THE MOUNTAINS of the Tyrol and SalzburgerLand are well known to British skiers, but two hours south of Salzburg lies Austria’s best-kept skiing secret – Bad Kleinkirchheim. Tucked away in the far southeast of Austria and spread over the wooded flanks of the Nock Mountains national park – or “Nockies” as they are affectionately called – Bad Kleinkirchheim (BKK for short), is a spa town dating back to the 12th century. It’s Austrian skiing legend Franz Klammer’s favourite resort. He grew up skiing here, there’s a fiendishly steep world cup downhill course named in his honour and he still skis here a few times every year.
Last winter EASYJET launched the first direct flight from the UK to Klagenfurt, the capital of the lesser-known province of Carinthia.
The quaint little airport is just a 45-minute drive away and is the perfect antidote to overcrowded family resorts.
The skiing is ideal for both beginners and stronger skiers, with more than 160 miles of pistes dotted over four main mountains. It’s enough to keep even the most mileage-hungry piste-bashers happy for a week.
In this part of Austria the mountains are less serrated and more shapely, with gladed flanks running most of the way up to rounded-off summits, meaning lots of long tree-lined runs and lovely views into neighbouring Italy and Slovenia.
Keep your eyes peeled for the glass-fronted sauna “cube with a view” at the top of Kaiserburg, a wonderful spot for a mid-morning warm-up or an afternoon snooze.
After a day on the slopes, you’ll take on a different sort of après-ski activity here. Most people head to thermal baths to soothe tired legs, rather than dancing to Alpenpop.
Römerbad (badkleinkirchheim.com) is a more stylish and grown-up complex with 13 saunas on different themes including Finnish pine, stone, saltwater and Roman steam baths.
The resort has two thermal spas, one at either end of the sprawling town. Fed from the hot waters of the natural spring, the newly-renovated St Kathrein (therme-kathrein.at) is great for families, with a large twister waterslide and an indoor/ outdoor adventure pool.
The indoor pool is shaped like the inside of a cave and comes with a whirlpool. A mini slide leads to the sun-drenched outdoor pool with spectacular views of the world cup run. Snowshoeing is a beautiful way to experience the serenity of the mountains, for skiers and non-skiers alike. Meet at the atmospheric Trattlerhof, a hotel-cum-stables on the outskirts of the town where staff wear velvet and lederhosen and light giant tallow candles, before heading off down a track and following the river.
The walk ends at the characterful Einkehr restaurant where hot chocolate and glühwein by the firepit is followed by fabulously thin crust pizzas (Italy is only 30 minutes drive away), Carinthian cured meats and a fine Austrian red, all to the soundtrack of a local accordionist.
A magical night in the mountains to conclude your BKK trip.
The ski school (skischool-bkk.com) can arrange daily hikes and after riding up the Maibrunnalm chair you can snowshoe over the rear side of the Nockies. Watch out for eagles circling overheard and the tracks of deer and rabbits. The tour ends with beers around an outdoor fire at a bar.
Take a morning off the slopes to explore the history of the village and its many churches with a guided culture walk. Organised by the Nockalmhof Biosphere Reserve (biosphaerenparknockberge.com), it starts at St Kathrein Church, where a steady stream of hot water emerges from rocks in a cave. In olden times villagers would soak their hands and bathe their eyes in it.
From here you walk under a long canopy of snow-laden ash trees, curved over the path like a rose arch to the heavily frescoed St Udalrich Church, one of four you take in on the tour, all the while learning about the different peoples who have inhabited the valley.
There are several different toboggan runs throughout the week, but the real highlight for children is a torchlit walk with ponies (trattlerhof.at).