"Ahh, Ms Coffey…I've been expecting you."
No one has actually said this as I entered the Ice Q restaurant on Sölden's 3,048m Gaislachkogl peak, but it wouldn't have surprised me if they did. The Austrian resort is abuzz with Bond fever. In bars, in mountain huts and on chairlifts, the news that scenes for the new James Bond movie, Spectre, are being filmed here, was all anyone could talk about.
On a crowded gondola I overheard a man confidently inform his friend that he saw Daniel Craig – "it was definitely him" – skiing earlier that week.
"Impossible – they're not actually filming the scenes with him until January," Michael Waschl, assistant to the manager of the Ice Q restaurant and the five-star Das Central hotel, said knowingly. This job title doesn't do him justice; I soon started to think of him as the King of Sölden, because not only does he seem to have the inside scoop on just about everything, but everyone on the mountain greeted him with the enthusiasm of an old friend.
During my stay, the production team was preparing for filming by scoping out the locations – I spotted a helicopter whirring up by the Rettenbach glacier from a chairlift, and small propeller planes were seen in the past few weeks as the team tested out camera angles and other technicalities for the shoot.
Ice Q, cuboid in shape and remarkably distinctive with walls of sheer glass, is one of the main reasons Sölden was chosen as the setting for the film's mountain scenes, according to Michael. It's been booked out for filming on four consecutive days in early January, but there's not even a sniff of a scoop on what Bond will or won't do there as exact plot details are strictly under wraps.
As Michael and I sat down to lunch in the restaurant's bright and spacious dining area, we speculated on how it might be used in the film. The consensus was that it would make a fine lair for the bad guy, preferably Blofeld (rumours abound that Spectre will see the return of the infamous cat-loving supervillain featured in six other Bond films). Tucking into multiple courses of exquisite, surprising cuisine (much of the food has a Heston Blumenthal vibe), with panoramic views across the Tirol region, I mused that, if so, poor James is going to miss out on one heck of a dining experience.
The road up to the Rettenbach glacier, a tunnel to the glacier and the number 30 piste, and a long nearby blue are also closed for filming on various days in January and February – indicating that some sort of mountain chase might be on the cards.
As a true Bond boffin, I certainly wasn't about to miss the opportunity to race down on the same hallowed snow that Daniel Craig will soon (hopefully) be carving up, and so I make a beeline for the number 30 run. While the rest of the Alps is struggling for snow, Sölden's high altitude – its 150km of pistes reach up to 3250m – and two glaciers mean the conditions are already good here, and I enjoy whipping down the blue, with its hardpack base and fluffy topcoat. I try to increase the drama by humming the Bond theme tune as I go, but it's not quite the same when you're not being shot at by baddies on snowmobiles. Sigh.
Back at the resort that evening at the Das Central hotel bar, when asked what I'd like for an apéritif I almost responded with, "A martini, shaken not stirred" – before remembering that I can't stand vermouth and vodka gives me a headache. I opted for a bellini instead, feeling like I'd somehow let down the British secret service with my inferior drink choice.
Exploring the resort, it occurs to me that the hard-drinking ladies man that was James Bond of old would be very happy here. There's a curious juxtaposition of high class establishments such as Das Central (with its two gourmet restaurants, extensive spa and collection of vintage wines), and low-rent table dancing clubs dotted along the main road (identifiable from the sizeable posters outside featuring women in push-up bras). But I'm not so sure about 007's latest incarnation; Daniel Craig's Bond may well turn his nose up at Sölden's seedier places.
It's 15 years since the snow-loving spy was last on skis, when Pierce Brosnan survived a dramatic off-piste chase scene in The World Is Not Enough. It's about time he is back on the slopes, hitting kickers, dodging bullets, and taking down various bad-guy henchmen, all while demonstrating the most sublime downhill technique.
Das Central is Sölden's only five-star hotel. From £145 ($278) per person, per night, based on two sharing, half board.
The Telegraph, London