Stubai Glacier is mint decides our wobbly mountain man, Neil Sowerby
DAWN on the balcony of our suite in the five-star Spa Hotel Jagdhof and in the distance, captured by the emerging sun, is a gleaming white apparition – the Stubai Glacier. Even in high summer there is still a world of ice above 3,000m.
After breakfast we are taking the mountain bus for 18 switchback kilometres to the state-of-the-art Schaufeljochbahn and Eisgratbahn gondolas that will whisk us up to the terminal station and the ‘Top of the Tirol’, named by the travel magazine GEO as one of the world’s top ten viewing platforms.
We didn’t linger long over our mountain beer because ‘Apfelstrudel Happy Hour’ was calling back at the Jagdhof
It will prove quite an experience. Decidedly wobbly for this high altitude wuss. Clambering up, we find ourselves on a nine metre steel walkway that juts out into infinity, it seems, providing a 360 degree panorama of 109 other mountains above 3,000. Could one of them be the Gaislachkogl? Six months earlier I’d ascended that peak in my quest for the gourmet iceQ restaurant and the 007Elements Museum.
The former featured in the James Bond movie Spectre, the latter was built in response as an inter-active homage to 007. The route up then was from Sölden in the Ötztal. Amazingly, map checking revealed it was the same distance from the Glacier as our Jagdhof base in Neustift-in-Stubai. Except that’s as the crow flies – a crow with ice on its wings. Most of the year you’ll probably need skis to reach the neighbouring Stubai valley from this direction. By road it will take you two hours.
The Austrian Tirol has never been easy to rule. Simon Winder in Danubia, his ‘Personal History of Hapsburg Europe’, wrote: “On a map it seems compact enough and has a sort of plausibility, but in practice it was a demented mass of particularisms, parcels of Alpine valleys seasonally cut off from one another, self-reliant and with very specific ideas about outsiders.”
Mass tourism has changed all that and, as in the rest of the Republik Österreich and Alpine neighbour Switzerland, local transport links are supernormally efficient, winter and summer. We were equipped with a Stubai Super Card, supplied by our hotel, allowing free public transport, one ascent/descent each day on each of the valley’s four cable cars, free swimming pool use and further discounts.
Going with the flow on the Wild Water Way
From the Eisgrat we hiked around the tops for a couple of hours, but passed on a trek to the Ice Grotto inside the Glacier or crossing challenging shale terrain to the Mutterberg mountain lake. Instead, we took the cable car back and, saving our Super Cards until later, walked down the valley via a scenic section of the 22km Wilde Wasser Weg (Wild Water Way). Trail highlight was the 85 metre wide Grawa waterfall, but the spectacular Ruetz cataract was worth the detour also and the whole lower section of the path beside the tumbling Ruetz river was a sylvan delight. A characterful refreshment halt was the heavily timbered Tschangelair Alm. We didn’t linger long over our mountain beer because what we dubbed the ‘Apfelstrudel Happy Hour’ was calling back at the Jagdhof.
We’d first encountered this complimentary pastry ‘Jause’ (2pm-4pm) on our arrival the previous day at the iconic Relais & Chateaux five-star lodging in the upper Stubai Valley’s de facto capital. Who could resist a second strudel, especially given carte blanche to squirt on as much Schlagsahne (whipped cream) as you want.
Serious modern cuisine in a traditional Tirolean setting
The treats were laid out in the rambling set of dining rooms with a baronial feel. Stained glass, wood panelling, hunting trophies… you know the score. And the plus of constant pine scents. We were on half board and took the jCUISINE table d’hote dinner and lavish breakfasts at our own table. Our one regret was that the Hubertusstube was was shut for its midsummer break. The in-house jGOURMET dining experience has registered 4 toques/17 points with the prestigious Gault & Millau guide and looks to soar further with the appointment of new head chef, Christian Jeske. The restaurant has the added advantage of one of Europe’s great wine cellars, lovingly collected by Jagdhof’s owner, the flamboyant Armin Pfirttscheller, whose father developed the hotel after the Glacier was opened up exactly 50 years ago.
A third generation is now heavily involved – Armin’s Junior Director son Alban. Kitchen-trained under the likes of the legendary Pierre Gagnaire, he has already taken the hotel’s cuisine to the next level. It obviously rankles that Michelin haven’t come calling. Seeing my enthusiasm for French influences, he goes off impromptu to prepare us a sauced venison dish before our lunchtime departure for the airport. The deer is from their own hunting grounds. Magnifique with a glass of Austrian Merlot. The third food option, healthy, low-carb jCUISINE ties in with the wellness focus of the jSPA. Beautifully done, but not my bag.
My wife Theresa’s verdict on the Jagdhof spa facilities
The Jagdhof prides itself on being a premier spa destination with a private suite and a huge range of state of the art treatments and massages. These are all optional extras but hotel guests have access to Vitality World with indoor and outdoor pools and, to quote the brochure ‘3,000 square meters of relaxation and wellbeing’.
They’re not wrong. I began by acclimatising myself in the Tepidarium’s gentle warmth, stayed with the Roman vibe in the ochre-coloured Laconium before succumbing to the ambient moisture of the midnight blue Amethyst steam room. Then off to soften muscles and joints in the Cistern with its powerful jets of steam, cascading water and music.
After stretching out on a pine bench in the Wilderer sauna, powered by a mineral rock heated on an open flame, lowered into a copper kettle and sprayed with water (you can see the workings and they’re spectacular), I relaxed watching a sequence of soothing natural scenes on a screen in the rock salt grotto. The walls are tiled with shimmering rock salt blocks while brushwood bundles drip salt water – a landlocked taste of the sea. For a spa addict, the jSPA has to be up there with the best.
How time flies – farewell to the Stubai Valley
Our regular evening walk during our stay was along the lower reaches of the Ruetz, which backed on to the Jagdhof. We were intrigued by alien lights atop the mountain. Puzzle solved on our last day when we took another of the valley cable cars – the Elferbahnen, just outside Neustift village. It was a steep 40 minute hike from the top terminal to the Elferhütte restaurant/bar, perched on a crag with spectacular view down the valley towards Innsbruck. That had been our eerie beacon. En route we had watched a proliferation of hang-gliders and inspected the largest sundial sculpture in the European Alps. This unusual larch wood construction depends on the sun casting shadows to tell the time.
Our mobile phones told it was nearly time to depart from the Jagdhof but had no inkling of the surprise venison masterpiece to come.
Spa-Hotel Jagdhof, Scheibe 44, 6167 Neustift im Stubaital, Austria. +43 5226 2666. A member of Relais & Chateaux, it offers 70 hugely comfortable rooms and suites alongside that multi-award-winning 3,000sqm spa with more than 20 water, steam and spa facilities and the all-year heated in and outdoor pools.
Our report is on Stubai’s summer joys, but it is a major winter destination with guaranteed early and late ski-ing thanks to the recent completion of a 2,600m reservoir for feed the new machine-made snow operation. It celebrates the half century since the Stubai Glacier opened and the first gondolas brought winter sports guests to the ski area. Three lifts have grown to 26 lift facilities and 35 downhills, 110km of slopes that cater to all abilities, a snow park, the ‘BIG Family Ski Camp’ and 2km of high-altitude cross-country skiing trails.
Neil Sowerby flew to Innsbruck with jet2.com, which operates weekly services in summer, with greater frequency in the ski season.The Jagdhof is a 35 minute drive south of the city.
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