Switzerland & Austria: Gateway to the Alps

Switzerland & Austria: Gateway to the Alps

Image credit: Swiss-Image.ch

Joanna Booth flies into Friedrichshafen and finds it’s easy to hop over to Austria and Switzerland

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As an island nation, the idea of flying to one country to reach another isn’t something we’re necessarily used to.

But when you’re heading to continental Europe, skipping from one country to another is easy – as I discovered when I flew to Friedrichshafen in Germany with British Airways and ticked off four countries in just three days. (That one of them was Liechtenstein and we only got out of the bus briefly doesn’t mean it didn’t count. Honest.)

But ticking off multi-country itineraries isn’t what most clients will be doing having flown into this German airport on the shores of Lake Constance.

They’ll be heading to one of about 50 ski areas within easy reach – some German, others in Switzerland and Austria. Zurs, Lech, St Anton and Flims-Laax are about an hour and a half away, with Arosa, Davos and Ischgl about two.

Stefan Liebenz of Bodensee Airport Friedrichshafen is keen to highlight the benefits of the airport over others nearby.

“We’ve had no diversions for 10 years,” he says.

“Planes can land here even if it’s foggy. They need just 20m vision because of the all weather landing system and anti-skid runway.”

A new terminal opened in 2010, allowing the airport to handle a million passengers a year. Up to 750 can be processed an hour, who can then cross the road to the bus and train terminals to continue their journey to the mountains.

British Airways launched on the route last season, and this year the twice-weekly services from Gatwick will run from December 12 till March 26, with one-way fares starting at £47.

Flights leave Gatwick at 7.20am on Saturdays and 8.25am on Sundays, returning at 11.50am on Saturdays and 10.50am on Sundays. The flight time is two hours and 40 minutes.

For clients who end up with time to spend in Friedrichshafen, the town is the home of the Zeppelin airship, and those with an interest can visit the Zeppelin Museum or even book a scenic Zeppelin flight.

In winter, Friedrichshafen and other towns around Lake Constance host beautiful Christmas markets. We took the catamaran to Konstanz’s huge market, sampling its extra-fortified glühwein and a range of cinnamon-scented cakes and pastries.

St Anton

Transfer time: 1 hr 35 mins

Renowned for challenging skiing and lively après-ski, St Anton is growing in popularity with the Brits – for the first time last year, we overtook the Germans as the resort’s biggest foreign source market.

Arlberg is one of Europe’s snowiest areas, and St Anton offers 210 miles of marked runs and another 125 miles of off-piste and challenging slopes, plus a snowboard fun park.

The pretty village – think beautifully maintained historic buildings housing swanky skiwear shops and an onion-domed church – has a pedestrianised centre, making access to the lifts easy, and it’s just a short stumble to the bars.

The vibe is young and sporty, and the nightlife matches, with renowned spots MooserWirt and Krazy Kanguruh catering to the Jägermeister and table-top-dancing crowd.

St Anton Mooserwirt - Image credit: Tourist Association St Anton Am Arlberg
Image credit: Tourist Association St Anton Am Arlberg

We opted for the more relaxed Underground on the Piste, where the live music is a little quieter and the surroundings – a candlelit wooden chalet – feel Austrian, even if the owner is an Aussie, albeit one who’s been running the joint for 20 years and is a St Anton institution.

Skiers visiting at the start of the season will get the benefit of the Christmas market, with wooden stalls snaking up the hill and plenty of glühwein flowing.

Alpine skiing was born here, along with the father of modern skiing Johann Schneider, who conceived the techniques we use today. The ski museum relates this history and more, all housed in a pretty turn-of-the-century chalet.

Make the most of the gorgeous historic building – it was used as Bill Nighy’s luxurious home for the movie Chalet Girl, much of which was filmed in St Anton – and dine in the restaurant, where the food is local and hearty.

For more intricate fare, you can’t beat Verwallstube, a sophisticated spot at the top of the Galzig gondola, so the views are as spectacular as the food.


Transfer time: 2 hrs

Most famous for hosting the World Economic Forum, Davos is no beauty architecturally – think blocks of hotels and office buildings rather than a cute Alpine village.

However, it’s one of the highest-altitude towns in Europe and has 200 miles of pistes with skiing suitable for all levels, although it’s much better suited to intermediate skiers than beginners. The après-ski is livelier than you might expect, with a surprisingly wide choice of bars.

 Davos - Image credit: Swiss-Image.ch
Image credit: Swiss-Image.ch

Hotels tend to the four and five-star bracket which, combined with Switzerland’s usual rather challenging price point, means this isn’t a choice for skiers on a budget.

However, the slopes are excellent, and non-skiers can enjoy walking, ice skating, sledging and other snowy activities. We tried out eisstock, a cousin to curling that involved sliding discs over the ice, trying to get as near as possible to the puck.

Ask an expert

Jodie Perkins, Inghams:
“At Inghams, we use Friedrichshafen as a gateway to four Austrian resorts over the winter. Three are in the Arlberg area: St Anton, which is great for challenging skiing and après-ski, the pretty traditional village of St Christoph, and Lech, one of Austria’s most exclusive resorts.

New for this winter and also accessed via Friedrichshafen in one hour and 15 minutes are Brand and Bürserberg. Situated in the Vorarlberg region, Brand is well known as a family-friendly resort, and it is now linked with Bürserberg by a high-altitude cable car.”

Tried & Tested

St Anthony’s Life & Style Hotel

Just 100m from St Anton’s cable car station, this stylish hotel is perfectly located for skiers. Rooms are sleek and modern but cosy, with textured felt wallpaper, lots of light wood and slate bathrooms.

The layout has been well thought through, with plenty of hooks for drying wet gear. Buffet breakfasts are huge, there’s an Italian restaurant and a steakhouse, and live music in the hotel bar.

St Antony

The rooftop spa is a highlight, featuring a sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the slopes.

Book it: From €117 a night

InterContinental Davos Resort & Spa

In a town where many hotels are boxy and dull, this is a stunning exception. Its futuristic-looking facade is curved and gleaming, and things are just as interesting inside.

The rooms and the lobby area are decked out tastefully in neutral shades, but in the top-floor Studio Grigio restaurant and bar, the colour grey is given a much more dramatic treatment, with statement lighting and a series of quirky statuettes, including meerkats and garden gnomes.

The food is delicate and equally presented with design in mind. There are two more restaurants – Japanese and Alpine – and a huge spa with an outdoor hot tub.

Book it: €170 a night.


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