I was extra keen to review this place as it just looked so impressive! The perfect place to take a 2 year old for his first real ski lessons and for everyone to enjoy the snow. Needless to say, I wasn’t wrong!
We left early on the Monday morning (flights are cheaper and you avoid the crowds), a sleek, luxurious, black Mercedes van ordered through MyDriver, the top end chauffeur service operated by Sixt throughout Europe, waiting outside for our absurdly early morning departure made things slightly less traumatic. Car seats all ready, nice and warm and most importantly well-driven and professional service to Gatwick, we arrived on the flight and were picked up by Taxi 600, an efficient local service, that would deliver us to the resort in time for lunch. For those driving, as many do from continental Europe, the hotel has a two storey underground car park.
This trip we travelled light too. Sending ski stuff ahead and from hotel to hotel was something that my dad did regularly. I tested the service of Bagexpress. Based in Italy, they take up to 5 working days to deliver suitcases door to door. Its a great relieft to travel ‘handsfree’, especially when you have two young kids in tow. It can be difficult to pack days in advance but not so with ski stuff and toilteries – the heaviest and bulkiest things, plus it works out cheaper if you consider the costs of extra luggage or larger hire car. I was a little hesitant at first but Bagexpress‘ customer service team instilled confidence and luggage can be tracked from the website and was at the hotel before we were, arriving home three days after us. Actually, a relief as I couldn’t unpack and start washing straight away, I was forced to relax a little longer! I would definitely recommend Bagexpress!
I was introduced at a very young age to the mountains, my parents honeymooned in St. Moritz and as a family we never looked back. My father adored skiing, dragging us all up for the first lift and packing us off to ski school from a very tender age. Twice a year once in Switzerland, once in France. Needless to say, we still caught the ski bug. In fact, I love the mountains full stop!
The most popular places are teeming at this time of year. School holidays in most European countries can make for mayhem; long lift queues and crowds. With two young children and an interest in getting us all skiing with ease, better-known resorts have lost their appeal. There are wonderful, smaller ski resorts dotted all over Austria, you just need to do some research and break away from the crowds.
A lot has changed in forty years too. Facilities for one. There’s a concept on the continent that has yet to be discovered in the U.K. and that is of family or Kinderhotels. Independent, authentic, family-owned hotels offering real holidays for the parents as well as the children.
Refurbished with a gorgeous modern extension in 2017 by the charming Prommegger family, it’s a 4* but in Austria standards are extremely high, so expect to be very impressed. Sitting in a sunny valley opposite the two cable cars serving the mountain, ski school and ski hire shop with the top quality equipment, run and owned by the Austrian World Cup winner, Toni Gruber and his partner Gerhard, directly on site. You can book online. This means that once we arrived at the hotel we could simply pop downstairs to the shop to pick-up our equipment and deposit it straight in to the locker in the ski room, which incidentally is directly opposite the entrance to softplay, so beware, once the children see it, you won’t be able to say no!
The mountain is 5 minutes away by the hotel’s own tractor, TUFFI for the kids- picked up and dropped by the instructors every day and by local bus otherwise. It is possible to ski directly to the hotel but the bus stop is opposite the door to the ski room and is an easy option. the buses run every 10 minutes and pass by each of the two main cable cars.
The Kinderhotel Waldhof is a paradise for families. Catering to the very youngest babies to teenagers and beyond. It’s common for multi-generations to holiday together on the continent; something that I think is wonderful. what better way to enjoy time with grandparents than in the fresh mountain air!
The key for me is the offering of over 60 hours plus of exemplary childcare a week included in the price. This sort of service isn’t something that we in the UK are used to. They take babies from two months old. There are three age-defined kids clubs, all situated in the spotless and sparkling new extension from 2017. The offering is jawdroppingly good, as is the care. When Gabriel was a small baby I was more than happy to feed him then leave him to go off skiing until the next feed! I’m also a very protective and picky parent. I wouldn’t leave my children just anywhere. Peace of mind is key.
So the kids clubs are fantastic. Expansive, modern, age-appropriate toys, games and activities await. There’s a baby club, one for age 2.5 plus and then a teen club. Both my 2-year-old and 6-year-old were sufficiently distracted to barely notice that we weren’t there and that speaks volumes about the staff. Too hard to turn down the opportunity to paint, create with homemade, chemical-free playdoh or simply play imaginative games. We left Gabriel, the youngest, whilst we went skiing.
He ate lunch there and also, importantly was taken outside to play in the fresh air each day. On the days that we didn’t take him ourselves, he was also accompanied to his one-on-one ski lesson with the ever patient and professional teachers from Toni Gruber’s ski school at the hotel’s nursery slope, which was a godsend, if you have two kids to get ready for skiing. Each day we would pick him up happy and refreshed from his sleep- three hours outside one day – fresh air and bundled up warmth is just the perfect combination for healthy sleep.
Outside of kids club there are separate play pools for the kids. Captain Hook’s Adventure Pool – boat-shaped with waterslide and sitting beside it, a baby pool complete with slide and sprinklers. Older children are likely to ese their parents rarely, with so much to do. There’s a fabulous and again spotlessly-kept softplay, complete with comfortable seating for supervising parents, a sports hall , chillout zone with table football, ping-pong and snooker table and a kids climbing wall.
All of that is on top of the day long programs offered at the kids clubs themselves.
With the kids long gone, lets talk about facilities for the adults. You are going to struggle to fit everything in, beware. There’s a serious spa – in Austria spas are always taken seriously, sauna land and of course adults pool and food that would make a Michelin inspector proud. They also have a rather wonderful wine cellar and bar area, oenophiles will rejoice, we Brits wouldn’t dream of a hotel that caters to such sophisticated tastes whilst also to those of the younger generation . All inclusive prices in family friendly room configurations means that value is superb. Most importantly it is not definitely not mass market.
The ski area is perfect for families and includes a fun park, a great variety of cosy mountain restaurants and links directly to Dorfgastein, it’s neighbouring mountain where even more wide open slopes abound. Großarl, extending up to 2033m, offers variety, modern lifts and more than enough for every level as long as you aren’t looking for the scariest, vertical drops. I’ve skied many of the top resorts from Courchevel, almost every year as a child, to St Moritz, Davos, St. Anton and many, many more in my forty years on skis! I was more than happy in Großarl. The feel of the resort and its family friendliness is key.
That said Toni Gruber’s ski school did manage to push me to my limit once or twice which is exactly what I needed. Toni Gruber, 2017 world paraskiing champion has the crème de la crème of instructors. Our private teacher, part of the Austrian performance ski team in 1988 was Ernesto. Spending the week with him improved our technique significantly. He was a superstar, a local and for once an instructor enough experience to give confidence to the most nervous skier. Our six year old also improved significantly with private lessons from a variety of Toni’s teachers, all of whom he loved.
For the very young and beginners, The Waldhof also has its nursery slope with lessons on site, complete with magic carpets and snow-go-round. From around age 2, little ones can get a feel for skiing, first at play and then on skis. Then, in the afternoon, the toboggans come out!
It’s hard to describe what’s on offer here in a few words. We in the UK have no concept of luxury hotels that cater to babies and children. Wipes and baby bar come standard, every type of high chair from newborn to cushions, nappies in kids club, a whole menu and buffet devised for kids with half portions of adults food or extra menu options too.
The Waldhof is both chic, cosy and spotless (this word comes up time and time again – I’m a bit OCD when it comes to hygiene – the only way with so many children around. Our family room complete with mountain view and terrace was split into two rooms with dividing doors, perfect for putting the little ones to bed early with night light and blackout curtains included. Warm and Austrian in style, with a modern bathroom and separate toilet, we all slept like babies.
The true success lies in the quality and attention to detail- service in the restaurant, play corners nearby so that parents can eat in peace, groaning buffets for lunch and breakfast with every possible imaginable taste catered for – freshly squeezed juices, homemade smoothies, fresh fruit, hot food on the buffet and to order, 15 types of bread, cheese and meats, luxury loose teas and top notch coffee machines.
Dinner is a civilised affair with table service and lots of choice always to include fish and vegetarian dishes for every course including the soup. Full board means that the good food never ends. Breakfast, lunch then tea and finally dinner.
In the summer there are three outdoor pools. Sitting in the valley the outdoor play areas looks mind blowing. This is heaven on earth to any family looking for a proper holiday in winter or summer. These people really know their hospitality. Go, you won’t believe how good it is. P.S don’t expect children running wild and lots of plastic. The magic to this one is that the setup keeps for a really civilised and relaxing atmosphere for all!