A Really Ice Time in Austria; Malcolm Bassett-Smith Finds Superb All-Season Skiing and Wonderful Wine Up on the Glaciers
Bassett-Smith, Malcolm, The Birmingham Post (England)
For world travellers, we still have funny ideas about Austria. It is not the same as Germany but smaller. It is not the same as Switzerland but without the cuckoo clocks.
It is a country with its own traditions and culture and a sense of humour that would leave the Germans spluttering with rage.
For many, Austria comes alive with the new ski season - and it's here.
Austria is one of those few places on the planet where you can share the piste with Olympic and World Cup teams and that bloke in front of you in the cafe is next year's world champion - possibly.
It's all there right next to you. Access to glacial snow in October is a big plus and many nations' teams do take advantage of it.
I was to ski with Herman Maier and friends but training pressures and sponsorship commitments meant them staying in Zoll.
Maier won the Olympic gold for horizontal free fall in Nagano last February.
Instead, I skied with Martin Bell, one-time British Olympic and World Cup ace.
With his brother Graham, the Bells represented us for many years gaining the reputation of solid competitiveness without relying on ski jumping farce to gain valuable TV airtime.
Martin and Graham spent four years at school close to my short-term base of Zell am See.
Zell am See lies in the Salzburg region. While Salzburg boasts Mozart, music and its tourist magnet, Zell am See compensates in its own way.
It is a picturesque small town with its feet on the ground. You can walk through the streets and feel at home.
Yes, there are truly Tyrolian aspects of the town, some men do wear leather trousers and some of the women might look more in place with a tray of pretzels, but little is forced. "In your face" tourism has no place here.
It would spoil the normality of the place. Few places can boast a 15-foot Swan in its lake and a mountain view that many would kill for.
The Hotel Heitzmann is typical of what you can expect in both appearance and standards.
The comfort of its rooms is only exceeded by the warmth of its owners cum managers, cum waiters, cum bar staff . . . Nothing is too much trouble and clearly they base their approach on what they would want on holiday.
Food and drink can be a problem in Austria - you can eat too much and drink enough for a small army. Portions are always of "adult" proportions.
Once, Austria was known for its fatty food but now variety and healthy eating partners traditional fare. But don't think that tradition has given way to processed purity - the old favourites are still there to be had and I tried the lot.
Thirteen years ago, the Austrian wine industry shot itself in the foot with a howitzer. Anti-freeze to promote rapid fermentation is rarely too popular. Thankfully, it has produced some positive aspects. …