Tuesday 12 November 2019

Solden: High-octane fun and e-biking in James Bond's winter escape

Solden is a well-known ski resort, but there's lots more to the Tyrolean landscape than winter ski holidays, says Jamie Blake Knox

Jamie enjoys breathtaking scenery
Jamie enjoys breathtaking scenery

Jamie Blake Knox

It is easy to see why Solden in the Tyrol has firmly established itself as one of Austria's most popular ski resorts.

With two huge glaciers nearby, and high altitude, there is a virtual guarantee that nearly 150km of exhilarating pistes will be open to skiers. Good snow from October to May can usually be relied upon, and there is even an extensive snowmaking system in place should nature fail to deliver.

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The resort is also home to the country's second-highest mountain: the imposing Wildespitze which stands at 3,770 metres. However, I was visiting Solden in June - a time when most ski resorts are usually lifeless and deserted. Any fears that I might have had that this would be the case with Solden were soon dispelled, because this charming town is jam-packed with adventure and high-octane levels of fun.

I flew into Munich airport, and from there it was a short drive to Solden. En route, we drove through dense pine forests, with soaring mountains on either side and scores of quaint Alpine villages. It all felt like something out of a Grimm's fairy tale. Das Central is the only five-star hotel in Solden, and effortlessly combines Tyrolean features with all the modern comforts you might expect. I was greeted by staff wearing traditional Austrian costumes, such as lederhosen and dirndl dresses. My room was both spacious and homely with expansive views from the balcony of the mountains that tower over the valley. The hotel's spa is Venetian-themed - there was even a gondola - and is spread across three floors, with many sauna and steam bath rooms. As it happened, I had no need to avail of these, as my room came with its own private sauna and hot tub.

The hotel boasts an impressive wine collection, and was awarded the best 'Wine Hotel' in 2016. More than 30,000 bottles are stored in its cellar, including many local and rare wines. I was allowed to sample one of the hotel's most recent additions to its stock: PINO 3000. This Pinot Noir is blended from three vineyards in Austria, Germany, and Italy, and is matured 3,048 metres above sea level. I found it robust and delicious, and it served as the perfect accompaniment to a rather decadent rich cheese fondue. Perhaps because I was sated with cheese and wine, I slept soundly - despite a dramatic thunder and lightning storm that rocked through the valley.

The next morning, I rolled out of bed at an ungodly hour since I had agreed to go on a two-and-half-hour bike ride from Solden to Langenfeld the night before. (It must have been in a moment of wine-inspired delusion). The truth is that I am far removed from a regular cyclist, and the thought of what I had signed up to filled me with dread. I needn't have worried. It turned out that I would be on board an e-bike, hired from a company called Sport Glanzer. This comes with a discreet but powerful electronic motor and a series of settings which can assist even the most inept cyclist on those more challenging climbs. After some brief technical training with a guide, I was ready to go.

Piste de resistance .... Austrian resort of Solden not only has the perfect snow slopes, it is home to Ice Q restaurant, as featured in a James Bond film
Piste de resistance .... Austrian resort of Solden not only has the perfect snow slopes, it is home to Ice Q restaurant, as featured in a James Bond film

The Bike Republic was launched a few years ago, and is a series of nature trails, mountain biking routes and endurance tracks. It covers more than 24km of stunning scenery that ranges from 600 to 3,000m above sea level. I cycled through wonderful natural scenery, as well as villages where I could explore some of their picturesque Gothic churches and rural baroque architecture.

After a few hours cycling - and despite my frequent use of the turbo boost - I was in need of some refreshment. Thankfully, there are hospitable lodges dotted throughout the route. One of these is Gampe Thaya: a 300-year-old traditional family-run farmer's hut. I paused there to enjoy a hearty breakfast of local cheeses, cured meats, and sausages, the peace and tranquillity only interrupted by an occasional cowbell.

Guests at the hotel who visit in the summer receive a complimentary Otztal Premium Card, giving them free use of the mountain lifts. It was just a short hike the next morning to the Gaislachkogl station where I could step on board a glass gondola. These gondolas are not for those scared of heights, but the bold and eagled-eyed are able to spot some cute chubby marmots scurrying among the rocks as the gandola headed for the restaurant at the mountain top.

Ice Q is perched precariously on the top of the sheer rock summit of Gaislachkogl mountain.

Its extraordinary setting and futuristic angular architecture - which combines steel, glass and concrete - served as the irresistible location for the villain's base in the last James Bond film, Spectre. In reality, Ice Q is almost certainly the best restaurant you'll find at over 3,000 metres above sea level.

The menu is innovative, offering creative takes on Austrian classics like strudel,­ and pumpkin soup, and there is an emphasis on regional ingredients. The views across the Ötztal Alps are unrivalled, and in the distance, there is even a heart-shaped lake.

It was undoubtedly this vast, unforgiving and cinematic landscape which attracted Sam Mendes, the Bond director, to use this location and significant portions of Spectre were shot here. Last year, 007 ELEMENTS was opened. It offers fans an opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Bond. Built inside the summit, the project's creative director, Neal Callow, worked as the art director on Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall as well as Spectre.

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I must confess that I have never been a huge James Bond fan: car chases leave me cold, and I have never really warmed to this brand of laboured puns, slapstick violence and feeble misogyny. Having said that, I must also acknowledge that these galleries and cinematic installations are brilliantly realised. The focus is primarily on the Spectre movie and the scenes shot in Solden, but ELEMENTS also includes other episodes from the 24 James Bond movies, helping to contextualise them and illustrate their genuine and significant cultural impact.

A short drive out of town you'll find the Area 47 Adventure Park. It has a huge range of adrenaline activities, canoeing, white water rafting, rock climbing, a high ropes climbing course suspended from a bridge and a new wakeboarding facility for any snowboarders or skiers looking for a summer fix. It also offers blobbing which for the uninitiated is where a participant sits on the end of a partly inflated air bag (known as a water trampoline or blob) and is catapulted into the air when someone else jumps on to the air bag from a platform on the opposite side. White water rafting in its freezing mountain waters, further convinced me that there is a good deal more to this Alpine resort than lots and lots of snow.

Getting there

Das Central, Solden, Austria has double rooms available from €153 per person per night in the summer, based on two people sharing on a half board basis. All guests staying receive the Otztal Premium Card, which includes journeys on the summer cable cars, entry to the swimming lakes and more.

For further information and bookings, please visit central-soelden.com/en/ For e-bikes visit glanzer.at/en

NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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