St Anton: Eat, Drink, and Get Married (Part II)

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After a good night’s sleep at the Bergschlössl, I woke up early to get a jump on the crowds.  Bergschlössl is the epitome of ski-in/ski-out. The hotel works with a rental shop and a ski school next door so you don’t have to waste time getting equipment or an instructor.  There is also a locker room with quick access to two chairlifts in the hotel’s basement.  It is simply one of the most convenient places for skiers to stay while in St. Anton.

Because it had been a few years since I last put on skis, I decided to meet up with Barnaby Caddick, who has been a ski instructor in St. Anton for more than 20 years.  Affectionately referred to as “The Barney” by locals, this Australian is practically an institution in the Arlberg by his own right, and knows the ins and outs of this town both on and off the slopes.  After a few tips and some adjustments, Barney had me whizzing down black runs in no time.

“They call it Manton,” said Barney as we sat suspended above the snow on the gampen chairlift. “St. Anton is the place where single women come to find husbands.”

Well, there certainly were a lot of men about, and considering the physical demands of the sport, largely fit ones too. I would also suspect that most were at the very least gainfully employed if not downright wealthy.  So why wouldn’t you want to come to a place that offers a healthy crop of guys that you can choose from at your leisure?

On the flip side, a lot of men come here for romance of a shorter duration. In fact, the Arlberg area has a reputation for being something of a red-light district.  Prostitution is legal in Austria, and as the season gets into full swing, so do the stag parties where men from across Europe descend on the Alps to get drunk, get high, get laid, and, occasionally, ski.

But despite its image as a hedonistic hotspot, St. Anton is a rather mild affair.  “You won’t find as many bachelor parties here as in other villages in the Arlberg,” said Barney. “There is no real prostitution in St. Anton. It’s actually a very family oriented town.”

So, yes, more than a few people are slightly inebriated throughout the day, and once the lifts close, the bars on the slopes are standing room only.  Yet, by eight these venues have shut their doors, and most people go home.  What I soon learned is that St. Anton (at least in the early season) is an older crowd, mostly plus 30.  And like most people over thirty, they just want to go to sleep at night.

This doesn’t mean, though, that St. Anton has become stilted. The epicenter of the town’s party atmosphere can still be found at Mooserwirt, which attracts celebrities and locals alike.  During high season it has 60 kegs hooked up at any one time. Just up the slope is the Krazy Kanguruh, where the parties are equally intense.  Both have a great vibe and tend to draw a younger crowd than the bars in town.

However, for me, I prefer BaseCamp.  A little less crowded, a little older, and, most importantly, located next door to my hotel’s sauna, here you can relax and chat about the day’s activities without having to shove your way to the counter to get a beer.

So after a hard day of skiing (and even harder drinking), I said goodbye to Barney and set off in search of a meal. Besides alcohol, St. Anton offers an array of gourmet dining options.  It really is difficult to have a bad meal here.  From the economic Maximilian to the fine dining of the Museum, St Anton’s food is top notch.  But there is one place that stands out above the rest: Endlich.

Run by chef Ronnie and his wife Annette, Endlich offers a different set course meal to a limited clientele, nightly.  The result is food prepared with the kind of care you can only get from a home-cooked meal.

“Everything we serve is organic and comes from the valley,” said Ronnie.  “If it is not from the valley we do not make it.  My wife wanted to use pineapples in a recipe, but you cannot grow pineapples here so no pineapples.”

While I certainly appreciate the global logistical system that allow me to eat fruit year round, there is also something to be said about limitations.  As much as I hate to admit it, at times, constraints can foster creativity.  Yes, you might do more with additional ingredients, but the mark of a good chef is the ability to innovate with what is available, and chef Ronnie is an innovator.

To begin with, the locally sourced sausage was some of the best meat I have ever tasted in my life.  But what really blew me away was the sauerkraut.  Now normally, I am not much of a kraut fan. Indeed, I often push those fermented leaves to the side to let them sit embarrassingly in a putrid clump on my plate. This, however, was not the case at Endlich.  Mild with a bit of sweetness, the sauerkraut was the perfect accompaniment to the sausage.  In fact, it was one of the rare occasions that the little dish of mustard was completely unnecessary.

St. Anton built its reputation on skiing and drinking.  It’s still very much about that (just ask my sore quads and the five mugs of gluhwein I poured back at BaseCamp), but it’s also, frankly, a pretty laid back and mellow place, the kind of town you can feel at home in whether you are bringing your family or just a solo traveler looking to meet new people and have a good time. It’s refreshing to know that even in these times of mass tourism this quaint Tyrolean village can still turn on the charm.

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