As faff-laden sports go, skiing is probably lodged somewhere on the hierarchy between mountaineering at the summit (pun intended) and sailing in third place, with golf teetering just beneath it. In the case of San Moritz, for example, a journey bookended by the rain-splattered car journey to the UK airport and the aerial tramway up to the milky ether enshrouding Piz Nair can easily take eight instalments, and most of a day that could have been spent on the slopes. And you have to wait until late October…
Compromising its lofty position on the list, though, is the glacier ski area of Rettenbach and Tiefenbachferner. Here, from late September, first-class snow conditions are a given, a 15-minute gondola-ride away from Sölden: an winsome Alpine town in the Ötztal Valley, in the Austrian state of Tyrol, just over an hour’s drive from Innsbruck Airport.
The jewel in Sölden’s hospitality crown – indeed, the only five-star hotel in the town until recently, and the largest, with 125 rooms and suites – is Das Central: our recommendation if you want to make congenial comfort, Bacchanalian joy and a 20-minute room-to-summit transit a glorious triumvirate this season.
Locals proudly see effortless cordiality as a typical Tyrolean trait, and it permeates the atmosphere of a hotel that couldn’t be further removed from the starchy, hushed-tone solemnity that blights so much of the urban luxury hospitality scene. This breezy-but-beautiful ambience is backdropped by décor that’s light on clutter and big on clean lines, matured timber and rustic warmth.
Fittingly, for theses surrounds, expertly prepared Alpine comfort cuisine is the speciality at à-la-carte restaurants Ötztaler Stube and Das Central-Weinkeller: trying out the local fallow deer with red cabbage and pyramid cake, or even the classic wiener schnitzel, is a sensory epiphany akin to that of happening upon a decent risotto alla pescatora in Naples or stunning tapas in Barcelona.
Epicurean types also shouldn’t leave without trying the traditional Tyrolean bacon spread – presented with the bread in a gold tube, it’s likely to do grave damage to any “less meat” New Year’s resolutions you’ve made – or a traditional fondue evening in the wine cellar, which features meats as well as cheese and mixed salads, fries and rice on the side: as happy a way to replace the calories and let the lactic acid dissipate as any we have experienced after a day on piste. Oenophiles are well catered for here too, thanks to a cellar containing 30,000-plus bottles, 80 per cent of them Austrian, which sommelier Martin Sperdin will guide you through with affable zeal.
Post-winter-sport spa credentials? [Sharp intake of breath]: think two Finnish saunas, bio sauna, Swiss Pine sauna, steam bath, tepidarium, brine steam bath, infra-red sauna, hot stones, brine grotto with infra-red, fresh air room and ice grotto , with daily themed infusions in the saunas Kneipp basins for arms and legs, plus a relaxation room with water beds.
All very tricky to leave: but it’s not just the excellent on-piste conditions that will wrench you away. The Das Central complex is a 300-staff affair which, as well as the cable car business, owns six restaurants in all: and, thanks to the location scouts of the twenty-fourth Bond outing Spectre, one of them holds a special place in the popular culture canon. The ice Q restaurant, perched on (and over) the peak of Gaislachkogl, provided the set for the Hoffler Klinik in the movie – and, at 3,048 metres above sea level, it can count itself Austria’s highest located gourmet restaurant.
The Summit Meal here has a delectable line-up – think smoked eel with beetroot, horseradish and creme fraiche; sauerkraut cream soup, with smoked meat and pointed cabbage; pike perch with fennel, potato and fermented garlic, or flank steak and rib of local beef with beans, winter truffle and cornmeal – but the talking point of guests’ evening more often than not here is a particular wine you can choose to accompany it. Created from two oak barrels of the finest Pinot Noir from three different vineyards, matured in wooden barrels in Sölden, Pinot 3000 (€126, or around £100) – thanks to modified oxygen content and lower air pressure – tastes, its makers say, best at over 3,000 metres. They’ll get no quarrel from us.
As well as an impressive finish across the palate, it certainly offers a warm inner glow, and perhaps an added impetus to get into role when either enjoying the immersive Bond-esqe experiences at the nearby 007 Elements installation, founded shortly after the filming of Spectre finished in 2015, or making like 007 in a more authentic sense with a death-defying descent of the he Rettenbach Glacier.
Back down at a mere 1300 or so metres above sea level, there’s another aspect of Das Central which seals its place at the top of our favourite European ski options for this season: the Emperor Suite, a two-floor, two-bedroom hideaway with its own sauna and gym. With its locally sourced wood surfaces – which provide redolent reminder that you’re on a cosy winter break with every intake of breath – and rough-textured clay walls, it takes the comfortable conviviality levels found elsewhere in the hotel, to elaborate on a popular Spinal Tap reference, up from 11 to 13.
If there’s any finer destination for the time-poor, piste-happy punter – one who cherishes their slope time, values to-the-max epicurean indulgence and likes five-star to be formality-free – then we’ve yet to encounter it.
The Presidential Suite at Das Central Hotel, Sölden is available from €2800 per night based on four people sharing. For further information and bookings, please visit central-soelden.com