out be­low, Solden’s 145km of pistes were

largely quiet dur­ing my visit, shortly af­ter film­ing took place ear­lier this year, but such soli­tude won’t last now that Spec­tre is in cine­mas around the world.

Nor­bert and I skied glee­fully, Bond theme tunes play­ing in my head as I gazed out across Aus­tria and the Ital­ian Dolomites. Nor­bert, how­ever, had more press­ing con­cerns. The Si­mon Cow­ell of ski in­struc­tors, he passed crit­i­cal judg­ment on all who passed us: “He’s not bad. She’s very good.” And, drop­ping his voice to a whis­per, “He is … ter­ri­ble”. I didn’t dare ask for his ver­dict on my abil­i­ties. “The prob­lem with you,” he vol­un­teered, “is your bum and what you do with it.” “Ex­cuse me?” I splut­tered. “Ski­ing is like walk­ing. The pos­ture should be the same but ev­ery­body is al­most sit­ting down,” he replied.

Solden, 90km south­west of Inns­bruck, of­fers plenty of time to right that wrong. Its two glaciers and high alpine lo­ca­tion en­sure good con­di­tions from as early as Oc­to­ber and as late as May. “When I was a boy, you could ski here all sum­mer,” rem­i­nisced Nor­bert.

Back down in Solden proper, a vil­lage of bars and bak­eries, I needed some­where to soothe my weary legs. The 121-room Das Cen­tral ho­tel proved just the place. This five-star Ty­rolean-style property was where Mendes stayed dur­ing film­ing. Craig opted for a suite at the nearby Ho­tel Ber­g­land; a shame, really, be­cause he missed out on what may pos­si­bly be the strangest spa in Europe. Shuf­fling along a maze of sub­ter­ranean cor­ri­dors in my fluffy robe and slip­pers, I reached two wooden doors draped in heavy red vel­vet and pinned with a lam­i­nated sign: “No pho­tog­ra­phy per­mit­ted in the Venezia Wa­ter World”. In­trigued to know ex­actly what a “Venezia Wa­ter World” might be, I stepped over the thresh­old and straight into the mid­dle of St Mark’s Square.

Mu­rals of Venice’s cel­e­brated cen­tral pi­azza cov­ered the walls. More prom­i­nent was the scaled-down but im­pres­sive replica of the Doge’s Palace, com­plete with Moorish arches and Gothic win­dows. Copies of old­fash­ioned free­stand­ing Vene­tian lanterns glowed be­tween sun­lounges oc­cu­pied by out-of-shape cou­ples wrapped in tow­els.

Over­head, the ceil­ing twin­kled with LED lights strewn across a scene of a starry night sky. Up­stairs, an­other sweep­ing mu­ral of La Serenis­sima’s la­goon pro­vided an ap­pro­pri­ate back­drop to the replica gon­dola poised by the edge of the swim­ming pool.

I made my way to the near­est bath, one of the spa’s 10 hot tubs and saunas, when an ex­as­per­ated at­ten­dant marched over. Sud­denly I had left Venice and was firmly back in Aus­tria. “Naked!” he barked, or­der­ing me to strip off. Still feel­ing bash­ful the fol­low­ing morn­ing, I headed back out to the slopes and con­cen­trated on a bum note of a dif­fer­ent kind. Nor­bert soon had me stand­ing tall with per­fect pos­ture. You’d never catch Bond ski­ing with his bot­tom stick­ing out, af­ter all. “Beau­ti­ful,” Nor­bert later bel­lowed. I wasn’t sure if he meant my ski­ing or the scenery, which never failed to please.

The day ended with a long, late and boozy lunch at Ice Q. It was dif­fi­cult to tear my­self away from the floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows to sur­vey the menu in the stun­ning stone-and-oak din­ing room. The restau­rant, which opened last year, is headed by chef Pa­trick Schnedl, who creates a fine-din­ing menu to match the high al­ti­tude. Ev­ery­thing, from the truf­fle honey to the ap­ples for the flaky strudels, is trans­ported up by ca­ble car.

I feasted on the de­li­cious views of rum­pled moun­tain­tops in be­tween mouth­fuls of veal sch­nitzel with pars­ley pota­toes and cran­ber­ries, washed down with a glass of Pino 3000, a smoky red cre­ated by three wine­mak­ers in three coun­tries de­signed to ma­ture and be en­joyed at al­ti­tude. Bond would most cer­tainly ap­prove. • cen­ • •

Nor­bert and I skied glee­fully, Bond theme tunes play­ing in my head as I gazed out across Aus­tria

Clock­wise from above, restau­rant Ice Q; Daniel Craig on lo­ca­tion; ski re­sort gon­dola; the South Ty­rol vil­lage of Solden

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