Approaching Innsbruck airport, you fly right over the Alps, close enough to see their folds and crevices, their serrated peaks and sharp ravines.
It’s a startling, spine-tingling terrain and a sharp reminder of the literal majesty of mountains. ‘Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West,’ says Robert Macfarlane in his book Mountains of the Mind. ‘One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence.’
Mountains, he says, ‘induce a modesty in us’. As I arrive at the SPA-Hotel Jagdhof in the Stubai Valley of the Tirol, I can only concur. At Stubai, you’re not surrounded by just any old mountains – there’s a glacier rearing up, a mammoth body of dense ice that is constantly, if imperceptibly, moving. I step out onto my balcony, stare up at it, and feel like an ant, a very modest ant.
When the landscape outside is so vast, you need a counter-balance. Fortunately everything inside the Jagdhof is cosy and comforting, reassuringly human-sized. It’s a plethora of carved pine, antlers, folkloric prints and blazing fires – you feel as if you’ve been plunged into Snow White.
My suite is certainly large enough to house all seven dwarves. The pine is overwhelmingly 1980s bright and my duvet has, oddly, been wrestled into the shape of a heart while the pillows have morphed into a row of pointy elf hats. However it’s warm and snug and there are, suitably, Toblerones in the mini bar.
Down in the spa, Snow White style meets Roman temple meets Oriental hammam meets nouveau Tyrolese – it’s a wild mishmash of influences meandering through a labyrinth of saunas, showers, pools and steam rooms. Be warned, in Austria it’s considered unhygienic to wear swimsuits in the sauna; but if you aren’t up to stripping off, it’s fine to wrap yourself, sarong-style, in one of the lightweight towels on offer.
I do love a good sauna but I love an indoor-outdoor pool even more. As the doors open and you swim out into the open air, it’s pure magic. The steam rises off the water and there is snow all around, and yet your body is warm as toast while the icy air makes your lungs gasp. Total bliss.
Time to lie on a massage table. I am thrilled that the spa here uses REN skincare products. This British-born company has been on my favourite list since its inception in 2000. I love its ‘clean skincare’ that uses naturally derived hi-tech bio-actives. I opt for the Moroccan Rose Ritual – a totally decadent 140 minutes of body heaven – and my body is scrubbed, polished, massaged and wrapped. I even get a mini facial. The scent is sublime, my skin feels like silk and I wander out feeling so relaxed, I lose track of time and am nearly late for dinner.
Missing a meal here would be disastrous. As a vegetarian I’m used to making do with yet another mushroom risotto yet here I eat like a fairytale princess. The food takes the simplest of ingredients – say, beetroot or the humble potato – and turns them into delicacies that tingle the palate. It’s imaginative without being precious. I can’t resist the wine either (the majority of Austrian spa-hotels don’t do detox) as the cellar here is impressive (20,000 bottles) and the sommelier is twinkly as well as knowledgeable.
People come here to ski, of course – there’s reliable snow and, for a glacier, some impressively long runs. I feel a twinge of sadness that I have never learned to ski; that I can’t get up close and personal with this magical mountain. Yet there’s still joy to be had from relishing the views from a lower level. A group of us take up our poles and go Nordic walking along the river. It’s hard to build up a sweat when you’re stopping every two minutes to snap another winter wonderland shot.
Back at Jagdhof, I take myself off to the new ‘spa chalet’ extension. It’s been built using reclaimed timber and is quite beautiful – far softer, simpler and subtler than the rest of the hotel. I make myself a mint tea and lie back on a beanbag bed, gazing up at the mountains. I’m still a modest ant but I’m a well-fed, deeply pampered and very grateful ant.
The Relais & Chateaux SPA-Hotel Jagdhof (www.hotel-jagdhof.at) is a member of Niche Destinations (www.niche-destinations.com). The hotel runs a range of packages – a four night spa break costs from €1,072 per person.
This feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine.