Up, up and away: Why clients will love Austria's food and wine festival Wein am Berg

This three-day foodie extravaganza takes skiing to new heights, says Paul McLaughlin

The view from my window seat is breathtaking: below me snow-covered mountain peaks pierce through a cotton wool-like blanket of cloud while above, a luminous winter sun decorates a cloudless azure sky. It’s a magical scene not even veteran pilots would tire of. At this point, however, it’s worth highlighting that my window seat isn’t on an aircraft and, more importantly, I’m about to indulge in some gourmet food miles beyond the usual in-flight fare of chicken or beef. I’m in the Ice Q restaurant in Sölden, Austria, a spectacular glass-walled, steel-framed architectural feat perched 3,048 metres above sea level where I’m being treated to a feast for both the eyes and stomach.

Outside, in almost every direction, I see uninterrupted panoramic mountain views while within the glass façade, servers glide by with a bounty of fine wines and appetisers. Ice Q is the highest-located toque-rated gourmet restaurant in Austria and I’m lucky enough to be enjoying the delights of Wein am Berg (wine on the mountain), a unique three-day wine and food festival that brings together the finest sommeliers, wine growers and international chefs from the region and further afield. 

Wein am Berg is hosted by Hotel Das Central, Sölden’s first and longest-running five-star property and the festival combines three of my favourite things: gourmet food, fine wine and access to some of Austria’s finest skiing and snowboarding. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. The alpine resort of Sölden sits within the Ötztal Valley, in the Austrian state of Tyrol, and Das Central is conveniently situated in the heart of the charming village, approximately one hour from Innsbruck.

Upon arrival we are welcomed at the opulent reception with a small aperitif and, once settled in our rooms, the programme of events begins in the early evening with a Vintner’s Fair. Twenty-five winemakers from across Europe share their knowledge and insight into what makes their creations so special.

We are encouraged to experiment with varieties and the selection on offer is both extensive and varied. This is promptly followed by the Kitchen Party featuring a host of Europe’s finest chefs, including the UK’s Andy Bennon, from the Michelin-starred Behind restaurant in east London. Here we enjoy a tasting menu of assorted gastronomic delights and more exquisite wines.

To the slopes

Day two is where the fun really begins. After a wholesome breakfast we hit the slopes of the Rettenbach glacier accompanied by a host of World Champion ski guides, including the German World Cup alpine ski racer Thomas Dreßen and Frank Wörndl, whose achievements include an Olympic silver medal in 1988. Despite the prospect of feeling wholly inferior to the supremacy of our guides, we are split into groups of similar ability and spend a few hours exploring the magnificent terrain. The expanse of ski runs extends upwards of 3,000 metres and we are blessed with pristine late-season conditions.

This being Wein am Berg of course means the day is enhanced by some welcome pit stops as we indulge in high-altitude Reisling tastings at two different stations on the glacier. The festival caters to both skiers and non-skiers alike. Sölden’s expansive lift system allows access to some of the highest elevations of the resort in the comfort of its impressive gondolas and cable cars. After a few more runs we enjoy a gourmet lunch at the Gletschertisch restaurant. Replete and a little leg-weary we commence our descent back down to village level where, back at the hotel, and with a few hours to relax, I take advantage of the luxurious pool and spa facilities.

The evening’s culinary programme continues as we ascend in the ultra-slick cable car to the aforementioned Ice Q restaurant for the start of the Gaislachkogl Rally event. Fans of James Bond might recognise it as a location used in the film Spectre, which was shot predominantly in Sölden. Directly adjacent to the restaurant is the Bond-themed cinematic installation 007 Elements – a must-see immersive insight into the making of the film and the history of the Bond franchise.

As delicious canapés are circulated, we are served wine of the highest quality in more ways than one. Pino 3000 is an exclusive and unique tri-country wine created by three viniculturalists from Italy, Germany and Austria and combining three varieties of Pinot Noir. The final stage of the process sees the wine mature in oak barrels in a purpose-built vault on the peak of the Gaislachkogl mountain at 3,000 metres. With our appetites whetted we descend to the mid-station Falcon restaurant for a dinner of yet more culinary highlights and, for those with greater staying power, the evening culminates with desserts, cheeses and a gin party back at Das Central.

The following day’s skiing is once again peppered with high-altitude wine tasting. We relax in sun-soaked deck chairs taking in both the refreshing selection on offer and the magnificent views of the Schwarze Schneid, Austria’s longest ski run. The event closes with a ‘Big Bottle Party’ at Giggijoch restaurant. Here we listen to traditional Austrian music as we enjoy another sumptuous meal. Afterwards, a spectacular fireworks display illuminates the imposing mountain peaks. Wein am Berg is all about boundless hospitality and luxury. Combined with epic views and fabulous skiing, it’s difficult not to embrace all aspects of this incredible festival and many of the attendees are repeat customers – it’s easy to understand why.

Hotel low-down

Hotel Das Central, Sölden

Established in 1969, Hotel Das Central is Sölden’s only five-star hotel offering an opulent alpine retreat seamlessly blending traditional Tyrolean charm with contemporary luxury. Boasting spectacular views of the Ötztal mountains, Das Central is conveniently located within walking distance of the resort’s cable car system while being discreetly hidden from the hustle and bustle of the lively aprés scene.

The hotel’s elegant decor and attention to detail create a warm and inviting ambience. There is a broad selection of spacious and well-appointed rooms and suites, each with luxurious interiors and alpine-inspired furnishings, including the 100sq m Nederkogl Penthouse suite. The hotel also has a rooftop Summit Spa featuring an outside heated 17-metre infinity pool, light-flooded relaxation rooms, sauna area and a range of treatments.

Das Central is renowned for its exceptional award-winning food and wine offering: multiple dining options showcase gourmet cuisine, prepared with locally sourced ingredients, and a 30,000-bottle wine cellar. Perfect for those seeking either a winter wonderland or summer escape, Das Central offers a luxurious haven in the Austrian Alps, promising an unforgettable and indulgent retreat.

Book it: Hotel Das Central offers double rooms from €200 per person per night, based on two people sharing on a half-board basis. central-soelden.com/en