Category Archives: Food and drink

From Germknoedel to grappa

5/4/13 – April skiing: where to go for a last blast

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

To round off this snow-blessed winter in the Alps and escape the persistent winter chill of home, if you have a few days and a few pounds to spare I suggest you go skiing.

I have a final trip booked, to Val d’Isere – not a usual haunt of mine as I generally head for Austria, Italy or Switzerland, but it will be a nice change. Last time I stayed there, apart from one short press trip a couple of years ago, was when I was training to be an Inghams rep nearly 20 years ago.

Anyway, if I didn’t have that trip booked, here are the places I’d consider…

1. Engelberg in Switzerland. The top slopes are open till May 26, the town is lively, there’s accommodation for all budgets (including a youth hostel) and it’s only an hour from Zurich airport. There are also some brilliant local guides. Read more about that in my Telegraph article from last season about where to join off-piste groups.

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

…and when the slush sets in, here’s what you can do instead

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

2. Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s open till May 5, the town is vibrant, busy and full of ski mountaineering folk – and the shops, for once, are offering plenty of end-of-season bargains on gear (not forgetting the pyjamas, nighties and underwear, at Calida, towards the top of the main street). Again, there’s lodging for all budgets. But it’s far from the airport, so go for a week to make it worthwhile. Read more in the insider’s guide (and here is page 2) I compiled at the start of this season.

3. Obergurgl in Austria. It’s open till April 28, and with the village at about 1,900m and most of the skiing between there and 3,000m, there’s very quick access from hotel or b&b direct to the snow. What’s more, there’s fantastic touring, with a great choice of day tours. It’s less than 90 minutes from Innsbruck, and if winter flights have tailed off by the time you want to go, you can fly to Friedrichshafen, Salzburg or Zurich instead. Read my recent piece in the Telegraph, and my off-piste article from last year, to find out more.

4. Ischgl in Austria. The lifts aren’t due to close until May 1. I went late in the season a couple of years ago and despite it not being a good snow year, there was excellent cover thanks to super-efficient snowmaking earlier in the season. There’s good touring nearby in the Silvrettas – hire a guide and stay overnight in the Jamtal Hut (open till May 4), for instance. Keen apres-skiers will know its reputation for lively bars, which is merited – read more in past blogs of mine, such as this one, by entering ‘Ischgl’ in the search box on the right.

Just think of the tan you will get

Just think of the tan you will get

Other late-season favourites of mine are St Anton in Austria, which stays open till April 21; Alagna/Gressoney/Champoluc in Italy (only till April 14, sadly – but lift passes are free till then if you book three nights locally, and it’s amazing value for food and drink); or Cervinia in Italy, which shares Zermatt’s slopes but not its prices (open till May 5). An underrated place probably not on your radar is the Engadine, where Diavolezza/Lagalb stays open well until May 20, and Corvatsch until May 5. The area offers excellent ski touring too – and don’t be put off that it’s in the St Moritz area: there are hostels and modest b&bs as well as swanky hotels.

Of course, you could always plump for Colorado or Utah, where a snowstorm is meant to be heading right now, or for snowy Scotland, where conditions are excellent.

I’ll leave you with the details of four great cut-price deals that landed in my inbox  this week from Inghams, which might be worth a look if you can make a dash for the Alps at the last minute. I’m sure the other tour operators have similar offerings at equally appealing prices.

St Christoph, Austria. £349 for a week’s chalet-board (that means half-board, including wine with dinner and CHOCOLATES afterwards) in a chalet hotel with a pool and doorstep skiing, including return flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck on April 13.

St Anton, Austria. £349, chalet-board, similar to above. There’s no pool but the place, Chalet Gampen, looks pretty good, with whirlpool, sauna and all that stuff. Departing from Gatwick on April 13.

Tignes, France. £369 at Chalet Hotel Le Dome, described as ski-in, ski-out. Similar deal as above, flying to Chambery on April 13 from Gatwick – easily the best airport for Tignes, being about 90 minutes away.

Val Thorens, France – the high-altitude end of the Three Valleys. £369 at Chalet Anais, departing from Gatwick on April 13, flying to Chambery.

Happy holiday-hunting, if you have time!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

16/3/13 – Engadine marathon 2013: the verdict

Engadine marathon - making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Aches and pains? Huffing and puffing?

Well, up to a point.You can read more about what it was like to be a first-timer in the largest ski race in the Alps in my Telegraph and Planet Ski articles.

But last Sunday I had a surprise: the Engadine marathon was fun, satisfying and not as exhausting as I’d predicted.

They arrived in matching pairs...

They arrived in matching pairs…

Along with 11,312 of  the 12,540 starters, from elite athletes to flailing novices, aged 16 to mid-eighties, I finished the 26-mile course.

It followed the snow-clad frozen lakes and wooded paths of the far eastern corner of Switzerland, in the Graubunden canon.

...they arrived in matching groups

…they arrived in matching groups

If you’ve seen it in the papers lately it’s mainly because Pippa and James Middleton – the siblings of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, in case you live on another planet – were taking part.

Pippa was the fastest British girl at 2hr48 and her brother, James, took 2hr17.

And there was even a Brit in tweeds and a Jimmy hat

And there was even a Brit in rather fetching tweeds and a Jimmy hat

The fastest Brit, Alan Eason, clocked an impressive 1hr41.

The overall female winner, a Finn in her mid-thirties, glid round in 1hr29, setting a women’s course record on her first Engadine outing.

Which ones are mine again?

Which ones are mine again?

She was only a minute behind the male winner, a 23-year-old Frenchman, while the slowest racers took six hours.

I was overjoyed with my time of 3hr30 (as a first-timer of questionable fitness, four hours had been my target).

Engadine marathon start

And we’re off. You can see the classic style racers on the right, following the grooves

Anyway, here’s the full list of results.

After clicking on Results 2013, you can view them by class (which corresponds to age and gender), or by nationality.

Something especially impressive is that there were 223 finishers in the men’s over-70s category – and the oldest racer was born in 1926. This is a sport for everyone.

A few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

This is me a few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

Here’s another link some readers may find entertaining.

The super-efficient organisers have posted videos of – seemingly – almost every finisher crossing the line.

Simply find a person on the results list you want to watch, look up their start number (eighth column from the left), input it or their name into the field on the right of the screen and there they are. 

This is what was needed afterwards

This is what was needed afterwards – cakes from Kochendorfer Conditorei in Pontresina

Here are some numbers to try – though with the first few it’s hard to tell which is which as they’re going so fast:

Pierre Guedon (the male winner, from France) – 317

Riita-Liisa Ropenen (the female winner, from Finland) – 9

Alan Eason (the fastest Brit – I can’t identify him, but you get an idea of the speed) – 1079

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Christian Wenk (a paraplegic who completed the race in a sitski) – 4191

Pippa Middleton (in red and black; photographer close by) – 4606

James Middleton (in black, I think, with red headband, skating past camera) – 41847

Me (in pink and black; the knackered-looking one making straight for the camera) – 5807

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Filed under Food and drink, Gear, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Music, Racing, Switzerland, Transport

14/2/12 – At last! I am in a movie!

A few months ago I went to see Flow State, a ski film, at a London cinema. Instead of trailers there were adverts or shorts supplied by the evening’s sponsors, which included Lake Tahoe, Skiset, Nissan and the Ski Club of Great Britain.

A film made by the Ski Club started rolling, and my companion, Kirstin, and I were smiling as we watched the turquoise-jacketed leaders, of which I am one, cruising around the mountain under blue skies with their… ahem… obedient, orderly, happy and very expert-looking band of British followers.

Our smiles froze when, suddenly, both of us appeared, looming in giant form over the darkened auditorium. I wish I could say we were wedeling, goddess-like, in feathery powder, but in fact we were in a distinctly un-Alpine setting.

Kirstin and Emma, the evening we caught the Ski Club cameraman's eye

Kirstin and Emma, the evening we caught the Ski Club cameraman’s eye

A couple of years before we had been videoed, together with a third friend, Emma, at the club’s summer party, knocking back the free early-evening glass of fizz.

The party was at the Hurlingham Club, a somewhat grander “white house” than Ski Club HQ in Wimbledon.

We were on screen for three seconds at the most, but it felt like a full minute as Kirstin and I sank into our seats, cringing.

Anyway, having got over the shock I wanted to have another look, so I made a quick search on Youtube. I couldn’t find it, but Kirstin made a more diligent search recently and tracked it down, under the catchline “Why join the Ski Club?”

It has had a mere 51 views as I write, which is similar to the average attracted by the far less consequential and decidedly unprofessional films I have put on Youtube (see here; my most popular by far, by the way, is of the Trofana Alm apres-ski bar at Ischgl).

As the people at the White House have gone to such trouble to put the film together, and were so nice as to think me and friends worth including, shall we try to up its view count?

You can see it here (we appear after about a minute).

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Filed under Food and drink, Link to film, Off-piste

1/2/13 – Can anybody beat this loo-with-a-view?

Snowy Schladming in mid-January

Snowy Schladming in mid-January

On Monday the World Alpine Skiing Championships begin in Schladming, Austria.

I spent a long weekend at the Austrian resort a few weeks ago, and you can read how impressed I was with the place in the Daily Telegraph travel section next weekend (or online, here).

This comfort stop is clearly signed

This comfort stop is clearly signed

As well as great, tree-lined ski runs, an attractive town square, half a dozen dirndl shops, the largest apres-ski bar in Europe (they claim – and Hohenhaus Tenne is indeed huge – pictures in a future blog) and unbelievably cheap and tasty food in giant portions, Schladming has fantastic places to “go”.

A very public loo

A very public lavatory

To the loo.

On the mountain.

At the junction of two chair-lift top stations on Planai (read the Telegraph piece to see which ones), the mountain where the racing takes place, is a white, green and yellow cabin marked “Sky Toilet”.

Here are the instructions that come with the loo

Here are the instructions that come with the loo

In the ladies’ , I found one cubicle with a wall of glass, one-way viewing, of course, overlooking the  ascending chairs at close quarters and the piste.

Plastered to the other walls and ceiling is local mountain scenery, completing the picture. The second cubicle is  totally wallpapered.

This is the view from where I was sitting

This is the view from where I was sitting

Of course it was all beautifully heated, with plenty of room to put your gloves and a hook to hang your rucksack or coat.

There were similar good loos elsewhere in Schladming – easily up to the standard of Aspen, where the mountain loos are very practical.

Spot the door in the Planet Planai ladies'

Spot the door in the Planet Planai ladies’

In Planet Planai, the new base station, there’s more good wallpaper, plus a powder scene across all the doors in the ladies’.

In Hohenhaus Tenne, on the way out, there’s a sort of chalet willage of lavatories, comoplete with a rustic water fountain in the middle.

Step inside the chalet to 'go'

Step inside the chalet to ‘go’

Please advise if you know of other mountain loo stops that are as beautiful and useful as these, and I will make an effort to make use of them one day…

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Racing

12/1/13 – Obergurgl apres-ski: David’s Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David's Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David’s Hut

Jolly, traditional, Tyrolean music in Obergurgl, I was glad to discover in December, is alive and well, even though the band at the excellent Nederhut is more inclined to high-volume “ruck’n’roll” than it was when I worked there 15 years ago (see my Telegraph article on Obergurgl – out in print in the Telegraph Saturday travel section today – for more on “then and now”).

On a Thursday evening before Christmas, our family group of three generations – aged nine to 72 – booked in to a fondue/Schweinshaxe (pork)/meat-on-stone evening at David’s Hut (Davids Huette), a few hundred yards downhill from the Nederhut and a place I knew mainly for its outstanding spaghetti Bolognese.

We walked up from the village (25 minutes from the centre, on a lane that starts steeply and flattens out); other groups arrived by taxi. It was beginning to snow.

The van of the promisingly named band, the Oetztaler Alpentornados, was parked outside; tables were filling up, mostly with German guests; a few teenage locals were drinking Weizenbier at the bar; a 20-strong British group, celebrating a birthday, were colonising one corner.

We’d booked meat fondue, mostly the chunky bourgignonne variety, but three of us had Chinoise, which came in jucier, thicker slices than usual. The sauces included sweet chilli as well as cocktail, curry, sour cream and chives, tartare and an unpindownable pink one. Salad arrived first, then rounds of chips to go with the meat.

The meal was spot on, as was the service – the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, let alone the Alps. I first met the four longstanding chief waiting staff when working in the village in the mid-1990s, and the fact they’re all still happily there says a lot about the place (David himself is in the kitchen, or behind the bar).

But how was the music?

The band started sedately, circulating around the hut to give each set of tables a kind of private performance before plugging themselves in.

About five songs later, one of the Weizenbier-drinkers jumped up and danced energetically, all on his own. Here he is (in action on Youtube).

A few waltzes later Inge and… ah, I’ve forgotten this great David’s Hut longtimer’s name, I’m sorry to say… took a break from fetching, carrying and pouring to show how Austrian dancing is done.

Here they are – move over, everyone from Strictly (and of course we were rather amateur by comparison, too, when we had a go).

The Tornados played for well over an hour without a break, using a tableful of tuneful little metal bells for several songs – watch and listen here – and getting diners to come up and play them.

They finished their first set with a ‘Polonaise’ or conga around the benches and tables and out of the window onto the now-snowy terrace.

I was glad to see our neighbours join in: usually Brits find it too embarrassing to jig round in a queue holding onto a stranger’s shoulders from behind and being similarly grasped themselves. Usually, they pretend not to understand when beckoned to the line by a German, or they find some excuse such as finishing a drink or ordering another. But these ones were well fuelled by rounds of birthday schnapps.

As the Tornados rested at the bar in readiness for their second set, we paid up (about 45 euros each) and headed back to the village, the fresh snow beneath our feet and in our heads the swinging sounds of mountain music mingling with excitement about the next day’s powder…

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Music, Transport, United States

13/12/12 – Riding Haflinger ponies in Obergurgl

A Haflinger from the Edelweiss & Gurgl stable

A Haflinger from the Edelweiss & Gurgl stable

These days people talk about “riding” a mountain, rather than skiing it. Well, a few years ago I went riding up a mountain, in winter. On a horse. Or rather a pony – an Austrian Haflinger, no less. It was in Obergurgl, where I’ll be skiing (and maybe also riding) next week.

Inside the riding hall in this Tyrolean resort, I watched a pricked pair of woolly, caramel-coloured ears and a shimmering flaxen mane bob along in front of me while snow swirled outside.

Instead of 'hup, hup', it was 'trit-trot'

Instead of ‘hup, hup’, it was ‘trit-trot’

My mount, Hevelyn, was trotting round Austria’s highest-altitude – and, then, spanking new – riding hall (1,930m), which was built by one of the village’s “ruling” families chiefly to help revive the resort’s summer fortunes. However, these well-bred mares are in work in winter, too.

The Scheiber family, which owns the Edelweiss & Gurgl hotel, a favourite with the British and bang in the village centre, has kept Haflingers since the 1920s, and a fabulous painting of the herd grazing on its summer pasture hangs in reception.

Hevelyn and Anita with their grooms

Hevelyn and Anita with their grooms

Lukas Scheiber, who took over the hotel from his father about 10 years ago and is a respected international Haflinger judge, told me: “My grandfather brought Haflingers over from the South Tyrol – where they originated – and he became chairman of the first official breed society. They were working ponies – we used them to transport supplies to our mountain hut, the Ramolhaus.”

In the 1960s the practical need for Haflingers petered out, but the Scheibers kept them for fun and breeding, giving them basic ride and drive training, and became one of a handful of Tyrolean breeders concentrating on top-quality animals.

“Since 1980 we’ve been buying the best or most expensive youngsters each year,” says Lukas (the family set a record at the national stud’s 2006 sale by paying £35,000 for Roque, a six-month-old filly with phenomenal bloodlines). “A good Haflinger must have a nice head, a white tail and mane and a quiet temperament. And it’s very important they’re good movers.”

Whose mane is smoother?

Whose mane is smoother?

Hevelyn, five years old and, like her 10 stablemates, in foal, certainly had plenty of movement – it took me a little practice to attain that armchair feeling.

My instructor, Simone Riml (who was brought up just down the valley), took care over warm-up and cool-down, and gave the mares plenty of breathers, especially between canters.

The horses are exercised lightly as close as a fortnight to foaling, which takes place between February and April, and they only jump in summer, in early pregnancy.

Nearly 90 per cent of riders are children and teenagers – although there is no weight limit and most of the ponies look about 14.3hh: “Haflingers can carry anything,” Simone assured me. Handling lessons are available too – and they’re gentle and adorable in the stable: it’s almost as rewarding to groom as to ride them.

Obergurgl's smart riding hall - in use winter as well as summer

Obergurgl’s smart riding hall – in use winter as well as summer

The hall – a 20x40m vision of glass and pine, with a sand and synthetic surface and a spectators’ gallery – sits on a hillock opposite the village church and virtually adjoining the Edelweiss’s livestock barn.

There live the mares; the fillies, inquisitive and nibbly; the hotel’s cattle (the Edelweiss is self-sufficient for milk and butter) and its pigs (pork is often on the menu).

The mares graze on the mountainside in May and June, while the fillies spend the entire summer there. But where are the boys? Well, some may be family ponies in Britain or America, the biggest export markets, and others may be dashing between obstacles at driving trials in Austria and elsewhere. But the ungelded ones, at least, are under strict official control.

The national stud (at Ebbs, east of Innsbruck) owns the Tyrol’s 50 registered stallions, which stand at 30 regional stallion stations. Colts undergo a rigorous procedure to gain the privilege of passing on their genes.

“Each year 1,200 foals are born in the Tyrol,” Lukas Scheiber said. “The association picks the 60 best colts and keeps them at Ebbs for a period, before selecting 20 to stay entire. It buys them from their breeders, but not for a huge amount of money – it’s the prestige that’s important.”

Please, mummy, can I get a pony?

Please, mummy, can I get a pony?

More about Haflingers

  • Haflingers are chestnut – fuchs, in German (which means fox) with a white or flaxen mane and tail
  • Fuchs varies from dark to light
  • The mane is left to grow naturally long, but the tail can be trimmed
  • Feathers may be lighter than the body but there should be no discernible socks
  • The blaze should start under the forelock and peter out before it reaches the muzzle
  • In the mountains, some Haflingers’ muzzles get much blacker in summer
  • Fillies are named with the first letter of their mothers’ names; colts with the first letter of the fathers’ names.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Transport

8/12/12 – Arctic ski-sail in pictures

On board Lille Polaris, our home for the week

On board Lille Polaris, our home for the week

The story of a brilliant but weatherbeaten ski-sail adventure I did in Norway in April was in the Sunday Telegraph Discover section last month.

You can read the full piece here online, or in more colourful pdf form (Norway ski sail Sunday Telegraph p1, Norway ski sail Sunday Telegraph p2, Norway ski sail Sunday Telegraph p3).

Our skipper, Sture Ellingsen

Our skipper, Sture Ellingsen

Some nice pictures were used in the article, including some provided by Zuba Ski, the British-run company that organised the trip, and some by our “first mate”, Hayet Mohkenache, a sailor and photographer from Marseille.

But as I have so many more, I am posting some here, alongside a couple of extracts from the piece.

Our guide, Marco Zaninetti

Our guide, Marco Zaninetti

“Strapped to the deck as we left the pretty marina the following morning were five pairs of skis; stashed below were our boots, skins, crampons and other paraphernalia, from sun-cream to goggles.

A steady climb from sea level

A steady climb from sea level

Compared with a standard European mountain refuge our quarters were palatial – a three-berth cabin at the stern, a double at the bow, two flushing loos, hot showers and plenty of drying space.

In the living and dining room were sofa-like benches that doubled as beds for Sture (almost pronounced “steerer”) and his assistant, Hayet Mohkenache, from Marseille.

We usually climbed 800-1,000m

We usually went up to 800-1,000m, taking two to three hours

The fridge in the neat galley was jammed with vacuum-packed, home-cooked suppers supplied by Markens Grode (“growth of the soil”), a café and farm at Kjerringoy where almost everything is home-raised (animals, vegetables and crops) or locally hunted (moose), picked (cloudberries) or fished (salmon, halibut and cod).

...and skied back down to the water

…and skied back down to the water

Cloud-laden skies heightened the mood of adventure as we advanced north, watching the mountains become snowier.

Within half an hour the three braver members of our party had climbed Lille’s mast while I (an avoider of heights) was studying a map of the region with our Italian mountain guide, Marco Zaninetti.”

Sometimes we found a good picnic spot

Sometimes we found a good picnic spot

Later that week…

“We picnicked sitting on tufts of heather alongside mountain streams, and I gradually appreciated why Sture had skied solely in Scandinavia since taking up the sport aged two. “Why would I go to the Alps? he reasoned. “Here we have sea and mountains.”

The tiny Gammen Hut, which we climbed to one day in a storm

The tiny Gammen Hut, which we visited one day in a storm. It was built by villagers at Nordfold

In the event Lille’s sails were rarely hoisted, due either to a lack of wind or far too much wind: one day we motored for four hours against the current in storm-force conditions to reach the district’s only “safe” harbour, Nordfold, nodding nervously as Sture promised, “There’s no danger.”

Inside the Gammen Hut, where we lit the stove

Inside the Gammen we found a stove, lots of hooks, a map, two little benches, a table and a visitors’ book

Being stuck there for two days brought unexpected joys – and was nowhere near as limiting as being confined to an Alpine hut during bad weather. Nordfold has just 300 inhabitants, a bar that opens “when someone wants to have a party” and hills rather than mountains.

More climbing practice

Even the mast was fair game for an ascent

But Sture, to keep us entertained, arranged a visit to a salmon farm – and to a centre for gender equality studies which has its headquarters in the village.

There we heard about the Gammen Hut, an example of a dugnad, built by a community for everyone.

Beautiful Arctic light

Beautiful Arctic light

“Each spring,” the director of the centre told us, “locals run up to check their fitness: half an hour is an OK time.”

On skis, it took us 90 minutes for the 550m ascent; en route we loaded rucksacks with logs from a tiny wood-store specially for visitors to the hut – a dugnad in itself.

One of our prettiest climbs

One of our prettiest climbs

At the Gammen, the size of a small garden shed, we lit the wood-stove, signed the visitors’ book and spent a cosy afternoon playing cards as a storm raged outside.”

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Filed under Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Transport