At 12pm, the bells of St Nicholas burst into glorious peals. It’s the noon Angelus, when Roman Catholics say their Hail Marys — and it’s a moment of rapturous joy for those of us whose prayers have been answered. A foot of snow has fallen overnight.
Lech, the grand duchess of ski resorts, looks sumptuous in her new white coat.
I haven’t been here for 30 years, but it’s hardly changed a jot. It feels almost like a private village, discreetly managed by powerful local families such as the Kosts, Schneiders and the Moosbruggers.
And it’s an all-year working village. Indeed, there are ferociously strict rules about buying property here. If you own it, you have to use it.
Chic: On his visit to Lech (above), Mark Palmer wakes up to find that a foot of snow has fallen overnight. ‘Lech, the grand duchess of ski resorts, looks sumptuous in her new white coat,’ he writes
Actually, there is one thing that has changed. Lech is now connected not just to Zurs, Zug and Stuben but to St Christoph and St Anton, which means the Arlberg region is the largest connected ski area in Austria.
It is rightly regarded as the cradle of alpine skiing, where Hannes Schneider, born in Stuben in 1890, developed the ‘Arlberg’ technique, bending the knees and shifting ‘zee’ weight, as instructors still teach to this day.
Lech wears its glamour lightly, its grandeur even more so.
There are no Louis Vuitton or Gucci stores; no soulless self-service mountain restaurants selling stodgy spag bol. And everyone we meet is courteous and friendly.
On one chairlift — so cold we can hardly speak — my ski pal Richard comes up with: ‘A little chilly, isn’t it?’ Which prompts a German stranger sitting with us to remark: ‘I love the way you British speak in flowers.’
Royalty has long been drawn to Lech, not least Princess Diana, who brought her boys here after her marriage collapsed, staying at the Schneider family’s Hotel Arlberg, where we call in for a snoop and a couple of elderflower schnapps.
Princess Diana brought her boys William and Harry to Lech after her marriage collapsed
Our hotel, Severins, is a mile or so out of town but operates a regular shuttle service. From the outside, it looks like a weathered old mountain hut — but turns out to be a luxury 21st-century cocoon that’s perfect for the jaded and weary.
There are only nine rooms, all with deep tubs, Bluetooth speaker systems, Minotti furniture and even crackling log fires. There’s also a four-bedroom chalet next door with its own grand piano and private cinema.
Our flight to Innsbruck left London so early that by 2pm we’re on the mountain — and among the last off it. After an operation on my knee, my skiing is somewhat apologetic, but what a tonic it is to be back on the slopes after the Covid recess.
Mark stays at the Severins hotel, above, a ‘luxury 21st-century cocoon that’s perfect for the jaded and weary’
That evening, one overly enthusiastic guest, noticing that the mixologist has gone missing, slips behind the bar and starts making his own White Lady cocktail. Yes, that’s me.
On another occasion, a guest manages to incinerate and then detonate his gas fire lighter. Yes, that’s me, too. But nothing seems to faze the charming staff, who carry an air of having seen it all before.
On day two, we meet up with Lukas, a young and dashingly handsome guide, who introduces us to another of Lech’s great selling points: the White Ring, a nearly 15-mile, signposted ski circuit from Zurs to Lech, with unforgettable views and relatively easy runs for those with dodgy knees.
Afterwards, we stop for lunch at Kriegeralpe, which follows the Lech pattern of wrapping Alpine style in a modest demeanour — a cosy wooden chalet offering delicious goulash for less than a tenner and where you’re treated like a guest in a five-star restaurant.
There are only nine rooms at Severins, all with deep tubs, Bluetooth speaker systems, Minotti furniture and even crackling log fires
Oxford Ski Company (oxfordski.com); 01865 817 420, offers seven nights’ half board at Hotel Severins from £5,850 for two people sharing a junior suite, including flights and private transfers. A six-day lift pass for the Arlberg region costs £350. More information about Lech (lechzuers.com).
Speaking of five-star restaurants, if you’re staying in Lech you absolutely must find your way to a small 17th-century farmhouse (original floors still intact) which is tucked away in Zug.
This is where we’re greeted by a German/Chinese culinary couple, Jakob Zeller and Ethel Hoon, at the Klosterle.
They give us rowanberry negronis and tangy fermented gherkins and then show us their upstairs larder, which is bursting with locally made pickles, jams and hanging meats.
It’s like a snapshot from Little House On The Prairie. Tables are made from local spruce, candles flicker. For us, it’s not so much a shelter from the storm outside as a shelter from life itself. And the food is superb.
Thank goodness, there are still places in the world like Lech. Wonderful for skiers and just as wonderful for those who, simply, are drawn year after year to the majesty of the mountains.