Why I went
To learn about cross-country skiing. Pertisau is an archetypal alpine village lying on the shores of Lake Achensee, where the winter highlight is the 100km (62 miles) of skiing trails. The village dates back to 1466, when Emperor Maximillian I chose this Tyrolean village as the location for his Fürstenhaus (Prince’s House), where he stayed during the hunting seasons. Ever since, Austrians have holidayed in the Karwendel Alpine Park to benefit from the slower pace of life and bracing mountain air.
Learning cross-country skiing
At the outset, it feels unfamiliar to a well-seasoned downhill skier. You experience the unusual sensation of being on skis, but with no sense of balance, in soft shoes only fixed to the skis at the toe and holding poles that reach up to your shoulders. However, after half a morning’s practice and some patient instruction from Christoph Leithner of Sport Leithner (www.schischule-leithner.at), the motions became second nature and a complete tour of the village was soon under way.
Who does it?
Whether exercising the dog, running errands or doing the school run, the locals do it on a pair of wafer-thin skis with their shoes over their shoulders. Octogenarians make it look like a casual amble, using their poles for balance; the more athletic push and glide between each step and can work up both a good speed and quite a sweat. No specialist clothes are required-leggings and a jumper are quite sufficient, although the pros wear Lycra.
Where I explored
Although we’d only just learnt ‘classic’ style, Christoph raised the bar on day two with ‘skating’ style. Highly energetic and fast paced, this is more akin to running, the advantage being that a full day’s trek can take you deep into the heart of the mountains. I followed an 11-mile circuit up to Gramai Alm along signposted tracks. The chatter of other skiers is replaced by mountain birdsong among the alpine evergreens. Alone, exhausted and ecstatic, I emerged from the snowy woods to be confronted by splendid and majestic natural scenery. On the way back, we stopped at a chalet to drink the local Almdudler, made with mountain herbs, for a sugary hit to get us home.
Where I stayed
Many of the old farmhouses have been converted into chalets to service the influx of tourists that have flocked here since the steamboats started cruising Lake Achensee in 1887. I stayed in The Wiesenhof (www.wiesenhof.at/en/), which retains many of its original features. The friendly staff are dressed in traditional costume and the food has a heavy Tyrolean influence, provided by local farmers. The Entners are the third generation to own and run the hotel, and they make the effort to get to know their guests, greeting them in the morning, suggesting a sport or activity for the day and joining them in the evening to play Austrian games by the fire or read books in the library. Johannes Entner runs fitness sessions in the gym every morning and his wife, Alexandra, is in charge of the farm and riding stables. One evening, she took us on a magical sleigh ride into the mountains.
After a full and active day of exercise in the mountains, the Karwendel Spa at The Wiesenhof hotel was the perfect welcome home. The village produces a Tyrolean mineral oil, locally known as Tiroler Steinöl, which is a natural healing product extracted from oil shale in the Karwendel mountain range. It was discovered in 1902 and is still mined there, and I was able to fully relax during a Steinölbad (oil bath), followed by a massage in the spa.
The village offers more than 80 different sports from winter through to summer, including golf, sailing, ice-skating and climbing. At the end of three days, I felt well exercised, fit, relaxed, rejuvenated and thrilled to have learnt a new sport.
How to book
Pertisau is only 50 minutes from Innsbruck airport. Book through Inntravel (www.inntravel.co.uk; 01653 617001), which offers short breaks at The Wiesenhof in Pertisau from £435 per person based on two sharing, including three nights’ half-board accommodation, daily afternoon tea, two light lunches, free use of the cross-country ski trails and return transfers. Flights are extra. Or opt to join one of Inntravel’s Try it Out Weeks, in which lessons and ski hire are included, from £1,220 per person, including seven nights’ full-board accommodation, six days’ ski hire, three two-hour lessons, free use of the cross-country ski trails, guided snow-shoe excursions, return flights (Gatwick-Innsbruck) and transfers.