When the blankets of snow are replaced with carpets of alpine flowers, Austria's Paznauntal (Paznaun Valley) – long famous for its winter sports – now comes alive with a diverse selection of exciting activities and Michelin-starred treats.
The carrot before the horse, they say, and in Paznauntal it comes in the form of the Culinary St Jacobs Way. At the start of every summer season, the village of Ischgl opens its doors to a handful of Europe’s top chefs, each of whom has been charged with creating a unique dish for an Alpine Association hut perched high in the valley, one that features local ingredients and/or is a modern take on a traditional mountain meal.
These culinary delights are then featured on the menus of the huts until the season ends in September or early October. Incredibly, the price of these Michelin star-standard dishes is around €15. What better reward after a long morning’s worth of hiking, mountain biking, climbing or bouldering?
The Culinary Routes
Targeting ‘Ascherhütte’ (2256m), located high above the village of See, is a great choice for both hikers and mountain bikers touring the Culinary St Jacobs Way – the gourmet meal and views of Rotpleiskopf (2936m) will be all the sweeter after you’ve climbed 1200m of vertical terrain. The 12km trail up from See is gratifying in itself, however, passing a stunning waterfall and eventually Medrig Alp at 1800m elevation. For the descent you can take in a short loop, hitting Versing Alp (1937m) before returning to Medrig Alp for the trail down to See. Mountain bikers can take a more challenging route down if adrenaline is calling. If you aren’t in the mood for waiting, you can cut the length of the hike by half (down to about two hours) by taking the lift to Medrig Alp.
2017 chef: Dieter Koschina
Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal (two Michelin stars)
The ‘Friedrichshafenerhütte’ (2151m), set next to a petite alpine lake, is another rest stop on the Culinary St Jacobs Way. Those on foot can access the hut from the trail head outside of Valzur, which is the shortest option (6.5km), or take the longer route directly from Galtür (8km). The former climbs up through forests before breaking out onto a scenic alpine plateau covered in flower meadows. Those on mountain bikes (or those wishing for a less steep ascent) can follow the switchback road that climbs up to Friedrichshafener from the Valzur area. It’s possible to spend the night here, which opens up the option of striking out on foot for a remarkable two-day high-alpine trek to Wormser Hut via Heilbronner Hut.
2017 chef: Konstantin Alexander Filippou
Restaurant Konstantin Filippou, Vienna, Austria (one Michelin star)
Found at the Swiss end of the stunning Fimba Valley (yes, you’ll be crossing the border to get here), the ‘Heidelbergerhütte’ sits beneath the summit of the mighty Fluchthorn (3399m). To get here most visitors take on the four-hour, 13.5km Fimba trail that leads up from the St Nicholas church in Ischgl; this route winds past Bodenalp (1842m), Gampen Alp (1975m) and Fimba Alp (2123m), and crosses some of the most verdant grasslands in the region. It’s possible to shorten this hike by using Ischgl’s extensive cable car and lift system, or by driving to Bodenalp before 9am. Another hiking option is to climb from the Austrian village of Mathon via the Ritzenjoch ridge (2687m) – this route takes at least five hours.
With energy from your epicurean feast at Heidelberger, you can strike out for the Jamtal Hut via the Kronenjoch (2976m) and Zahnjoch (2945m) ridges, or stay in Switzerland to conquer the Fimba Pass (2608m), before descending to Val Sinestra.
Heidelberger Hut is well known by transalpine mountain bikers, as it is a crucial stop near the Fimba Pass. It’s also a great destination for day bikers, with many trails in the vicinity. The hut can be accessed on bike via the steep asphalt and gravel access road, or by taking the cable car to the middle station from where a shallower route exists.
2017 chef: Jacob Jan Boerma
Restaurant De Leest, Vaassen, Netherlands (three Michelin stars)
Surrounded and dwarfed by the Silvretta region’s highest peaks, ‘Jamtal Hütte’ – another of the five huts featuring a famous chef's meal on its menu – offers sublime views of the Alps and the Jamtal glacier. It’s approximately a three-hour, 10km hike up to the hut at 2165m from the trailhead outside the village of Galtür. The scenic route skirts both the Menta Alp (1657m) and Scheiben Alp (1833m). There’s also a gravel road, which makes accessing the hut via mountain bike (or e-bike) a satisfying possibility. If you’ve spent the morning exhausting yourself in Galtür’s extensive bouldering park, which is one of the world’s best (eight sectors over 160 prehistoric boulders), you can make your way to Jamtal Hut by car or taxi. The same can be said for those who want to start their activities from the hut itself – the star-shaped alpine area around ‘Jamtalhütte’ is laden with hiking trails and climbing possibilities, including the via ferrata on the Pfannknecht.
2017 chef: Simon Hulstone
The Elephant in Torquay, Devon, UK (one Michelin star)
Flanked by a pair of alpine lakes and a waterfall high in the Seßlad Valley, the ‘Niederelbehütte’ and its panoramic view will certainly capture your affection. Lucky for you, there are plenty of reasons to stick around (besides the menu). Follow the hiking trail that skirts the Gseß Ridge to Kappl’s mountain (2404m), which has arresting vistas of the Paznauntal far below, or strike out further on other trails to explore alpine lakes in the Fatlar Valley.
The three-hour, 8km trail to the hut itself starts between the villages of Kappl and Ulmich, and switchbacks its way up the valley’s north side through pretty alpine forests. Not far from the trailhead is the quaint chapel of Heiligeskreuz, which is worth a stop. Eventually the path drops onto the Seßlad Creek and follows it all the way up to its namesake lake where the Niederelbe Hut (2310m) is located. Alternatively, you can skip the switchback portion by riding up Kappl’s Dias cable car, then hiking west along the Dias trail until you intercept the path to Niederelbehütte.
2017 chef: Frédric Morel
Se7en Oceans, Hamburg, Germany (one Michelin star)
All guests staying in lodging within the Paznauntal during the summer will be given a Silvretta Card, which allows free use of all the cable cars and chair lifts in Ischgl, Galtür, Kappl and See. It also enables free public transport and complimentary use of the indoor and outdoor pools in Ischgl and Galtür and See’s play-, sports- and water park.
Matt Phillips travelled to Austria with support of Tourismusverband Paznaun – Ischgl (www.paznaun-ischgl.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.