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A Winter Break at Lech-Zürs in Austria's Vorarlberg Region

17/12/2014 01:33 GMT | Updated 15/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Austria's Vorarlberg region is one of the world's leading winter sport destinations. The techniques employed on the mountains around Lech and Zürs in the early part of the 20th century became integrated into the Alpine skiing technique that would, in time, be taught in ski resorts around the globe.

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I headed to Lech aiming to ski the White Ring, a 22km long circuit of interconnected pistes linked by lifts and known locally as der Weisse Ring. Skiers of all levels of ability can follow the route of the ring, touring at their own pace and enjoying the Alpine scenery in the mountains above Lech-Zürs. Racing it, though, pushes even good skiers.

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The White Ring race is an annual race that's open to both skiers and snowboarders. The fastest person around the circuit during the 2014 race was Riccardo Rädler, who covered the course in just 68 minutes. The 2015 event is scheduled to start at 9.00am on 17 January.

The 2014-15 ski season was due to get underway in Lech-Zürs on 5th December - with me on location - but, unfortunately, a lack of snow meant the opening was postponed by a week. Locals expressed disappointment and said that the dearth of snow on the first weekend in December was unprecedented. Global warming?

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Snow was falling during my final day in Lech, boding well for the days ahead, but I didn't get to pull on my ski boots. Instead I had to make do with my walking shoes and enjoyed ambling on an easy trail, through pine forest, from Lech to the hamlet of Zug, 3km distant.

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Lech is renowned as a resort that draws the rich and famous. Prominent figures such as Princess Caroline of Monaco, the king and queen of Norway and the Dutch royal family are reputed to spend their winter holidays here. Captains of industry and celebrities from the world of entertainment - including the like of Til Schweiger, Tina Turner and Cliff Richard - have been seen in Lech-Zürs. For some it's the world-class off-piste skiing that is the main attraction.

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As I walked through Lech I learned it was used as a location in the filming of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the 2004 movie starring Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth.

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Lech's onion-domed St Nicholas Church dates back to the late 14th century, around the time when Walser migrants settled in the valley. Impressively, traces of Romanesque frescoes can still be seen on the church walls though it's the Rococo alter paintings that will catch your eye as you step into the aisle.

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The lack of snow meant I had time to enjoy relaxing in the sauna at my hotel and to drink a mulled wine at the Christmas market in Zürs, a ten minute ride by bus from Lech.

While I was at the market a demonic looking group of Krampus figures paid a visit. People don gruesome masks topped by animal horns and furs to participate in this ancient mountain tradition. They rang cow bells and accompanied St Nicholas. According to the tradition, Krampus punishes children who have been naughty while St Nicholas rewards those who have been good.

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Despite the unseasonal lack of snow Lech-Zürs had plenty to offer for a long weekend and I look forward to returning to this region later in the season to ski the White Ring.

Further information

Learn more about the region on the Vorarlberg Tourism and Lech-Zürs Tourist Information websites.

How to get there

Travelling via the international airports at Zurich or Innsbruck offers the quickest access to Lech-Zürs from the United Kingdom. Shuttle buses run between the airports and Lech. Trains run between Zurich and Langen am Arlberg, 17km from Lech.

Where to stay

The Hotel Gotthard (tel. +43 5583 3560 0) is a 4-star superior property with 52 guestrooms. The Gotthard's fitness room has a swimming pool, fitness room plus two sauna areas, one textile-free and the other for families. The hotel has a bakery café plus two restaurants and a bar that remains open until the last guests retire to their beds. The hotel is a two-minute walk from Lech's Rüfikopf cable car station.

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Where to eat

Hearty regional delicacies - including a version of Gröstl (potatoes fried with black pudding), Käsespätzle (cheese dumplings served with deep fried onions) and Palatschinken pancakes - are served in Hus Nr 8 (tel. +43 5583 33220) a bar-restaurant with cosy, traditionally furnished rooms. The existence of this wooden chalet was first documented in 1760.

Austrian and international cuisine is served on the a la carte menu of the traditional Lecher Stube restaurant (tel. +43 5583 3560 0) within the Hotel Gotthard. The dishes on offer includes the Austrian delicacy of Tafelspitz (boiled beef with horseradish), spinach dumplings, Wiener schnitzel plus fondues.

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The Skihütte Schneggarei (tel. +43 5583 39888) stands on the lower slopes of the Tannberg and is at once rustic and hip. The two-storey chalet is known for its pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, but also serves dishes ranging from snails in garlic butter to steaks and schnitzels. This is a good place to party after skiing, according to locals.

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Read more of Stuart's travel features on his blog, go-eat-do.com

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