Why Vorarlberg, Austria's westernmost province, isn't better known in the UK is a bit of a mystery. But on the other hand, winter skiers and summer visitors who are in the know like to think that they are coming to somewhere a bit special, noticeably untouched by the hand of mass tourism.
The fact that Brandnertal remains relatively unknown is even odder given how skiers like to get off planes and onto the slopes with a minimal transfer time. Brandnertal - with its pretty villages of Brand and Burserberg - ticks this first box quite convincingly.
Short transfers from two nearby airports
Skiers who take an early morning Swiss flight to Zurich (and by the way, Swiss welcomes skis and boards as part of your baggage allowance) will be on the uncrowded Brandnertal slopes by lunchtime. New for 2012/13 ski season, Monarch airlines will be flying four times per week (Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) from London Gatwick (LGW) and twice a week (Thursday and Saturday) from Manchester (MAN) to the Bodensee-Airport Friedrichshafen, just 95km and 1 hour 10 minutes transfer time by car to Brandnertal.
Two traditional villages: Burserburg and Brand
It's not that the British have never been to Brandnertal; on the contrary in the 70's and 80's it was a very popular tour operator destination but the resort has evolved over the intervening years into a class act with two distinct sides to its character.
From the motorway exit at Burs the road to the valley winds steadily upwards through pine forest, emerging by Burserberg, the quieter and more traditional of the two villages, with its own chairlift access, a scattering of hotels and other accommodation and lashings of old fashoned charm. Burserberg as a village is more vertical than horizontal and, from an altitude of 890m where the old village clusters around the church, the village road rises up to the sunny plateau of Tschengla at 1,250 m with its collection of hotels and popular cross country trails. At either village level, there are chairlifts to whisk skiers up the mountain to the pistes of Brandnertal.
Four kilometres further along the main valley road lies Burserberg's big brother, Brand, blending the old traditions of Vorarlberg with chic modern style. The village sits alongside the meandering main street, stretching for a kilometre or so from end to end, dotted with hotels, apartments, shops, restaurants, bars and the uphill lifts. The modern high speed Dorfbahn gondola from the village centre is the heart of the Brandnertal lift system, and at its arrival point it connects with lifts opening up the ski area in either direction. One of these is the aptly named Panoramabahn, crossing the ravine between the pistes of Brand and Burserberg.
Good skiing between 890 m and 2,000 m
A total of 55 km of connected piste are on offer across both resorts with an altitude difference ranging from 890 m at Burserberg to the top station of the Glattjochbahn at 2,000 m. There is a delightful variety of well maintained pistes, and some excellent refreshment stops complete with wonderful views, and queueing for lifts is rarely a problem. This is even truer since 2010, as the slow double chair at Palud, situated at the far end of Brand village has been replaced by a shiny new eight passenger gondola. Almost in celebration of this fact, a new funpark called the 'Backyards Snowpark' has also opened on the Palud side, complete with kickers, boxes and much more.
Reflecting on a skiing day on the Brandnertal slopes, the lasting impression is one of modern and speedy lifts, uncrowded slopes, and an excellent variety of pit stops for eating and drinking at fair prices, and glorious views all round.
Excellent family friendly accommodation
Brandnertal scores highly as a choice for family holidays; many of the hotels are family friendly to the extent that child care forms an integral part of the hotel services, and the children's ski school is located in the heart of Brand, with next step slopes also in the village, before your little angels take to the mountain proper.
Apres ski in Brandnertal
At the end of the skiing day both Brand and Burserberg have their spots where skiers and boarders can let their hair down; in Brand the busiest of them is Heuboda, directly opposite the Dorfbahn, where a heady mix of cocktails, music and a lively crowd packed like sardines combine for that perfect apres ski experience. Muhlebach and Papageno, also located on the main street of Brand, are other popular and lively venues. In neighbouring Burserberg, the Rufana Alp bar, located on the piste, is a magnetic draw for skiers returning to their hotels at the end of the day, and it's not unusual for skiers to make those final few turns in darkness after enjoying the hospitality at Rufana Alp.
An ideal destination for weekends and short ski breaks
Given the proximity to Zurich and the frequency of SWISS scheduled flights, Brandnertal is an ideal destination for the traditional week of skiing, and is more than ideal for a weekend short break. By taking the first flight into Zurich from Heathrow on a Friday and the last back on Monday, it is perfectly feasible to enjoy three and a half days of skiing, but please don't tell too many people. Some secrets are better kept that way.
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