On your bike
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