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Après-ski in Austria

of barflies and homebodies

While there are those who can hardly wait to take their place on the barstool of an elegant club or lounge after having scaled Austria’s mountain tops, others would rather spend their time relaxing with friends around a warm tiled stove. Or treat themselves to an exquisite meal in one of the gourmet restaurants within easy distance of the pistes.

It goes without saying that après-ski in Austria's world of mountains often begins on the slopes. The many ski huts and bars immediately adjoining the pistes are simply too enticing to pass up on the way down. And, as is often the case, the intended short swing into one of these establishments turns into an extended stay. Whereby it must be noted that popular drinks such as the legendary Jägertee have received company from a higher order of beverages. In Ischgl for instance, in the "Champagne Hut" of the Hotel Romantica, you can sip a fine glass of bubles in charming surroundings. And in Serfaus at an altitude of 1,900 metres (over 6,300 ft.) you can exchange your bulky ski boots for cosy felt slippers to lounge on soft leather sofas opposite a fireplace over a glass of wine.

The atmosphere in the rustic ski huts, where sociability plays a more important role than elegance, is less pretentious. According to long-standing mountain and hiking customs, once beyond the tree line everyone is on a first name basis, and the welcoming atmosphere of the hut eliminates formality. It is time to draw closer, especially as seating space shrinks, and strike up a conversation with your neighbour with whom you will definitely have something in common: The contentment of just having spent a perfect day on the slopes, enhanced by the anticipation of a scrumptious dinner.

Especially in the small huts, meals are often prepared directly on an old rustic stove which imparts a uniquely intense taste to the food. Roast pork with a crispy rind straight from the wood-fired stove is an experience not to be forgotten. Nothing could be better designed to tantalize your taste buds than the aroma of home-cooked food slowly spreading through the hut. Many guests will savour lavish marvels of domestic culinary art like Tiroler Gröstl or Kärntner Kasnudeln for the first time in their lives - and fondly remember them.

It's easy to join in when the topic of conversation turns to Austrian cuisine, especially since it enjoys an excellent international reputation and it is possible in many ski regions to proceed directly from the piste to a splendidly set table. An excellent example of such an eating establishment is the "Verwallstube" in Galzig, at an altitude of 2,185 meters (over 7,000 ft.) the highest gourmet restaurant in Austria. Even if the restaurant may be located in the middle of an Alpine world it is especially the fish specialties for which it is famous and that have earned it its two Gault Millau toques. No less spectacular is the view of the panorama through glass panes overlooking the mighty peaks of the surrounding splendour, or the view gleaned from glancing about the room at such luminaries as the singer Hansi Hinterseer, the Formula One pilot Gerhard Berger or a chef of the century, Witzigmann, who often stop by.

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