We got to Bad Gastein by pure accident. This year we decided to take with us two of our little twin sons besides our older daughter, therefore the question of how to reduce expenses arose. We didn’t want to risk and organize our trip by ourselves having such a “tail” as all the kids, so we contacted the touristic firm and among many seductive offers chose Bad Gastein – mostly because of its bathhouses. We paid 750 euros for the 7 days trip – all together including visa, insurance and transfer. I believe it’s a pretty good price for a high season. We were there from 5th to 12th January and my impressions are still fresh and may be of some use for other travelers.
During that period the weather was relatively friendly – 3 days of six it was snowing, but just a little, and the clouds were hanging low, covering the mountain tops, and visibility was close to zero, but if one would not go too high up by ski lift, then ski conditions seemed to be quite acceptable. The remaining 3 days were brighter as the sun occasionally peeked out from behind the clouds. It was +3 in the town center and -5 in mountains, snow covered pistes with enough thick layer and the quality of snow was good for my taste. The last day, when we were packing bags to go to Munich airport, the weather changed – the hard snowfall started and didn’t stop during the whole day. So I decided that we were lucky with weather in any case.
Ski areas in Bad Gastein are scattered. There is one big zone, combined of two mountains Stubnerkogel and Schlossalm, and a bit smaller zone, but still enough big, which is situated between Grosarl and Dorfgastein. Also there are two not very big ski areas – Sportgastein and Graukogel. We decided not to spend time on the last two areas and explored relatively well the first two zones.
Those skiers that are mostly fond of black pistes have nothing to do in the valley of Gastein – there is almost no such pistes there. Each mountain has a blue piste that goes from the top to the foot of the mountain – so that newbies could safely come down in case they will get to the top. All other pistes are red, thoroughly groomed and cleaned out, with moderate inclination of the slope. Typical Austrian slopes. No comparison with our previous experience in the Three Valley in France. All the red pistes there were covered with bumps and we rarely could see any snowcat doing its job. Again we got proof of Austrians superiority in making even, properly prepared, pistes.
It was a pleasant surprise that in spite of New Year holidays there was not many people on the slopes. One could freely ski along even the blue pistes. And no queue to ski lifts at all. That’s why the slopes and pistes were in decent state even in the middle of the day, almost without bumps (which appeared mostly at some troublesome places on blue pistes). So that is another plus of Gastein valley. Although I read in reviews that slopes here are crowded after New year, but probably this time all visitors stuck at the Bad Stein shops.
Best of all I appreciated red piste H1 on the mountain Schlossalm – it seems to be the longest piste in Eastern Alps , about 10 km with a height difference of 1,2 km. It is wide, with good inclination, it is very good for training spot skills by skiing there.
Also the red D3 piste in DorfGastein – extremely wide slope that allows to draw any traces on it, without disturbing anybody.
On the other side of the mountain, in Grosarl, pistes were more steep than in Dorfgastein. There is no blue pistes at all, so called “blue” piste with number 3 appeared to be a red one in reality.
As I already wrote, not the last reason why we went to Bad Gastein was because of its bathhouses – thermes. And here we were a bit disappointed. I found more pleasure in any aqua-park that I’ve visited before, than in these famous Badstein thermes. In theremes – as it’s already one can imagine from the name therme itself – it should be warm. but inside the Felsentherme it was cold – cool air and the temperature of water just a bit higher than 36,6 C. It was impossible to warm ourselves up – after climbing out from the pool we immediately started to freeze. I really was incapable to understand what could it be so attractive in visiting this bathhouse.
The cold staircase leads to the area with saunas. It seems that the owner of this building specially intended to make the visitors shake from cold before they will reach the warmth of saunas. But at least here it’s hot and one can relax in a bathhouse with steam, and in sauna with hot dry air, and to visit the Salt Grotto, and many other chambers. Rules for visitors are not cruel here – in spite of the obligation to take of panties and bath-suits one still have the right to drape oneself in a bathrobe, and nobody will try to drag from you your last cover, what they always do for example in the Mayrhofen water center.
Going out from the area of saunas one again get to the cold area of the pool, but now you already feel warm and comfortable… until you climb down to water of the pool – even for a hot body it seems chilly.
I was surprised by the big amount of chaise-longues there. How one can relax on them when it’s so cold?
We visited also the Alpentherme. And here we also didn’t ind any harmony. Good enough that at least water in pools were warm, but saunas… I tried in vain to find any warmth there. There are again a lot of chaise-lounges, the area of thermes is big and includes one steam-bath and many saunas with different temperature – from 40 to 50, from 45 to 55 and so on with the 5 grade step. And all of them were lukewarm. In the single sauna with announced temperature of 80-90 grades some guys were sitting and gloomily waiting when the sauna will get warmer, although they let all warm air go out through the constantly opened door. And by some reason that sauna has an exit to the outdoor pool. On the top of all the path from the sauna to the pool goes along the ice-cold corridor.
In general Bad Gastein is an interesting and outstanding town. I would advise to stay there and not at Bad Hofgastein – as the last one is just a big village, one has nothing to do there in the evening. Where as Bad Gastein is and old European resort, people go here for taking baths during at least the last 200 years. The town architecture is beautiful, with waterfall in the center, streets are well lighted in nights, there are many expensive hotels and one of the oldest casinos in this region.
The streets are going on three levels, on the top of the hill the train station is situated. Most of the apres-ski bars which work until deep night can be found exactly on the top street that leads to the train-station. In those bars a lot of young skiers, more old and respectable public prefers to have rest in bars and restaurants inside old and pompous hotels. But prices there were surprisingly moderate.
Our family visited bar of the Ritz restaurant in the hotel Salzburger Hof, it’s not far from the waterfall. And while having dinner there we got to know that this place was visited in different times by kaisers of Germany – Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II, Otto von Bismarck, president Franklin Roosevelt with his family, the last iranian shah, Albert Einstein, writers Somerset Maugham and Thomas Mann, Liza Minnelli… Live history!
The relief of the town is extremely inconvenient. Center is placed in the pit, hotels and guest-houses are climbing up the mountain slopes on both sides of the valley. To avoid those inconveniences one should choose the place to stay either the upper road Keiser-Franz-Josefstrasse or nearby Mozartplatz square. We stayed at Nefer Haus, that is close to Mozartplatz, in 100 meters from ski-bus stop.
Three streets lead from Mozartplatz square to the town center. the upper street Kaiser Franz Josefstrasse carries you straight to the ski lift to Stubnerkogel, to the “Spar” shop and to the train station.
The lower street goes towards the very center of the town – to the waterfall.
And the middle goes past the luxurious hotels and the only town casino. It takes just 15 minutes by calm walk to all those places.
Bad Gastein ski area is good mostly for non-extreme skiing and for calm relaxing. It may be too difficult for beginners and too boring for professional skiers.
And recreation & entertainment here will suit every taste and every budget. And even therms despite all their flaws still give a big plus to the town because other ski resorts in Austria don’t have such diversity of bathhouses.