Have you put East Tyrol on your radar yet? It is shamefully underrated but that is also a reason why those appreciative of nature, wellness and some peace and quiet will fall in love with it!
Nestled in the picturesque Kalser Tal (Kals Valley), it had everything I could have wished for on my press trip with Visit Austria. If you want to experience the beauty of the Alps but without a noisy Après Ski culture, then read on.
Enjoy Some Alone Time with Nature
There are ski slopes, there are hiking trails, mountains, rivers and meadows. No matter whether I was strolling below in the valley or took the ski lift up on top of the white capped mountains, the scenes just blew my mind. Imagine lush green grass tapping gently at your feet after you came to a sudden halt to take a moment and gaze around.
The fir trees are hanging low around you, the fence in front of you lets you know that in summer time you will be able to look into the gentle eyes of a cow – or if you’re me, into the eyes of an animal that will hunt you through the Alps or the Hong Kong jungle. It is perfectly quaint and then you look upwards. In blinding shades of white and icy blue, the mountains are rising high up. You remember that just behind that rocky front lies the highest peak of Austria, the Großglockner.
For the moment you are happy trodding up the paths and into the magical forests. A little further you will realize why suddenly you feel a sudden sense of power come over you. After all, you are standing at a very special place, a church in the face of the mountain. During WWII when bombs were dropped onto unsuspecting homes, the villagers sought refuge in the mountains and the Gradonna rock in particular was a welcoming shelter. A church was erected to commemorate and honour this place and can be visited all year round.
Chalet Luxury From a Dream
Not surprisingly, that is where the fabulously classy Gradonna Mountain Resort got its name from. The region saw a negative trend of people leaving, ski lifts closing and increasing tourism oblivion, so when the Schultz family arrived and basically revived the whole area by building fancy new resorts, lifts and restaurants, the area underwent a 180° change.
In this the Gradonna does not only stand out visually (seriously, there is a big black tower and horizontal wooden stretch of a building halfway up a mountain), but also with its quality. I was seriously impressed when I entered the front doors. Wooden sculptures and paintings from local artists were decorating the tasteful wooden walls. The floor was marble (Gradonna stone, to be precise), the furniture totally minimalist hipster grey and stylish. (I need to rethink my imaginary home interior design).
But what am I talking about the lobby, my room was seriously unreal. It had its own super long floor lined with cupboards, a coffee and TV station. From it, I could pay a visit to two bathrooms (with a tub, shower and infrared sauna), a king size bed, my own lounging room and a balcony. All of the rooms had a full glass front with an epic view over the mountains and into the Kals Valley. Who needs blinds when the sun is waking you up with a glorious play of light and shadow? But then again, it was hard going to bed with my balcony view towards the stars above. The struggle was real and I felt super spoilt.
Relaxing and Skiing in the mountains
What was even more of a struggle was deciding whether to just use my room as a chill out area, a little dance area or a mini cinema or to head down to the wellness zone. There was an outdoor and indoor pool as well as a spa and I opted to give the Swiss pine massage a go. To be honest, I felt a bit like a Christmas cookie being rolled out but it did release my tense muscles (all that neck craning to take in all of the view took its toll) and I felt all smooth and shiny afterwards.
Despite my reluctance to leave my newfound haven, I was glad I did when I was sipping a hot cocoa in the Adlerlounge (also belonging to the Schultz family) on top of a winter paradise. At the time, the snow hadn’t bestowed us with its natural presence, artificial ski slopes had been prepared. However, up on the mountain top, there was no need for that. And you know what, it wasn’t crowded like it would be in super popular and hyped up Austrian ski resorts. Big bonus!
I am an absolutely inexperienced skier. (Never tried it and have a feeling that I’ll end up like Bridget Jones, minus the competition winning and pharmacy part.) Therefore, I was perfectly happy just playing with the white powder. Maybe next time I’ll give it a try as there are both newbie and pro slopes. Again, the lounge looked classy, the staff was sweet and the food great. But there was one thing that puzzled me: the ‘experience toilet’. I am still not quite sure what the special experience was. So if you visit let me know. Maybe it was the floor-to-ceiling photo of an old lady sizing you up upon entrance.
Don’t Forget the Food
Never forget about the food! It wasn’t just that, which made my foodie experience so special. For our first night, we were invited to the kitchen party, which happens regularly and gives the guests a great look behind the scenes and into the different locally sourced kitchen dishes. The chefs themselves fill your plates. My personal recommendations are the Kaspätzle (cheese spaetzle) and the kaaspressknödel (cheese dumplings).
Before that, however, we already had a little snack in the wine cellar and afterwards were able to raid the buffet. (And I sneaked some more spaetzle from the kitchen.) Usually, the dinners are five-course menus that will blow your foodie mind and make you wish you had a bigger stomach. The wine is poured from artisan decanters in the weirdest shapes, such as a mamba.
What I loved besides the taste is that the hotel aims at being sustainable and regional. The water is drawn from local mountain springs, energy is created on site and even products are local (they have their own cows). You will find many different cheeses from the area and can even buy the special decanters, Swiss pine wood products and granite table mats for your own home, for example.
So Should You Visit East Tyrol?
Absolutely!! Unless you are a ski bunny and die hard partier, this place is a dream come true. You can get active, eat your weight daily and relax while digesting. It might take a bit longer getting here than with the super popular Austrian ski spots, but you can have a rental car or public bus take you from Salzburg, Kitzbühel or Lienz straight up to Kals or the Gradonna. If you prefer staying in smaller houses to get to know local families and save a buck, that’s possible as well. Hospitality is big around here!
So now I want to hear from you: is Eastern Tyrol on your travel bucketlist yet? What would you be most interested in experiencing?
I would like to thank Visit Austria and the Gradonna for inviting me on this trip and treating me so amazingly. As always, my opinion is entirely my own.