Austria is home to some of the best ski spots in the world, including arlberg1800 Resort, but not many companies know it’s the ideal location for summer activities too. Molly Dyson investigates
Ski trips have long been a popular corporate retreat, a chance for executives to hit the slopes and get to know their clients better in order to do more business. Fewer places offer greater snowy hotspots than the Alps, Europe’s highest and most extensive mountain range – scenic views and powder kept fresh by crisp temperatures, all within a couple of hours of many cities, including London. While the area is more well known for its winters, summer is becoming a popular time to head for the hills in search of intimate team-building opportunities.
Nestled in the Tyrol region in the Austrian section of the mountain range, St Christoph is home to some of the best and most exclusive destinations in the country, not least of which is arlberg1800 Resort. Lovingly run by owner Florian Werner (whose grandfather bought the resort and rebuilt it following a fire in the 1950s), arlberg1800 features a selection of hotels, suites, chalets and award-winning restaurants surrounded by challenging and breath-taking slopes.
Florian says of the property: “There is no destination in Europe better suited to host corporate events offering a stunning location and world-class facilities. Established over three family generations with a history as a hotel for more than 600 years, arlberg1800 Resort is a home to everyone. Our contemporary art and concert hall serves as a conference space hosting up to 200 delegates. It’s these facilities alongside the nature of our kind, attentive service that brings warmth and a feeling of welcome into this business epicentre, 1800 metres high in the Austrian Alps.”
I visit at the height of ski season in January. Our hostess Sandrina tells me it’s the best time to see the resort in full swing; we’re really here to find out about the location’s usefulness for corporate groups during summer. Local expert Andy Butterworth of Kaluma Travel has spared no expense in getting us to St Christoph, with a two-hour flight from London Gatwick direct to Innsbruck airport and a comfy taxi to take us the remaining 45 minutes up into the mountains.
Owing to Florian’s passion for supporting artists and musicians, the resort has recently undergone a €26 million (roughly £23 million) redevelopment programme that included a state-of-the-art concert hall and gallery situated underneath a set of 17 exclusive suites, which opened in October 2015. The building plays host to concerts (usually jazz or classical artists, both local and international) two nights a week year-round, while the art gallery is open to the public Friday to Sunday, but it can be hired for events outside of those times. Since it opened, the venue has seen the likes of McDonalds and Swiss Re hold large annual meetings with exclusive use.
At the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, where I stay during my visit, you’ll find 52 cosy guest rooms, 29 apartments and four suites, as well as four restaurants that seat up to 300 people. The warm and welcoming bar features the largest open fireplace in the Alps – perfect for long chats over a pint or sampling the local favourite Schnapps. The hotel restaurants serve only the finest food and cater for any taste and dietary requirement – I’m pleasantly surprised to find a selection of gluten-free bread and pasta has been made fresh on site to accommodate my intolerance.
After our first lunch at the resort, we head further up the mountain to Lech to meet the team from eventation, an agency that offers bespoke activities designed to bring a fun element to meetings and events in the area. We’re here for a taster of the GPS rally, a popular summertime team-building exercise. With GPS devices in hand, we trek through the snow to find a series of challenges, including a ‘guess the scent’ quiz and a difficult balancing act where we all have to get onto a rope strung between two trees without anyone falling off. It’s a really hard task in full snow gear, but we almost manage it as a team. For the summer months, eventation offers a wealth of activities, from bike rides, hiking and white water rafting to archery, ‘cross golf’ and even drone flying.
Day two brings much excitement for me, as I’m about to try skiing for the very first time. The Arlberg Hospiz features a sports equipment centre on the bottom floor, where you can rent or buy skis, boots and helmets to hit the slopes. The staff here is very helpful in making sure I’m comfortable in my gear before I meet my instructor Liam, who hails from the UK. He proves to be a brilliant teacher, as after only a few falls, he has me and another journalist in the group zipping down a short slope.
Lunch today takes place at the Hospiz Alm, where you can find Florian’s ‘retired’ father Adi overseeing everything to make sure the restaurant runs to a high standard. I can testify that he must be doing something right.
After spending the morning on skis, sitting on the VIP balcony basking in the warming sun while we sample amazing Austrian cuisine is a welcome break. The Hospiz Alm serves hearty meals during the day (think burgers, heaping salads and of course plenty of sausages), but at night it transforms into a fine dining establishment, with Head Chef Stefan Griessler preparing elegant dishes paired with wine from Adi’s big bottle cellar, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of wines in specially made large bottles.
Skiing can be quite hard on the body, so those looking for some respite will find it at the on-site spa. My visit includes an exfoliating back scrub with grape seeds followed by a soothing massage that nearly puts me to sleep.
Our final evening at arlberg1800 is a fun one; once a week the hotel opens its kitchen for a ‘party’ complete with traditional Austrian polka. Guests are invited to come in, donning a tall white chef’s hat, to take a tour of the facilities and sample a selection of starters from all over the world while greeting the staff. On other nights, visitors can pay to have an exclusive wine tasting in the property’s 13th-century cellar – the only remaining feature left from the original building that once stood on the site.
Speaking on the versatility of the region for corporates from all over the world, Andy Butterworth from Kaluma Travel says: “St Christoph and the arlberg1800 Resort is the perfect place to enjoy all the Arlberg has to offer; great hotel facilities which are ideal for conferences, meetings and launches, as well as big events. You are surrounded by beautiful mountains offering all kinds of great activities, perfect for a great incentive trip. Hiking trails, excellent mountain huts, climbing, GPS tracker orienteering, driving over high-altitude alpine passes, golf courses, natural lakes, canyoning, rafting can all be organised. Working closely with the arlberg1800 Resort, Kaluma can help to tailor make and manage your perfect alpine break in the summers.”
The next time your boss asks for suggestions on a great summer getaway for the team, I can’t stress enough how much I recommend arlberg1800 Resort – friendly, beautiful and full of charm.
Arlberg1800 RESORT, St Christoph, A-6580 St Anton; +43 5446 2611; arlberg1800resort.at