Reviewed by Jazzria Harris
Grossarler Hof, Grossarl, Austria
What you really need at the end of a hard day slaying on the slopes is somewhere seriously luxe to cosy up in. The family-run Grossarlerhof, bang opposite the chair lift to the pistes, totally nails it – with its wooden interiors, log fires, wall-mounted antlers and gingham curtains.
In the pretty village of Grossarl, about an hour's drive across the snowy mountains heading south from Salzburg, it has just 49 rooms, so you get a lot of personal attention. Bedrooms echo the traditional style of the lobby with lots of wood panelling. Best of all, you get your own private balcony overlooking the spectacular Austrian Alps surrounding the Hohe Tauern National Park, a protected haven for wildlife .
Come in the run up to Christmas - specifically from 25th November to 18th December - and you can spend way more than you should at Grossarl's pretty Christmas market, held in the village, less than 10 minutes' walk from the hotel. Fill up on Austrian street food like bread topped with piping hot cheese and cones of spiral potato straws, and work your way through your Christmas list among the stalls.
And if you really want to OD on all things Christmas-related, there is carol singing at weekends, led by Grossarl's very own 'angel, and a winding uphill nativity walk from the market, passing a series of miniature Christmas scenes; each handmade by the locals. At the top, you'll reach Grossarl's pretty church, and next door is the little workshop where you can see the intricate detail that goes into making the nativity displays.
Christmas markets are a big deal in Austria and the oldest and most impressive is Salzburg Christmas Market in the city centre . It's around an hour's drive from Grossarl, so best to go on the day you fly in (as it's just 15 minutes from the airport). It has around 90 artisan stalls selling everything from sweets and glühwein to lederhosen. And yes, you can haggle. And there are more throughout the city - some tiny, some tucked away in squares and courtyards such as Sternbrau, and some that just pop up on the street.
Another good one is the Hellbrunn Christmas Market, above, a 10-minute bus ride from the city centre. Stalls line the old carriage road and the courtyard of magical Hellbrunn Palace. Here you can feed your kitsch addiction with things like gnome incense burners and horse shoes engraved with a personalised message. The palace itself is fabulous, and in the countdown to Christmas the windows become a giant advent calendar opening each day to reveal a festive picture.
If you want more, an hour and a half's drive from the hotel or 30 minutes' from Salzburg is the St Gilgen Christmas Market. Stalls are ranged along the edge of Lake Wolfgangsee with the twinkling lights reflected in the water – and even a donkey or two to up the Christmas vibe.
For the best views, take the ferry from the market across to St Wolfgang's Christmas Market . The 15-minute ride is just enough time to knock back a glass of glühwein on board as you glide past the lake's huge floating peace lantern. This is lit at the start of Advent and burns throughout Christmas.
Dinner at the Grossarler Hof's Jagastub'n restaurant means trad Austrian staples like wiener schnitzel with a fine-dining twist: think pretty plates but without the small portions. For more over-indulgence, try the Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian shredded pancake served with puréed berries and a cup of glühwein (Austria's version of mulled wine).
Skiers are usually in the majority here, but if you're not one of them, you can a while away few blissful hours in the hotel's Erlenreich Relax & Spa, pottering between steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi, having massages, and dozing on waterbeds in the relaxation room. Best of all is the outdoor heated whirlpool. Really nothing beats wallowing up to your neck in hot water surrounded by mountains, with snow gently falling on your head.
And when you're done chilling, hike (about two hours) up to the hotel's Mooslehenalm, a cosy three bedroom Alpine retreat (the hotel will drive you part of the way if you don't fancy the walk). You can only stay overnight in summer, but in the winter, once a week, guests are taken most of the way up for a short, torch-lit hike, with glühwein, nibbles and an exhilarating sledge ride back down .
Grossarler Hof, Unterberg 122, 5611 Großarl, Austria, +43 6414 8384
Doubles from £170, including Grossarler Hof's 'almost' full board, which means an epic hot and cold breakfast buffet, afternoon Jause (tea) and four-course dinner, as well as use of the gym and spa.
British Airways has return flights to Salzburg from Heathrow and Gatwick from around £84