Deep within the rugged Austrian Alps, set against dramatic mountain vistas, is the spa town of Bad Gastein. The town itself is as beautiful as its surroundings, with idyllic, picture postcard buildings and a cosy local community.
As the nights lengthen and the cold draws in, Bad Gastein becomes one of the most perfect, picturesque places in which you could hope to spend your winter holidays, with the town’s lovely architecture frosted with a thick layer of snow and the surrounding mountains now shining white. Not only is Bad Gastein visual perfection during the winter months, but it’s also home to any number of winter sports and activities to help make your visit one to remember.
For many people, a suggestion of visiting the Alps in winter immediately brings to mind days spent tearing through the fresh powder snow on a set of skis. While it’s true that there are plenty of ski opportunities in the area and any ski enthusiasts would be very well served by a trip to Bad Gastein, the town also offers many unusual ways in which to enjoy the great outdoors during the depths of winter.
One such way is through a husky ride. An absolute must for dog lovers, a husky ride sees you speeding through the Gastein valley on a sled towed by a team of these beautiful animals. You’ll also have a chance to spend some time with the dogs themselves, learning how to harness them and giving them rewards, making for a beautiful, complete experience.
If you’re not one for sleds, or if you feel like taking things at a slower pace, you can also take a guided hike with a husky and there’s also the option for children to spend a day with the dogs, befriending them, taking care of them and learning a little about what it means to be in charge of a husky team.
For a slower, more relaxed ride, consider taking a trip on a horse-drawn sleigh. Perfect for those seeking a romantic treat or for a quiet afternoon with friends and family, you’ll be provided with a comfortable backseat in the sleigh, with access to plenty of blankets, and then take a leisurely, languid ride through the unspoiled landscape of the Gastein valley.
Another fantastic opportunity for animal lovers, but without the relentless pace and pounding determination of a team of dogs, a horse-drawn sleigh has that perfect festive vibe for anyone celebrating Christmas, as well as being a lovely, dreamlike experience for those who don’t celebrate the holiday.
Head a little north along Gastein valley to Bad Hofgastein, where you’ll find any number of seasonal celebrations! Walk among the undeniably festive stalls of the Christmas markets, the warm yellow light within drawing a sharp contrast with the brooding winter sky, and take in some of the traditional folk entertainments, including music, parades and Nativity plays.
Regardless of what you do, buy or see in the market, the atmosphere of walking through such a superb Alpine setting in the midst of the town’s Advent celebrations is the cherry on the cake that is your fairytale winter holiday.
How to Get to Bad Gastein
It’s possible to reach Bad Gastein via train from Munich Airport in only a little longer than a single car journey, although the trip is slightly complicated: first, take the S1 towards München Ost. When you reach München Hbf, change to the RJ67 towards Budapest/Keleti. Change at Salzburg for the REX6 towards Worgl Hbf, get off at Schwarzach-St. Veit and take the 550 bus to Bad Gastein. The total journey time is around four and a half hours.
If you have access to a car, or if you prefer the comfort and convenience of a Munich airport taxi, it’s a three hour drive along the A8. If you’re driving, be advised that you need to cross the German-Austrian border and pay a toll.
Where to Stay
Pension St. Leonhard – offering charming, traditionally furnished accommodations complete with sauna, the St. Leonhard also offers stunning mountain surroundings and a top location, all at excellent value.
Haus Klaffenböck – golf course-adjacent and boasting panoramic views, Haus Klaffenböck offers slick, modern apartments at competitive rates. The rooms are clean, well-maintained and comfortable, and the location is excellent for exploration of the town and surrounding region.
Villa Orania – looking like something out of an old film, Villa Orania is ideal for anyone seeking luxurious, attractive villa accommodations. Within easy distance of the town centre, the villa is spectacular inside and out, with the windows and balconies overlooking the magnificent Gastein valley.