The Deal: ARLBERG HOSPIZ HOTEL, St Christoph, Austria
WHY IT’S A CONTENDER: I would willingly strand myself at the Hospiz, a legendary white-walled hostelry with a medieval chapel at its heart ( it contains an enormous statue of St. Christopher and is still used for services) and one of Europe’s most important Bordeaux cellars below.You come for a ski week and take breakfast, dinner and a ski guide as part of the deal, here at one of the best ski hotels in the world, hands down. Start with the location. Along with the resort towns of Lech, Zurs and St. Anton, St Christoph is world famous among skiers as part of "The Arlberg," Austria’s most famous ski region. The Hospiz has been around, in one form or another, since 1386, when resident monks began offering shelter and sustenance to travelers stranded in the Alps. The hotel’s lobby is a welcome of darkened pine walls, stone flagged floors and oriental carpeting. The clientele is smart, stylish and mainly Teutonic, a veritable Max Beckman painting come to life. Then there’s the $4.5 million collection of big bottles in the wine cellar of the Hospiz Alm, the hotel’s satellite restaurant across the road. The Balthazars, Nebuchadnezzars and Jeroboams found there are mostly filled with vintage Bordeaux and suspended like model ships from the ceiling. There’s no nightlife, no where to even walk at night, and no one cares.
WHO SHOULD GO: Mostly well-heeled couples and small families from Germany, England and Switzerland. They come for a heady dose of what Austrians refer to as "gemutlichkeit," an all-encompassing term for mountain hospitality. They get a seven-night stay, take daily buffet breakfast and a five-course dinner at the hotel, and ski hard every day on some truly challenging terrain. Finding camaraderie is easy: it’s a country house party.
THE ROOMS: Hallways and wings go this way and that, the furniture is of heavy pine, and the couches sag a bit. But the beds are featherbeds and exceptionally inviting, the housekeeping impeccable. The bathrooms are fine, but no more. It’s a comfortable hotel stamped with the hallmarks of old money.
MORE REASONS TO STAY: The lavish 21,000 square foot Hospiz Sport + Spa, added on a couple of years ago, with a roster of treatments. Among the best in Europe.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: A classic "Powder Snow Week" in January is a seven night stay with daily breakfast, daily five-course dinner, six days of ski lessons. The price is 3,115 Euros, about $3,990, per couple.
INSIDER TIP: If you’re skiing off piste, get a guide. The strict translation of "hospiz" is hospice, and here in the Alps, it refers to a refuge for those caught in mountain storms. And those storms are not confined to historical footnotes. The day before I arrived, four people had died in an avalanche not half a mile away, two of them American snowboarders.
CAVEAT: The Sportotel annex, tacked on about 20 years ago, lacks the charm of the old hotel.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The Arlberg is the cradle of skiing. And when there’s deep snow, the hamlet of St Christoph appears to be covered in a giant meringue.
THE DETAILS: Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, A-6580 St Christoph, Arlberg, Austria; 43-5446-2611.