July 3, 2010 12:12 am

A family-friendly break in Austria

We knew we were culturally adrift when the welcome party at the Löwe Hotel in Serfaus, Austria, turned into a dance-a-thon with a man in a giant lion costume (Löwe means “lion” in German). The room was soon full of small (and large) German and Swiss children doing something like the hokey cokey. Our children, aged nine and six, were open-mouthed with horror and amazement.

There are welcome parties like this every week at the Löwe, which (with its sister hotel in the same village, the Bär, or bear) is an upmarket member of the Kinderhotel group. There are 52 of these family-oriented hotels scattered about Germany, Austria, Italy and Croatia, catering in winter to families who ski, and to the Alpine walking and relaxation crowd in the summer.

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We arrived at the Löwe, an hour west of Innsbruck, at the start of the summer season. It was raining steadily, mingled with some late snow, but this didn’t put off our fellow guests, German-speaking families equipped for walking. I’d also dreamt of frolicking in the flower-decked Alpine valleys but, expecting sun, we had only packed flimsy trainers, so were forced to spend most of the week at the hotel’s pool complex. It turned out to be no hardship.

 
Children play at the waterslides at Hotel Löwe

The waterslides at Hotel Löwe

Kinderhotels want to attract more English-speaking families. The Alps are a short flight from Britain and the hotels offer excellent value packages, which often include all food, as well as free childcare and great on-site facilities. Our hotel had a water park for pre-schoolers, two pools (indoors and heated outdoors) and a waterslide complete with disco lights and a terrifying pitch-black section where you are thrown backwards or upside down.

In the UK, this super-slide would have been monitored by surly lifeguards and a complex traffic-light system to stop people bombing down in groups. Here, we policed ourselves. A small sign indicated that it wasn’t recommended for under-eights, but fathers whizzed down with happy toddlers on their laps. It was refreshing to enjoy unsupervised fun.

At breakfast (one of five magnificent buffets every day), we’d receive a daily news sheet (with English translation), outlining activities for children and adults. Adults could go on guided walks, or try Nordic walking and white-water rafting. Children had film shows, craft activities and trips out. (Although we weren’t too sure about the 11am event described as “Martin tinkers with your children”.) When we did take part, joining a trip to X-Trees, the village’s high ropes park, it worked fine and our two got individual tuition from the English-speaking staff.

Back at the hotel, there is a nursery, where the staff speak some English, and which has the comforting feel of a professional daycare establishment, rather than an informal crèche.

The week turned into a close-knit affair for us. We swam, we read, we looked at the mountains (when the clouds lifted). We went up and down in the cable cars, although the mud at the top was less appealing than the view from the village. And our children were insanely excited by the buffets. In addition to the breakfast buffet, there was lunch, which could be extended into the cake buffet – in which home-made cakes were wheeled out at 1.30pm – and then a snack buffet at 4pm, in case we couldn’t manage until dinner. And there was a free fizzy drinks fountain open all day.

The hotel sold its own cookbook, and excellent evening meals were based around local, seasonal ingredients. Beautifully presented food included roasted fillet of rabbit, or a vegetarian risotto strudel (there was a lot of strudel: one night we had a strudel buffet). The hotel suggests Austrian wines for around €30 a bottle. Children help themselves to the buffet while the adults are served the upmarket stuff. It works well and keeps everyone occupied for the evening.

A day trip to Innsbruck ended in disaster – the city was completely shut down for a religious holiday. But on the last day, the skies cleared and the local fun park, in the next village of Fiss, opened for the summer season. We walked through the meadows and headed up in the cable car. The best attraction is a 2.2km luge run – called the Fisser Flitzer. It takes eight minutes to go from top to bottom, on a toboggan precariously clinging to a monorail, going at up to 45km an hour.

I was too pathetic to try it and watched from the cable car as the rest of the family whizzed down, declaring it the best thing ever. It was a fitting way to finish a slightly strange but wonderfully relaxing mountain holiday.

Isabel Berwick was a guest of the Austrian Tourist Board. Summer prices at the Hotel Löwe are €570-€1,329 a week for adults, and €257-€293 for children. All food and childcare included, www.kinderhotels.co.uk

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