Nicola Venning discovers an ideal family holiday in Austria in St Lambrecht, perfect for families who like to get outdoors.
My heart stopped as the 4×4 buggy flew through the air and landed with a squelch on the muddy track. I slammed my foot down and revved up the bumpy hill. On a thrill scale of one to ten, the “off-road” drive was an eleven and a huge hit with some of the adrenalin-loving youngsters around me.
From the top, we could see Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring, the renowned motorsport racetrack and home of Austria’s Grand Prix. Though, as I discovered, it was also much more.
Once back, I had a tour of the centre, museum and stood in pole position at the start of the famous racetrack. Racing cars, motorbikes and go-karts are also available to hire, including smaller kids-go-karts. Young racers eat your heart out!
Spielberg, in Styria south-eastern Austria, is only a fifty-minute drive from pretty medieval St Lambrecht and the hotel, four-star Naturparkhotel Lambrechterhof, where I was staying. The family-orientated hotel, in the centre of the village, is welcoming with friendly staff, including an award-winning chef. The all-you-can-eat breakfast and evening buffets are delicious and varied.
Though the bar area is a little office-like, it’s an easy place to relax. Youngsters can peel off to the well-equipped children’s and teens’ room on the third floor. Open from 10am till 9pm, there is table tennis, table football, a Playstation and a dolls’ corner. Or, of course, they can head to the pool.
While families splashed about, I visited the spa and wellness centre, and, after a stupor-inducing massage, wallowed in the hot tub, though unlike my fellow Austrians, I decided not to bare all.
Comfy Naturparkhotel Lambrechterhof is, as the name suggests, within a national park; the protected Naturpark Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen, one of seven in Styria. A vast winter playground, it offers everything families could want, from children’s tobogganing to snow-shoe hiking as well as, of course, skiing.
Perfect for beginners, and with enough challenge for intermediate skiers, Grebenzen-St Lambrecht’s 13km of predominantly blue and red runs, are relatively quiet and a welcome alternative to purpose-built, overly touristy ski resorts. At a low elevation, between 1,010m to 1,870m, the slopes are often next to pine forests, interspersed with great views and, generally, wind and fog free.
The hotel is a 20 minute walk from the ski lift, though there is a free shuttle bus between 9am and 11.30am and 2pm and 4pm each day. Ski equipment hire and ski lessons are available from the sports centre and there is a separate children’s area, plus two small lifts, which are free for children. It is also possible to buy a ski pass which includes nine other (often more extensive) ski resorts in the Mur-Murz domain, such as the larger Kreischberg ski resort, which with 42km of slopes, is only a 30 minute drive away.
After the adrenalin rush of skiing, it was time to relax so I headed to Therme Aqualux in neighbouring Fohnsdorf. The mineral-rich thermal waters were well worth the 45 minute drive and are a huge hit with youngsters and adults alike. After all, who doesn’t love a water slide?
A quieter (child-free) pool is also available along with a spa and a gloriously decadent outdoor pool. Gazing at snowy peaks while enjoying a bath-hot soak “en plein air” takes some beating.
This part of Austria is all about living close to nature, which the traditional mountain lodges typify. We visited an alpine lodge, “Huttenabend” a wood-panelled haven of cosiness and good food, as easy to ski to as drive to. Like all the restaurants in the park, it has a varied children’s menu alongside popular Styrian classics such as pumpkin soup and breaded chicken washed down with great local wine or award-winning Murauer beer.
If you visit Naturpark Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen in summer, it’s all about the great outdoors, with forests, rivers, meadows and mountains all to be enjoyed.
The tourist office summer brochure lists family-friendly hikes, with several around two hours. The clearly signposted, generally circular walks include waterfalls, lakes and ponds (so perfect for a reviving quick dip) and often pass alpine huts where you can stop for a snack. Cars are needed to reach some of the starting points. A less strenuous option is the Kreischberg gondola which can whisk you up to an altitude of 1,800m and to flat alpine meadows and forests. The gondola is open from 1 July to 8 September every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Naturparkhotel Lambrechterhof, which has won awards as a hotel for hikers, has walking guides as well as a restorative “apres-hike” menu including yoga, pool, spa and body treatments. The village also has a public swimming pool, tennis courts and football pitch. Riding schools with guided hacks are attached to the guest houses of Hammerschmied, Olachgut (which does riding weeks only for children, no day visits) and Zechnerhof.
There are hundreds of well-marked cycle trails and many places to hire mountain bikes. The beautiful River Mur Cycle Trail is a well signposted network with trails for different abilities, and has bike hire and service stations and accommodation. For culture vultures the music cities of Vienna and Salzburg are about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive away.
Alas for me, a cloudy day followed, but this was the perfect excuse to tour the grand Benedictine monastery and gardens which dominate St Lambrecht. One of the most important in Austria, it is best suited to older children. Families with young children could head to the delightful interactive Nature Museum, Natur-Lese-Museum (NaLeMu), in neighbouring Neumarkt about 10km away.
Older youngsters, (myself included), also visited the indoor Golf Studio Ana. Tucked away behind old barns and cottages in the centre of the village, it is a studio with a state-of-the-art golf simulator. Beginners and enthusiasts can play on over 160 courses as well as have their game analysed – all of which would be helpful if it was not so humiliating, as in my case.
That evening we walked a well-signed footpath to the Mountain Residences St Lambrecht, by the ski-slopes. The 22 new chalets are available both to rent and buy and are linked to the hotel. Chalet owners and guests can have between 10% and 20% off of meals in the hotel as well as spa discounts. As we tucked into a delicious goulash, prepared by the hotel’s chef, I gazed over the slopes to twinkling St Lambrecht and the surrounding park. Without doubt, I would be back.
How to book
Mountain Residences St Lambrecht – Rental rates start at £175 per night for a 3 bedroom chalet, sleeping 6. Prices to purchase a 2/3 bedroom home start at €388,000.00 (£350,600) through Allea Group. The NatureparkHotel Lambrechterhof offers 2 nights from £190 per person. Includes overnight stay, breakfast and 1.5 days ski pass including free use of ski bus.
How to get there
Flights from London Gatwick to Klagenfurt (up to 27th April 2019) or Vienna with EasyJet Car Hire through Hertz. One hour transfer to St Lambrecht from Klagenfurt and three hours from Vienna.
Out and about
Spielberg Red Bull Ring To go-kart, children must be a minimum of six years old and 120cm tall. Kids Go-kart –5 minutes €8 Adult Go-kart – 10 mins €13
A pass for the Mur-Murz ski area which includes nine other neighbouring resorts is: 6 days adult €246 6 day teen €196.50 6 days child €128 http://www.skiberge.at/test/
Therme Lux Children under 6 are free. A whole day pass for 2 adults and 2 children is €57 Four hour ticket: Adults Aqualux (pools no sauna/spa) €17.40 Four hour ticket children and teens Aqualux (pools no sauna/spa) €12.40
Natur-Lese-Museum (NaLeMu) A family of two adults and two children €15 Children (3-15 years) and adults €5pp
Golf Studio Golf Simulator: €25 per hour for up to six people (€20 per hour for children) Driving range €15 per hour for group