The hills are alive: summer in the Arlberg
This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, autumn 2019, issue 110
Summer festivals in the Arlberg can be enjoyed in myriad ways: from striking a yoga pose in a flower-filled meadow to appreciating art in an alpine village.
There’s a hush in the cable car as it climbs up Gampen Mountain overlooking the village of St Anton am Arlberg in the foothills of the Tyrolian Alps. All eight occupants in the gondola have their noses pressed against the glass as it floats above the rooftops of the village toward the Rosanna River.
The presence of the mountains is woven through the fabric of the village: Austria’s St Anton am Arlberg is known as the birthplace of alpine skiing; local Hannes Schneider popularised the ‘Arlberg Technique’ of downhill skiing; it has a legendary après-ski scene; and has hosted the Alpine Skiing World Championships on several occasions.
The hills are alive
While the mountains are best known for their meringue-white flanks in winter, it’s the crayon-green walking trails that are the draw in summer, attracting everyone from yogis to hikers, mountain bikers and foodies.
Today, we join the Lycra-clad crowds as they exit Bergstation Gampenbahn and prepare to roll out their yoga mats around the Gampen Mountain Hut on the so-called Green Ring. According to a brochure thumb-tacked to a noticeboard at the Skihotel Galzig, this year’s festival features ‘Intuition’ as the over-arching theme. My intuition was right: locking arms with strangers, meditating at dawn and ‘unplugging’ at various workshops made attending this festival the right decision.
After a rigorous morning vinyasa flow session with American instructor Marc Laws, I find myself enjoying everything from the echoing oms around the room to lunch and laughter with my fellow yogis.
“Yoga is a very personal activity. But celebrating your practise from dawn to dusk on a daily basis with others is energising. Festival-goers form an instant community and that’s a beautiful thing,” says Laws.
Go with the flow
Yoga teacher Iris Höll says the four-day Mountain Yoga Festival has attracted everyone from beginners to hardcore yoga instructors from around the world since its inception four years ago and it is still going strong.
“In winter, there are 30,000 skiers here and it’s fast and loud. The idea is to slow that right down and to let the mountain rest. It’s peaceful in summer and the yoga festival gives people the space to unplug and make real connections,” she says
The region’s biennial Kulinarik & Kunst Festival (Culinary & Arts Festival) also creates a bridge for people to have a conversation and the two summer events overlap every other year.
Feast for the senses
The president of the festival, Axel Bach, says the framework for the festival is to integrate the nature around St Anton with world-class art and culture. Highlights of the recent program co-curated by Bach, who is the host at Hotel Tannenhof, included a duet performed on two Steinway grand pianos by sisters Karolin and Friederike Stegmann; a light show presented by Cirque de Soleil trapeze artists; and a feast prepared by a Michelin-starred chef at the Waldhof Hotel. Chef Klaus Erfort is one of 40 leading chefs who headlined at the Culinary & Arts Festival and he takes a painterly approach to plating up during his cameo at the Waldhof Hotel. The chef has maintained three Michelin-star status for three years running at his eponymously named Gästehaus Klaus Erfort and the dishes coming out of the kitchen make a compelling statement about the quality of the local cuisine.
Attending the chef-led festival also gives us an excuse to hike to a hutte to devour dumplings at 2400 metres, admire the just-opened SkyspaceLech by James Turrell and enjoy a 19-course feast in the Rote Wand Schualhus by chef Max Natmessnig.
Although the two festivals are very different, they pull the various Tyrolian mountain villages together as if wound by the finest thread. Yes, winter has a wow factor but summer spent in the Arlberg is every bit as alluring.
Emirates Airlines fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Zurich every day via Dubai. – emirates-airlines.com.au
Transfer to the Arlberg with Arlberg Express. – arlbergshuttle.com
Skihotel Galzig – skihotelgalzig.at
Arlberg-Hospiz Hotel – arlberg1800resort.at
Hotel Post – postlech.com
Visit Mountain Yoga Festival St Anton – mountainyogafestivalstanton.at