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AUSTRIAN SKI HOLIDAYS IN LECH ZURS VORARLBERG

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"We call Lech Zurs the cradle of skiing," says Gerhard Walter, director of Lech Zurs Tourist Board. "People have skied in Lech Zurs for more than 100 years. Lech is the only place in the world that has produced four Olympic downhill skiing winners."

Vorarlberg

"The first ski club was founded in Arlberg in 1901," he says. "The first ski class was held in Zurs in 1936. The first ski lift in Austria was constructed in Zurs in 1937, and the first heated cable car operated in St. Anton in 1995."

Located in the westernmost province of Austria, next to Lake Constance, Vorarlberg measures 56 miles (90 kilometres) by road, from north to south. More than 65 per cent of Vorarlberg is higher than 3,200 feet (1,000 metres).

How to get to Vorarlberg

Getting to Vorarlberg is easy, by car, train and plane. Trains run daily from many cities, including Vienna, which is 386 miles (622 kilometres) from Bregenz, Vorarlberg.

Shuttle buses transport skiers to Vorarlberg from the two closest airports, St. Gallen / Altenrhein, in Switzerland (15 miles or 24 kilometres away) and Lake Constance Airport Friedrichshafen, in Germany (20 miles or 32 kilometres away).

Ski Arlberg

Lech and Zurs are two of seven ski villages that comprise the ski region of Ski Arlberg. (The other ski villages are St. Anton, St. Christoph, Stuben and Klosterle/Sonnenkopf). Free ski buses travel between Lech and Zurs.

According to Gerhard Walter, the alpine ski region boasts 85 cable cars and ski lifts, 108 miles (173 kilometres) of groomed slopes, 70 miles (112 kilometres) of deep powder runs and 900 ski guides and instructors. The Arlberg ski season runs from the beginning of December to late April.

More than 60 per cent of Vorarlberg visitors come for the winter sports. Besides alpine skiing, heli-skiing, off-piste skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding, Vorarlberg offers skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, winter hiking, winter golf and dog-sledding.

Lech Zürs

Lech Zurs am Arlberg is a member of Best of the Alps. These 12 scenic ski resorts boast top-quality skiing, accommodations and restaurants.

Lech won the "Most Beautiful Village in Europe" award in 2004 from Entente Florale. Dominated by a 600-year-old church, Lech has a population of 1,300 residents. Zurs has a population of 160.

Lech Zurs is environmentally-friendly. A biomass renewable energy system heats 80 per cent of homes (100 per cent in two to three years). Residents and visitors drink pure spring water from the Schwarzbach and Weissbach mountain springs. The Oberlech tunnel system and the Lech local bus reduce pollution from traffic.

Where to stay

The Lech Zurs region has 8,500 beds in hotels and bed and breakfasts. Most visitors stay in 4-star and 5-star hotels, according to Gerhard Walter. "Lech has no big hotel chains."

Lech Zurs Tourist Board publishes an accommodations guide, which describes hotels and guest houses in Lech and Zurs, with rates, addresses, phone and FAX numbers, websites and e-mail addresses.

Lift passes

The brochure also provides rates for the Arlberg lift pass, the Arlberg Card, valid for all cable cars and lifts in the Arlberg (a mountain pass joining Vorarlberg to the Tyrol region of Austria).

The activities section of the guide has rates for ski schools in Lech and Zurs, including group courses, private instructors and ski schools for children. It also lists places where you can rent ski equipment, with prices.

Special events

Among the many winter events in Lech and Zurs, the most famous is The White Ring, which is the longest ski race in the world. Skiers race over 14 miles (22 kilometres) of trails and lifts, with an 18,000-foot (5,500-metre) range in elevation.

Both professional and amateur skiers can enter The White Ring race. Each year, about 1,000 skiers compete.

Bregenz Festival

In February, visitors can see opera on an ice stage. (If the stage looks familiar, it's because scenes from the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, were filmed around the Bregenz opera stage on Lake Constance. A giant eye decorates the Seebuhne (Lake Stage), the largest floating stage in the world.

Where to eat

Lech and Zurs have more than 60 restaurants, many of them gourmet. "The only place in Austria that has more gourmet restaurants is Vienna," says Gerhard Walter. "Falstaff Gourmet Guide called Lech the World Gourmet Village, because it has the most Gault Millau toques per capita in Europe."

Besides Lake Constance whitefish, cheese is the specialty of Vorarlberg, especially Bergkase mountain cheese. A favorite dish is kasspatzle or kasknopfle (cheese dumplings). Along the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road, you can find farmers who make 30 types of cheese.

The most famous drink in Vorarlberg is Subirer, a pear brandy.

Active All Inclusive Card

In summer, visitors will find 225 miles (360 kilometres) of hiking and walking trails in Lech. Brochures from the Lech Zurs Tourist Board describe the hiking routes, starting points, attractions, walking time, maximum gradient, altitude and local plants, including orchids.

The Active All Inclusive Card is free to visitors who stay at least one night in Lech. It includes access to open chair lifts and cable cars, child care, guided walks, a Lech and hiking bus and several other Lech attractions.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Lech Zurs Tourist Board: www.lech-zuers.at

Vorarlberg Tourism: www.austria-holidays.info

Austrian Tourist Office: www.austriatourism.com

Austrian Airlines: www.austrian.com

More things to see & do in Austria:

Where to See the Vienna Choir Boys

Graz Austria Tour

Durnstein and Weissenkirchen in Austria's Wachau Wine Region

Touring Salzburg, Hellbrunn, Salzkammergut and Hallstatt

Innsbruck, Heiligenblut and Wattens Crystal World Tour