Skiing in Sölden: the Austrian town made famous by Spectre

Spectre might have put Sölden on the map, but Austria’s under-the-radar ski resort – host to the Wein am Berg wine festival every April – has always been a blockbuster hit for those in the know

8 January 2020

'A proteolytic digestive enzyme drink, shaken, not stirred’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it, so you can imagine 007’s disappointment when his signature vodka martini was replaced by a super smoothie in Spectre (2015). Good for the stomach, not so much for a soundbite. In the film’s fictional Hoffler Klinik medical centre, the only thing served on the rocks is the building itself – the glacial facility is carved into the craggy summit of Austria’s Gaislachkogl Mountain and, as true Bond fans will remember, paves the way for a nail-biting plane-versus-car chase through the dramatic Alpine peaks of the Ötztal valley.

In reality, this lofty locale is a swanky restaurant where the drinks flow, the people relax and the car chases are kept to a minimum. Named Ice Q, the all-glass restaurant is perched 3,048m above sea level and commands a spectacular view: no less than 300 peaks of the Alps and Dolomites can be spied – sorry, couldn’t resist – from this soaring vantage point.

It’s little wonder that Spectre’s location scouts saw this as a suitable shooting spot; the Ötztal glacier road is the second highest paved road in Europe and the winding drive between the powdered peaks yields a dramatic backdrop. Rumour has it that the surrounding slopes were closed for several weeks during peak ski season to allow for filming, with a 500-strong crew descending on the tiny neighbouring town of Sölden.

With guaranteed snow from October through to May, Sölden’s population of 3,279 is vastly outnumbered by the 15,000 tourists that visit each year. The bountiful snow fall is the resort’s biggest draw – so much so that it hosts the first races of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season in October, with the giant slalom for men and women held on the exhilarating Rettenbach glacier. From the glacier’s Schwarze Schneid peak, it’s a thrilling 15km to the valley floor.

Skiing aside, it’s not the most glamorous of resorts – those used to jostling with celebrities in St Moritz may need to lower their expectations – but this chocolate box-pretty village possesses a bijou charm, and has a lively après-ski scene to boot.

I didn’t have the chance to put this to the test, but my days spent in Sölden were suitably intoxicated nonetheless thanks to the annual Wein am Berg festival. Translating to Wine on the Mountain, this four-day celebration began in 1999 when Anton Kollwentz, the former president of Austria’s Burgenland vineyards, paid a visit to Das Central, Sölden’s first five-star hotel. In the hotel’s former manager, Gottlieb Waschl, Kollwentz found a friend, and the two oenophiles set about on a mission to bring their homeland’s two most precious commodities together: plonk and peaks.

Each year the festival plays on a different theme, championing not just Austrian wine and cuisine but those of another nation, too. For 2019, for example, winemakers and chefs from Piedmont, Italy, joined a line-up of established Austrian gastronomes. To give you an idea of the calibre of chefs, during the Austria Meets Great Britain fare of 2018, Jason Atherton was in residence. In 2020, the festival will
focus on the epicurean feats of the economic triad Benelux, a.k.a Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Wein am Berg festival 
Das Central Hotel

By nature the event attracts a large number of industry insiders, but it’s equally enjoyable for people who just genuinely love delicious food and excellent vino. Wine is served, literally, from the moment you check in at Das Central: a glass of sparkling rosé is presented on arrival, presumably to take the edge off the notoriously bumpy landing at Innsbruck Airport. Upstairs, lodge-style bedrooms with Moooi lamps, giant bath tubs verging on paddling pools and marshmallow beds provide a base in which to flop after a day of high-altitude wine tastings, while the regal and somewhat bizarrely Venetian-themed basement spa is on hand to soothe ski-weary feet.

Taking to the slopes isn’t mandatory but it’s certainly encouraged, especially given the roster of expert guides who are flown in especially for the weekend. My group is shown the ropes by former Olympic skier Ingrid Salvenmoser, who during her career competed in no less than 196 World Cup races in Giant Slalom and Slalom. We take turns to shoot down the slope and she critiques our skiing style one-by-one, before toasting our talents (or lack of, in my case) at a Grüner Veltliner (white wine) tasting on the Tiefenbach Glacier.

The festival culminates in the Big Bottle Party, where the corks are popped on strength-testing magnums, jeroboams and methuselahs. Guest chefs from both host nations take charge of the kitchen, where small plates are cooked up and served alongside wine pairings. The finale is hosted on the Giggijoch mountain restaurant, which sits 2,000m above sea level. I’m told that wine tastes better at this altitude, or perhaps it just goes to your head quicker. Either way, there’s clearly a reason the journey home is navigated via gondola – and all the better for it. A final chance to see Austria’s most spectacular view should not be missed.

The Wein am Berg Package starts from approx. £1,470 per person in a double room at Das Central including three-day Wein am Berg programme and a two-day ski pass (price without ski pass is from approx. £1,376 per person), 23-26 April 2020. For further information and bookings, visit www.central-soelden.com