This Charming Austrian Town Is a Favorite Among Skiers, Royals, and Foodies

Introducing the picturesque village of Lech in the Austrian Alps.

Village in winter, Lech, Austria

Daniel Zangerl/Courtesy of Lech Zürs Tourismus

There’s no shortage of mountain towns in the Alps, but finding the right one can be a bit of a Goldilocks process — this one is too small, that one is too big, this one doesn’t have the best hotels, that one doesn’t have the best slopes. Austria’s sleepy village of Lech, however, amply delivers on all fronts. It’s difficult to find someone who has visited and not immediately fallen for its charms.

Lech is a quick 20-minute bus or taxi ride up and over the mountains from the more well-known St. Anton am Arlberg (a.k.a. the birthplace of modern skiing as we know it). Once you arrive, Lech’s storybook charms become immediately apparent: snow falling gently on wooden houses; walkable streets and trails weaving around town, over rivers, and through forests; and tradition reinventing itself for the modern age.

The town was settled by the Walser people from the Swiss canton of Valais around 1300, and they enjoyed a quiet existence until the birth of ski tourism in the early 20th century. The first lift went up in Lech in 1939; today, there are 87, including gondolas, cable cars, and chairlifts, opening the surrounding mountains to adventure seekers of all levels. The skiing is, naturally, excellent, and the town’s relaxed, elegant atmosphere has made it a must-visit for in-the-know travelers. Celebrities and royals have come here for decades to seek out its seclusion and privacy: The Dutch royal family has visited for a ski holiday every February for more than 60 years; Monaco’s Princess Caroline of Hanover, daughter of the late Grace Kelly, is a regular; and even Princess Diana was known to frequent the area. 

But beyond those of us who may want to catch a glimpse of royalty on the slopes, Lech is also one of the Alps’ most revered foodie destinations. Per capita, it has the highest concentration of award-winning restaurants, head and shoulders above other ski towns in Austria — Michelin stars and coveted Gault-Millau points flow here like confetti. You’ll find traditional Austrian cuisine (schnitzel, fondue, and more), but due to Lech’s elevated, remote location, there's an emphasis on regionality, seasonality, and foraged ingredients that make it a standout destination as far as ski towns go. 

You won’t have a bad meal here. In fact, it’s pretty impossible to have a bad time here, too. Here’s how we suggest you go about it. 

Where to Stay in Lech

Guestroom in Hotel Arlberg, Lech, Austria

Courtesy of Hotel Arlberg

Hotel Arlberg

In a town like Lech, it’s all about the owner-operated hotels, and the luxurious Hotel Arlberg has been in the Schneider family for generations. It has everything you’d expect from a classic Alpine property — a cozy Stube restaurant for fondue and raclette, a half-board rate that includes breakfast and dinner, and a fantastic spa and wellness area — but it also comes with an outdoor pool with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, suites with large soaking tubs, and Schneider family members walking around and engaging with the guests.

Boutique-Hotel Schmelzhof

Hotels like the Schmelzhof don’t really exist in American ski towns, which is a shame. Everything is quintessentially Austrian, carefully honed by generations of practice. The lobby feels less like an imposing, impersonal space, and more like you’re walking into someone’s cozy, inviting home. One of the great joys of staying here is when the owner, Anna, walks around to every table at breakfast, taking the time to make sure each guest feels welcome. Each room is individually designed, there’s a lovely in-house spa, and the hotel bar is the place to be for locals and visitors alike come nightfall. 

What to See and Do in Lech

Skyspace by James Turrell, Lech, Austria

Florian Holzherr/Courtesy of Lech Zürs Tourismus

Take in some culture.

While Lech has an outsize reputation as a ski town these days, it’s easy to forget that people have lived here for centuries and culture is around every bend, if you know where to look. Peek inside the Old Church of St. Nicholas, built in 1390 in a Gothic style with a 18th-century Rococo interior, or head over to the Huber House, built in 1590 and now operating as a museum that displays what life in 16th century Lech looked like. 

For something a little more modern, fans of James Turrell will be thrilled to learn that Lech has one of the artist’s famed Skyspaces, an indoor-outdoor immersive lighting experience open to the sky via a large overhead hole. Come at the right time and you may witness a trickle of snowflakes dancing down from the ceiling — it’s a magical, Instagram-worthy experience that blends nature with contemporary art.

Go skiing or snowboarding.

Sepp Mallaun/Courtesy of Lech Zürs Tourismus

Skiing in Lech, Austria

There’s no wrong way to ski Lech — just hop on the lifts and go — but the destination's iconic White Ring is an easy-to-follow route that traverses up and over the various mountains surrounding town, offering a 360-degree perspective and connecting the villages of Lech, Zürs, Zug, and Oberlech. This part of Austria is famous for its “ski up from one village, ski down into another” approach, and it's also one of the largest contiguous skiable areas in the world. If you have any questions before embarking, stop by the information office in town, where you can pick up a map on lifts and get some friendly local advice on how to chop the mountains down to size. 

Explore off the mountains.

Even if you aren’t a skier, there's lots to explore in Lech. Pack your best winter snow boots because there's a network of more than 20 miles of trails between Lech and the neighboring village of Zürs, weaving along babbling brooks and through snow-covered meadows. A 1.2-kilometer toboggan run between Oberlech and Lech offers sharp turns and fast thrills, and there are also opportunities for ice skating, curling, and horse-drawn sleigh rides through the snow. Again, you can inquire via the Lech Zürs tourism site on all fronts and you'll be enjoying your winer wonderland in no time. 

Where to Eat and Drink in Lech

Food dishes at Rote Wand Chef's Table, in Lech, Austria

Angela Lamprecht/Courtesy of Rote Wand Gourmet Hotel 

The Wolf

It's important that a restaurant’s food is good, but it also helps when a place just feels cool. That being said, The Wolf is one of Lech’s "huts," an on-the-slopes spot to stop for coffee and a snack, beer, or a full-blown lunch. The sleek, wood-paneled space is a smart combination of local materials and modern design, but it’s the satisfying favorites like the Der Wolf Burger that keep skiers satiated and returning season after season. 

Café Gotthard

Fondues and schnitzels tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to Austrian cuisine, but you shouldn’t sleep on Austrian pastries, and in Lech, Café Gotthard is where to get them. Choose from cakes, strudels, pralines, you name it — but especially memorable are the krapfen, an apricot marmalade-filled doughnut that’s perfect for breakfast or an après-ski snack.

Chef’s Table at Rote Wand

Found in the neighboring village of Zug, just a few minutes from Lech, the Chef’s Table at Rote Wand is the perfect example of chef-driven, buzz-worthy cuisine. Housed in an old schoolhouse built in 1780, Rote Wand is the brainchild of award-winning chef Julian Stieger, whose resume includes roles at Eleven Madison Park in New York City and Geranium in Copenhagen. The experience starts with a welcome cocktail and small bites on the ground floor of the schoolhouse. Guests are then brought upstairs for the chef’s table experience, where hyperlocal, hand-foraged Alpine ingredients are reinterpreted in a modern way. If you’re a foodie, this one is a must — just make sure to use the online reservation system to book your table well in advance.

Restaurant at Almhof Schneider 

For nearly a hundred years, the Schneider family has welcomed guests to its Restaurant for one of the finest dining experiences around. The spruce-paneled dining room is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the Alps, and the elevated Austrian fare doesn't disappoint, either. Of course, the food and wine are going to be excellent in a place like this, but if you look closely at the seamless service, you’ll see that it’s this region’s deep-rooted host culture that makes it an ideal destination for hospitality experiences such as this one.

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