On your bike

Friday - - Leisure -

As­mart air­craft, pretty women, fast cars… The first leg of my trip to Aus­tria had all the el­e­ments of a James Bond thriller. In fact the Bond-es­que drama be­gan the mo­ment I dis­em­barked from the stylish Lufthansa jet at Mu­nich air­port. A tall lis­some lady dressed in a blue suit, com­plete with mile-high stilet­tos, gen­tly tapped my el­bow and whis­pered, “This way, sir...”

Click, click her heels went on the smooth asphalt as she led me to a shin­ing black Audi that was purring on the tar­mac. I slipped into the cool leather seat. “What about my lug­gage?” I asked the liv­er­ied chauf­feur. “It’s all taken care of, sir,’’ he replied, pulling his cap down and gun­ning the en­gine.

In barely a few min­utes we drew up out­side a lit­tle kiosk marked Wel­come. Mirac­u­lously the lady in blue – or was it her twin? – was there al­ready. She opened the door to the VIP lounge and asked whether I would like a cool drink.

“Oh, yes please,” I said, tak­ing in the plush am­bi­ence and silently prais­ing Teu­tonic ef­fi­ciency.

It was day one of my four-day visit to Ger­many and Aus­tria and I was al­ready over­whelmed by the hos­pi­tal­ity and pam­per­ing I was re­ceiv­ing. Af­ter the lux­ury of my VIP wel­come, the 240km drive from Mu­nich Air­port to the award­win­ning Alpen­re­sort Sch­warz Ho­tel – sit­u­ated on the pic­turesque Miem­ing Plateau in Ty­rol, western Aus­tria – took us less than two hours.

Once out of the city, we passed mead­ows that seemed to con­tinue for as far as the eye could see, skirted dark and mys­te­ri­ous pine forests, fol­lowed the swiftly flow­ing River Lech for a few kilo­me­tres, be­fore turn­ing off the road and hit­ting a gravel path that led to the ho­tel.

Even though we left Mu­nich af­ter 6pm, it was still bright and sunny when we ar­rived at Ty­rol. The air was crisp and the tem­per­a­ture a pleas­ant 18C. The ho­tel had a warm and wel­com­ing am­bi­ence rem­i­nis­cent of a cosy inn, and I would later learn it had been a trav­ellers’ inn in the 1800s un­til be­ing mod­ernised into a four-star prop­erty a few decades ago by the present owner, an avun­cu­lar gen­tle­man named Franz Josef Pirktl.

Stretch­ing my legs af­ter the long drive, I breathed in the clean Alpine air as I saun­tered around the ho­tel, awed by the pic­turesque snow-capped moun­tains and rolling mead­ows of Ty­rol.

In­side the sprawl­ing restau­rant of the Sch­warz Ho­tel, the owner, Franz, was shar­ing anec­dotes with guests. Run by the Pirktl fam­ily, which in­cludes Franz’s wife and two sons, the well-ap­pointed re­sort has ev­ery­thing a tourist can de­sire in­clud­ing uber-mod­ern spas, a wa­ter theme park, lux­u­ri­ous rooms, a multi-cui­sine restau­rant and three spec­tac­u­lar pools. The next day, af­ter a hearty break­fast, we set off to Stot­t­lalm, an au­then­tic Alpen hut and restau­rant that of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views of the Miem­ing coun­try­side. With a pop­u­la­tion of 3,000, Miem­ing is a favourite desti­na­tion for those who love hik­ing, walk­ing and golf. The pretty vil­lage of­fers 35km of hik­ing and bik­ing trails that wind up the moun­tains. Scat­tered en route are moun­tain huts like Stot­t­lal, where you can en­joy lo­cal dishes. I opted for roasted sad­dle of veni­son, fin­ish­ing off with rhubar­brasp­berry ice cream. De­li­cious!

Later, I stepped out to ad­mire the views of the award-win­ning golf course. Sit­u­ated by the side of it is a charm­ing lake that was re­flect­ing the af­ter­noon sun like a sheet of glass left out in the land­scape. In win­ter, the lake trans­forms into an ice skat­ing rink and is a huge at­trac­tion for skat­ing en­thu­si­asts and fam­i­lies.

I de­cided to skip the of­fered horse­and-car­riage ride back to the ho­tel and in­stead try out an Alpine walk­ing trail. Crunch­ing the gravel, I set off on one of the best walks I’ve ever been on in my life. Snaking through amaz­ing pine forests, the ex­pe­ri­ence was, to steal my teenage daugh­ter’s favourite phrase “just awe­some”.

But if I thought the walk­ing was the best thing in Ty­rol, the next day’s event was eas­ily the high­light of the trip. Mid-morn­ing, af­ter a re­lax­ing time at the spa where I en­joyed a mas­sage, a cou­ple of friends and I grabbed some e-bikes (essen­tially moun­tain bikes but par­tially elec­tron­i­cally pow­ered so you won’t be left panting af­ter a short ride) and de­cided to hit a bik­ing trail.

The last time I rode a bi­cy­cle was some 20 years ago but I was pleased I could still main­tain my bal­ance and didn’t look like some­thing that had just ex­ited a cir­cus ring. Choos­ing

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