If you get an email saying ‘I need a ski buddy – let’s go to Austria! Fun in the snow, 5* hotels. My treat…call it a month?’ What are you supposed to do?
It’s my former-boss from Australia…be rude not to.
So, it’s freezing outside, I’m dragging 30kg of luggage through Departures and I’m ready to hit Austria for 30 days of adventure. Two nights in Vienna and then out to the snow for a couple of weeks in Kitzbuhel and then on to sample the slopes at Zell am See, before returning to Vienna for a final two nights.
I clear customs in Austria via Amsterdam and swish through the ‘nothing to declare channel’, ready to live it up in style. He’s just flown in from a beach holiday in Thailand and is waiting in Arrivals, shuddering in the cold – a little tanned face peeping out from enough clothing for a family of six. He’s clearly gone for an 80s ski look and is bundled up in shades of neon like a Michelin man bound for the arctic circle.
We check in at the Hilton and head off to sample some of the famous Viennese coffee shops around StephansPlatz and take a horse-drawn carriage through the city so we can be cultured in comfort – the ride comes with an authentic highway robbery of 90 Euro for the pleasure.
The city is decked out for Christmas with a light flurry of snow tumbling from a starry sky. Huge baubles suspended above the streets, shoppers dressed in fur hats and boots and the smell of mulled wine and spiced cider blowing out of every cafe doorway, along with bursts of delicious heating.
Four weeks away from the British winter sounds like a dream. We’re in shopping, skiing, snowy heaven. All washed down with enough gluwein to bring a rhino to its knees.
We take the snow train from Vienna to Kitzbuhel and arrive at the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. Hotel Erika looks like something from a fairytale. Four foot wedges of untouched snow hanging over the roof edges, it reminds me of a house you might see inside a child’s snow globe.
We have suites on the top floor with views over the mountains and a family of deer that passes by our balconies every morning at 7am, snuggling wet noses through the snow in search of fallen berries.
There’s afternoon tea every day from 2pm with hot soup and warm pie, cakes and strudel. There’s English breakfast tea, hot chocolate under six inches of cream and the smell of fresh coffee filling the conservatory that looks out over the garden. We eat and drink and get warm by the fire with plenty of time to relax before heading to the spa for a couple of hours before dinner.
Day one in Kitz, it couldn’t be better and we haven’t even hit the slopes yet!
The spa is idyllic. Glass fronted so you can see out over the snowy village while you steam away inside. We lounge around the pool and warm up in the sauna before he decides to brave the outdoor plunge pool like he’s doing this one for the pride of Australia before a crowd of reserved Europeans.
“Can you handle the plunge Babe?”…. Oh no. I’m welded to my quilted lounger listening to Bob Marley. I sink down into my fluffy robe.
He ploughs on oblivious. ..“Time to man-up and give it a go?”.
Roused from the broken calm, stunned spa peace-seekers now look on…
“Looks pretty cold, ey?’ he bellows over to me before realising I’m making no effort to join the spectacle.
Striding across the spa in a rather small towel before casting it off and flinging it at me, he opens the outside door to let icy cold air pierce the room like a knife. Visibly halted but hoping to appear undeterred, he takes rather less abounding steps towards the plunge pool – the edges crusted over with a thick layer of snow-topped ice.
He gingerly jerks his way in, forcibly shuddering but pulling a thin smile over his face as his skin turns from baby pink to patchy blue. I see him glance inside to make sure everyone’s still looking. His head blurs in to a fog as hot breath meets fresh air.
I stretch out on the lounger, my feet dancing with expectant glee in my hotel slippers. It’s been eight seconds…nine…ten
Looking back through the steamy glass, I see a 6ft fog rising from the water.
I sit up to get the best vantage point and, sniggering behind ‘Austrian High Life’ magazine, anticipate the sight as the mist clears…