Deirdre Mullins visits the historic spa town with something for everyone.
Where? Bad Gastein is a historic spa town set within a glacial valley an hour-and-a-half south of Salzburg. The Gastein Valley includes the resorts of Bad Gastein, Bad Hofgastein, Dorfgastein and Sportgastein. Bad Gastein is the liveliest and most picturesque of these resorts.
Why? For hundreds of years its healing caves and hot springs have been attracting visitors and so is a good resort for a spa/ski holiday. It's also very picturesque; the town is actually built into the side of a mountain. Its historic multi-storey hotels are erected on the slopes, some of them just a couple of metres from the mountain face.
In the 19th century Bad Gastein was a fashionable resort for monarchs and the wealthy of Austria. These affluent visitors left their mark on its architecture with large stately homes built in Habsburg-style lining its streets. The old street lamps and the big waterfall in the centre of the town give it a romantic feel, distinctive from any other ski resort I've been to.
The Skiing While the ski area is suitable for all levels, Bad Hofgastein is favoured by families and is better for beginners, whereas Bad Gastein has a younger demographic and is suited to a more intermediate to advanced level. The one drawback is that the resorts aren't interconnected so you must use a ski bus. I found some of the slopes more difficult than their colour rating: there were blues that should have been reds and tough reds that should have been blacks. Off-piste safari and ski touring can be organised with the local ski schools.
Resort Height 1,080m
Total Runs 201km (60km – beginners' level, 117km - intermediate and 24km – blacks)
Top Range 2,700m
Ski Lifts 50
Ski Pass Price €210 for six days (€107 for kids)
Longest Run Eight kilometres. It's the longest run in the Eastern Alps.
Number of Ski Schools Five
Season Mid December to mid April
Who Goes There? Lots of northern Europeans, especially Dutch and Scandinavians. And a fair share of Austrian, Irish and English.
What's Different About It? The benefits of the radon-rich waters and caves were discovered in the Middle Ages when silver miners noticed their arthritis fading away while they worked. Still today people visit the area to experience the healing waters and caves.
Radon can be a harmful gas, but when exposure is controlled it is good for cell regeneration and especially beneficial for sufferers of arthritis, eczema and ankylosing spondylitis.
To access the caves you must take a 2km trip into the mountain on a toy-like mining train while dressed in a bathrobe. Then a doctor will assess you and prescribe the amount of time you are to spend absorbing the radon while lazing on one of the beds in the cave.
The health benefits of the radon gas have brought about a boom in the sports medicine industry. Bad Hofgastein has a Centre for Health and Sport where rehab patients and athletes visit for assessment by sport scientists and doctors. It costs €95 for the consultation, which includes assessment and a personalised plan.
The centre offers other therapies, including underwater gymnastics in the radon-rich water with a physical therapist and radon baths prescribed by a doctor (€13 for bath and €55 for doctor's consultation).
Bang for Your Buck Austrian prices are the most competitive in the Alps, one of the reasons that Austria remains the favourite ski destination for the Irish. Prices stay reasonable as Bad Gastein is a year-round destination.
Après Ski Bad Gastein has the liveliest après ski of the Gastein Valley, but it has still a pretty relaxed approach. Nevertheless, there are plenty of lively restaurants and bars to keep you busy until the wee hours. The Silver Bullet has live bands playing most nights of the week and is the busiest bar in town. If old charm is more your style, visit the vintage grandeur of the Bad Gastein's Casino which wouldn't look out of place on the set of a classic James Bond movie.
Insider Tips Get a Gastein Card which gives discounts or free entry to over 50 attractions. It's available free of charge when you check into your accommodation.
What better way to soothe tired muscles than by relaxing in a warm thermal pool while looking out at the snow capped mountain? Take the glass elevator from street level in Bad Gastein to Austria's oldest spa, the Felsentherme Gastein. These public spas have lower levels of radon so don't need medical consultation before use.
Visit the 140-metre long suspension footbridge that hangs over a 28 meter chasm, at 2,400 metres above sea level. It's the highest such bridge in Europe
Non ski activities Sledding, biathlon, snowshoeing and ice-climbing.
From 16 to 25 March Gastein will host a jazz festival.
Deirdre Mullins travelled to Bad Gastein as a guest of Topflight. To book your ski holiday with Topflight, visit: www.topflight.ie, phone: 01-240 1784 or visit your nearest travel agent.