Arlberg region, Austria: Skiing and dining make Lech a standout resort

I'm not sure what my favourite approach to Lech might be. Maybe just the road that winds up the valley and squeezes through a forested gorge, before popping out to the village of snow-encrusted chalets. Maybe the lazy ski run down from Oberlech that tilts you towards the church steeple and deposits you in the apres-ski bars along the frozen river. Or demanding run 215 down from the 2362 metre Rufikopf, one of Austria's steepest, a long exhilarating plummet to the town below.

What I'm sure about, though, is that arriving in Lech is always a pleasure. It's my favourite European ski resort. Certainly for the skiing, which has only become even better with the opening of the Flexenbahn gondola that links it to St Anton and the entire Arlberg ski area, creating one of the world's top-five ski-fields by size. You can't go wrong with more than 300 kilometres of runs, 87 lifts, Austria's only heli-skiing and reliable high-altitude snow.

There are many other reasons to like Lech, however. This is an upmarket, glamorous and yet unpretentious family-oriented ski resort that has Austrian cosiness but is chic, too. It focuses on comfort and impeccable service rather than glitz, romancing rather than late-night clubbing and has some of the most sophisticated dining in the Alps. Its restaurants are as sprinkled with Gault Millau chef's hats as its rooftops are with snowflakes.

My three restaurant favourites? For upmarket dining, head to Hotel Gasthof Post for a Relais & Chateaux quality meal that provides lighter-version Austrian fare such as venison stew or smoked fish, followed by one of the most outstanding cheese trolleys you're ever likely to encounter.

For a classic meal, duck your head into the low-beamed, blackened chalet Hus Nr. 8, a building dating back to the mid-18th century. After a day's skiing, the hearty fare will swell your stomach and warm your cockles with the likes of fondue, whole roast duck or the alpine potato-and-bacon Grostl, served at the table in a heavy iron pan.

The servings at Rud-Alpe are just as ogre-sized. It's my pick for an on-slope lunch of bulging sausages accompanied by sauerkraut, or a schnitzel so big it falls over the side of the plate. Save room for a mountainous dessert of chopped pancakes with plum jam. The restaurant's expansive terrace looks down over the village and has a convivial atmosphere and cheerful staff in lederhosen and dirndls.

I like too that Lech has world-class skiing, yet isn't just about skiing or snowboarding. The gentle valley floor has abundant cross-country ski trails and 40 kilometres of rolled walking (or snow-shoeing) paths that meander through pine forest encrusted in ice. You can try curling and ice-skating or the two-kilometre floodlit toboggan run that hurtles you between traffic-free Oberlech and Lech below.

You could finish the day in the apres-ski bars. The nightlife is much more low-key than in St Anton, but you might bump into a minor Dutch royal or a Bavarian billionaire. Fux Lounge has 60-something single-malt whiskys and an impressive cellar of burgundy wines that can be savoured by the fire, while the perennially popular Eisbar has some of the best mulled wine you're likely to taste.

If you must have a party then Archiv Bar keeps going until the wee hours. The dilemma is that you'll want to be up early in order to make first tracks on the freshly groomed slopes above Lech, or hit the 20-kilometre ski circuit known as the White Ring. With skiing this good, you don't want to waste a minute.

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TRIP NOTES

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office and Emirates Airlines.

MORE

traveller.com.au/austria

austria.info/au

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai with connections to Zurich. See emirates.com/au

STAY

Kristiania Lech is a family-run hotel with an alpine chalet appearance but quirky, contemporary rooms. Rooms from €317 ($455) including breakfast. See kristiania.at

SKI

Lech is part of the extensive Arlberg ski region. See skiarlberg.at

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