Roll Over, Hygge: Eight Wholesome Winter Activities to Try in Austria

Roll Over, Hygge: Eight Wholesome Winter Activities to Try in Austria

Ice-skating on frozen lakes, snowshoeing through mystical forests, mulled wine in cosy cabins and healing geothermal spas make Austria a truly restorative winter destination

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heard of hygge, but let us introduce Austria’s version:
Gemütlichkeit – the notion of warmth, hospitality and mindfulness
that makes this one of the cosiest, most magical winter
destinations in the world. Rich in unspoilt mountainous beauty,
it’s a natural haven for skiers and snowboarders during the cold
season, but there’s far more to it for those of us not partial to
such sports. From torchlit night hikes and revitalising ice baths
to snowshoeing and geothermal spa breaks, Austria offers a
wealth of nature-fuelled winter activities. It also boasts the
largest natural ice rink in Europe and the world’s longest floodlit
toboggan run, not to mention picturesque villages and fairy-tale
cabins aplenty. Here’s our pick of the best things to do, places to
stay and restaurants to indulge in.

Go gemütlichkeit: restorative winter wellness activities in

Ice-skate in Carinthia

Lace up your skates; we’re hitting the ice. Sitting pretty at
the foot of the Gailtal Alps, in the scenic state of Carinthia,
Lake Weissensee is an unspoilt paradise year-round, with
drinking-quality water that, come winter, freezes over to form
Europe’s largest natural ice rink. It’s a crystal-clear spectacle
with a 25km circular track that caters for all skill levels,
against a backdrop of forest-trimmed mountains. It’s also home to
the biggest traditional curling tournament on the continent, held
in January. Book in at Hotel zum Weissensee, a cosy, family-run inn
offering modern rooms within its centuries-old walls, as well as a
salt sauna and free rental of winter sports equipment. For a
fantastic lakeside meal, feast on fine Weissensee fish and locally
harvested plants from award-winning chef Hannes Müller at Geniesserhotel Die Forelle.

Photo credit: Österreich Werbung / Harald Eisenberger

Explore the Alpine town of Bad Ischl

Nothing epitomises Gemütlichkeit quite like a snowy chocolate
box village, twinkling with fairy lights, and for that we bring you
Bad Ischl; long popular with royals and described by former
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I as ‘heaven on earth.’ More
recently, it was announced a European Capital of Culture for 2024.
A gateway into the Alps and the Salzkammergut Mountains, and
hugging the Traun river, Bad Ischl is home to Austria’s oldest
coffee house, Konditorei Zauner, where you must also sample their
ornate cakes, and the Salzkammergut Thermal Spa, which offers divine
salt-based treatments. To stay? Hotel
Goldener Ochs
, a traditional boutique bolthole right on the
water which dates back to 1791, when it was an inn for horse-drawn

Tobogganing, Austria
Photo credit: Österreich Werbung / WEST4MEDIA

Go tobogganing in Salzburgerland

You could, of course, take a sled to any number of Austria’s
glorious slopes, but for a far mightier ride, head straight to the
world’s longest floodlit toboggan run. Located in the Wildkogel Arena
Neukirchen & Bramberg
, a fun-filled resort between the
Kitzbühel Alps and Hohe Tauern National Park – worthy of its own
visit – this adventurous route takes you on a 14km ride from the
peak to the valley below, covering an impressive 1,300m. To stay,
we recommend the small but historic hotel Weyerhof,
which has been in action since 1664. It still has a strong ethos of
championing locally sourced cuisine – think venison from its own
hunting grounds, milk from the neighbouring farm and home-baked

Photo credit: Franz Gerdl

Hike by torchlight through the Pillersee Valley

This one’s a wholesome activity for night owls. Jump on the
Austrian bandwagon and voyage into the darkness with an
old-fashioned flaming torch to light your way. Make your tracks
through the snow-covered forests and meadows of the Pillersee
Valley, in the heart of the Kitzbühel Alps, and, with your sight
limited, let your other senses take the lead. Hour-long guided
night hikes are available weekly at Sankt Ulrich am Pillersee. Fire yourself up
beforehand with glühwein (mulled wine) at one of the region’s most
stylish retreats, Hotel Unterlechner – an adults-only lodge
accommodating just 44 guests at a time and a tantalising six-course
gourmet tasting menu to look forward to. Maximum indulgence,

Snowshowing in Austria
Photo credit: Mittersill Plus GmbH / Franz Reifmüller

Go snowshoeing in Zillertal

Far from the groomed ski slopes, you’ll find quiet solace in
Austria’s gentle hiking trails – but take your walking up a notch
and don snow shoes, why don’t you? Tux, a charming village in the
Zillertal Alps, boasts 68km of these winding trails – some of the
best in the country for snowshoeing – taking you through enchanting
forests and over glittering blankets of clear expanse. Work up an
appetite and then stop in at any one of the rustic huts and
panoramic restaurants that feature on the routes for a
well-deserved mountain meal. Our favourite? For authentic local
cuisine, it has to be Bergfriedalm, a 400-year-old establishment with
cosy wooden rooms that serves a mean fondue. To lay your head,
Hotel Alpin
Spa Tuxerhof
is sophisticated and wellness-focused, with a
fabulous outdoor pool from which to admire the snowy

Lake Almsee in winter

Take an icy dip in Upper Austria

For an endorphin rush that’s hard to match, and a whole host of
proven health benefits, try braving a cold-water plunge.
Popularised in recent years by wellness guru Wim Hof, but practised
for centuries by Austrians, is ice-bathing, at the more extreme end
of the spectrum. One of the nation’s most beautiful bodies of
water, Lake Almsee, in Upper Austria, is a good spot
for a freezing dip – just make sure to stay safe and take a buddy.
For a good base, opt for the gloriously quaint Romantik Hotel Almtalhof, a spa hotel with
traditional alpine decor and a roaring fire, as well as a sauna and
steam bath to warm you to your very core.

Aqua Dome, Tirol, Austria
Photo credit: Aqua Dome Tirol Therme Längenfeld

Soothe yourself at Tirol’s legendary spa

Austria is well known for its spa culture, and there are oodles
of them to choose from. Most famed, most photogenic and most
brag-worthy, however, is Aqua Dome in Längenfeld – Tirol’s largest spa.
Resembling an otherworldly space station, with 12 pools and 14
saunas, inside and out, its pièce de résistance is the large
steaming brine basins that allow one to float weightlessly with
views over the majestic alpine peaks that loom over the complex. If
you don’t wish to go the whole hog and stay at the hotel, you can
buy a day pass and station yourself elsewhere. Other attractions in
the wider area include the 007
James Bond cinematic installation, a fascinating feat
built – and seemingly toppling over – the summit of the
Gaislachkogl mountain.

Vienna, Austria

Kick back in Vienna

Of all the cities to visit in winter, Vienna is right up there
with the very finest. A compact metropolis filled with grand
palaces, world-class galleries, cosy salons and spectacular opera,
it’s all the more magical when dusted with snow. Drop in to the
Upper Belvedere Palace, which offers sensational views over the
city and a showcase of Klimt’s best work. Dive into Vienna’s deeply
cherished Kaffeehäuser (coffee house) culture – Café Central, a
former haunt of Trotsky and Sigmund Freud, is a must-visit. Feast
at Walter Bauer,
one of the city’s most charming, intimate, family-run restaurants,
with a Michelin star to boot. And hunker down at Hotel Imperial, built for the Prince of
Württemberg in 1863 and widely believed to be the best of all
Vienna’s grand hotels.

The Lowdown

To start planning your winter wellness adventure in Austria,

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