They say that the world has become a much smaller place, with the internet bringing information at your fingertips. Don't be so sure though, there are still many gems hidden far out of reach of the average family skier in the UK. I'm an avid skier, have been so since nursery school age - a very, very long time ago! It's now through my children that I'm reliving my childhood but with an added bonus - Kinderhotels. Most British skiing families never get any further than the two or three very well-known family ski options. Ones that offer no personalisation, are formulaic, full of Brits and lacking in substance. Neither authentic nor great value these places cater directly for the UK market but lose any ounce of charm in doing so. In my quest to step outside of this box and being a true europhile I have found the real deal.
Kinderhotels are well-known on the continent but only visited by families in the know from the UK. Mostly those with a European connection.There are lots of famous resorts in Austria but avoid the obvious and you open up a world of smaller, local places. All fit for a skier of forty years and a hotel snob! Independent, family-owned and run hotels, that cater to families in a way that us Brits wouldn't even dream of. Generations of family travel together and there is true relaxation for adults with world class spas (a very Austrian pursuit) and a level of facilities that is unrivalled for kids, all at a price that doesn't makes the eyes water.
Heidi Hotel in Falkerstee is one of the original Kinderhotels or children's hotels. A two-hour drive from Salzburg through scenic snowy countryside, past castles perched on hilltops, you find yourself in Carinthia, southern Austria, where mountains and lakes make for breathtaking views and fantastic skiing. Covering 24 ski regions and 800 kilometres of piste, there is something for everyone. Altitude is high, so snow is as sure as it gets. Staying in Falkertsee, with one ski pass for the whole region, you get a choice of ski resort. All driving distance - each with something to offer. The Heidi Alm at Falkertsee is the perfect place for beginners. It's like having a mini resort in your back garden. Manageable, safe and perfectly maintained, Heidi Hotel sits directly on the slopes, young children get ferried to and from ski school, a minute away on the Heidi Skidoo Taxi - this is just where the fun starts.
We arrived on a day when there was too much snow! So much so that we needed snow chains. We didn't have them. Instead, the Heidi Alm tractor towed us the last half a kilometre! Adventure begun we arrive to an even warmer welcome. The Köfer family has been running this very special place for many years. They are truly hands on which means that standards and attention to detail are never neglected. It feels like a mountain home. Traditional, yet not outdated. Personal touches everywhere and spotlessly clean.
Our room; cosy alpine decor, balcony with loungers for catching the afternoon sunshine, small children's room, bunk beds (with safety sides) and bathroom complete with double sink and step for the little ones. Everything provided, little robes, big bag and rucksack for the trips out or to the pool or spa or even for that trip to the (free) washing machine and dryer - I love coming home to no washing - and loads of hanging and storage space. On the ground floor, we were within easy reach of everything but slept soundly in peace, despite being next to the bar.
Once settled we head to dinner. Children get their own menu here and from 5.45 can eat with kids club ready for the evenings activities downstairs. The hotel is perfectly sized. I felt comfortable letting my seven and three year old run off to kids club letting us oldies eat in peace! Food is wholesome and plentiful, it's all inclusive which means huge hearty breakfast; meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, salads, home baked breads and quality teas and coffees - the Austrians are partial to everything herbal, organic and healthy so expect to be spoilt. Lunch then tea then dinner.You make your choice of evening menu in the morning ( there's healthy and vegetarian options) from your Heidi newspaper complete with day's activities - yoga, mindful meditation - and weather, or pony riding and skidoo. Fondue in the family restaurant in the village or tobogganing by night. Nothing is forced or plastic, you just relax into life in the mountains.
Each morning we would leave after breakfast for skiing. Everything is made easy here. With the resort so compact. The ski room just steps away from the piste where the smallest children are picked up each day to take them to ski school at the bottom of the slope. The ski school, ski shop and equipment hire is all conveniently located together. Life couldn't be made any easier for a family ski trip. Simply pick-up your equipment and walk out the door or upstairs to book your lessons. Focus here really is on family. The ski school takes children from age 3. With two separate areas for older and younger children, complete with play areas and magic carpets (the easiest way for newbies to be transported up a slope before attacking the drag lifts) teaching is top notch. Our 3 year old was more than happy to go for 3 hours each morning. With breaks for playing and snack and lots of singing songs, fun was had by all.
Us adults explored the ski area. With Bad Kleinkirchheim and Turracherhöhe just twenty minutes drive away we were able to have lots of varied family skiing. The Pertl Ski School run by the very charming Leonard, was particularly good, our instructor the trainer to the World Cup team and the baby ski school offering lots of really fun learning activities for little ones on skis. Bad Kleinkirchheim hosted the world cup in 2018, so even the best skiers will find a challenge, just no long lift queues. That's the beauty of skiing of the beaten international track. Ski like an Austrian, with the Austrians.
Afternoons are for relaxation here. Kids Club makes sure that there's plenty of time spent outdoors. By far the highlight for my son was the opportunity to drive a skidoo. Everything is on site. There are loads of different toboggans, another magic carpet plus climbing frames and playhouses. The summer must be magical here as we glimpsed the huge climbing wall on the side of the hotel! Kids club itself takes up an enormous space on the lower ground floor. A separate room, reading corner and climbing wall for the very young guests, ball pit, toys galore an area dedicated to arts and crafts plus a separate area for the teens complete with real board games, games consoles, table football and more. The childcare here is second to none and you can feel secure leaving even the youngest children in capable hands.
There's a pool too with gorgeous alpine views and a children's sauna alongside the adults one. Steam rooms, fitness and even spa treatments for kids - the offering in exceptional and all encompassing. The feeling of wellbeing doesn't stop there either, the Köfer family focus on regional suppliers for food, with a huge social commitment to the region and are environmentally friendly using energy from a biomass power plant and renewable raw materials. This makes them exceptional alongside an enviable position at 1875m in 250 hectares of nature. Winter brings plenty of snow and summer brings alpine bliss, fresh air, and adventure. From fishing to feeding the animals to time spent in the adventure park, Heidi Hotel is a destination in itself winter or summer.
Angels & Urchins Packing Tips
Packing for a ski trip can be cumbersome and bulky. Stay comfortable and chic with a limited number of cashmere sweaters and jeans - luxurious, yet easy-to-wear. I love Willow Cashmere (5% of their profit goes to Child Rescue Nepal), paired with jeans, my absolute favourite being my latest pair from Next - the Petite Slim and Shape style are beyond fabulous and fit like a dream. They are also doing a fabulous collaboration with J Won, a young, exciting knitwear brand with really unique designs. LGR sunglasses complete the look. They have some gorgeous styles in their mountain range. Keep skin in tip top shape with ReLuma, a stem cell moisturiser that I swear by!
For kids, make sure that they have slippers for indoors at kids club, a typically European practice, we got ours from Richter, an Austrian brand offering the highest standard of footwear for growing feet and a selection that will find a pair for even the fussiest child. Base layers are also key for the outdoors. Head to Manbi for all the essentials at reasonable prices. A Coolcasc helmet cover will keep your little ones within sight!
A&U Travel Tips
To really make things easy, get your luggage picked up and checked in at your home the night before you leave with Airportr. They partner with the big airlines and offer you luggage-free, thus stress-free travel. They can also deliver your bags to your house upon your return. So you can drive there and back without worrying whether you can fit your luggage in the car! A true game changer in my eyes. Happy Skiing!