Travel review: Austrian Alps - for your thighs only
All my life I’ve dreamed of being James Bond – and this is definitely the closest I will ever get.
The 007 theme music races through my head as I make my way down the piste high in the Austrian Alps, and in my mind, I am on a high-stakes mission to save the world.
This daydreaming may seem like complete fantasy, but there is an element of realism to it. I am in Soelden, where a number of scenes for Spectre – the latest blockbuster Bond movie – were shot.
So although I may not look quite as suave on the slopes as Daniel Craig, I am genuinely following in the tracks of my favourite spy.
With it’s rugged peaks, pristine pine forests and stunning panoramic views, it’s easy to understand why the jaw-dropping alpine setting in the Oetz Valley was chosen as a backdrop for the 24th film of the Bond franchise.
Soelden oozes the elegance, luxury, charm and sophistication that have become synonymous with Bond movies. The most spectacular location I find on my Bond pilgrimage is IceQ, a dazzling glass structure that sticks out of the mountain 3,048m above sea level.
It is normally a high-end restaurant, lounge and terrace where skiers and snowboarders recharge their batteries as they look out across the Tyrol region of the Alps, over fine wines and gourmet food.
I’m told all the usual furniture was cleared out and even senior IceQ staff members were kept away during filming.
It is late April when I visit and the film crews have left, along with most of the tourists. But the altitude of Soelden’s glaciers means winter sports enthusiasts can ski and snowboard long past the end of the traditional season, so I have the luxury of sunny weather and the slopes to myself.
Despite the warm temperatures, the snow feels great under my skis, with none of the slush that can blight many ski areas so late in the season.
Further down the valley is my hotel, Das Central, which is hosting its annual Wine on the Mountain festival to showcase Austria’s famous vineyards. Wine buffs from around the world come back here every spring to taste dozens of wines, meet the winemakers and eat fine food.
I would describe myself as more of a wine enthusiast than an expert, but speaking to the producers from around the country gives me an appreciation of how important the industry is to Austria.
The three-day event is designed to fit around snow sports on the glacier, and the organisers go to extraordinary lengths to make the festival as striking as possible – including carving special pop-up wine bars out of snow up the mountain.
I feel a bit of a fraud for not drinking a vodka Martini – shaken, not stirred, of course. But I reckon James Bond would be perfectly at ease at this icy bar above the clouds with a glass in his hand.
This year, Wine on the Mountain is hosting winemakers and chefs from Portugal, and the friendly rivalry between them and the Austrians adds to the high-spirited festival atmosphere.
The climax is the Big Bottle Party, where the contents of huge jeroboams, methuselahs and balthazars are continuously poured into partygoers’ wine glasses.
A traditional Austrian brass band serenades the festival-goers late into the night and a spectacular light show with fireworks brings the event to a close in style. Next year will be Wine on the Mountain’s 15th birthday, so an even more lavish celebration can be expected.
Das Central is a luxurious alpine hotel, geared up as much for exploring the mountainous countryside on its doorstep, as it is for pampering and indulgence.
With all manner of treatments on offer, guests can ease their aching muscles after hitting the slopes, while its Venice-themed Water World is set over three floors with 10 different saunas – and even a full-size gondola.
James Bond would feel perfectly at home here, but for now, I’m happy to be his stunt double.
• James Edgar was a guest of Das Central (central-soelden.at), which offers doubles from £122 per person, based on two people sharing on a half board basis. Rates are subject to availability.
Direct flights available from Gatwick to Innsbruck on EasyJet start at £72 return per person, from November 28 onwards.
The 2016 Wine on the Mountain runs from April 21-24