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The beautifully named Wildschönau region in the Hochtal area of the Tirol has four centres, each having small ski areas consisting largely of parallel ski lifts, the majority above Auffach and Niederau on either side of Oberau (the largest village). Mühltal has a couple of short drags up above it at Thierbach, the fourth village in thearea. Each village is about 3km (2 miles) apart, with Oberau in the centre of the triangle. The Wildschönau attracts many international tour operators and has offered winter sports holidays since 1947 at Niederau. The area is famous for its picturesque resorts and beautiful mountain scenery, with much of the skiing on trails cut through forested slopes within the Kitzbüheler Alps. Visitors can indeed take advantage of the Kitzbüheler Alpen pass offering around 700km (440 miles) of trails on one ticket. However, the resorts are best known as beginner and family destinations, having successfully carved out a niche for themselves as archetypal Tyrolean villages offering good value and high standards of tuition. All of the villages contain typical Tyrolean chalet style buildings, some of them centuries old. The church of St. Margaretha in Oberau is one of the Tyrol's most impressive historic buildings. Constructed in the 18th century the austere exterior hides the splendour inside where there are beautiful ceiling frescos from the Baroque era produced by the painter Jos. Adam Mölk from Munich as well as stations of the cross. Altogether there are about 4000 people living in the area, around half in Oberau, which has the majority of the facilities, and a third in Niederau, marginally regarded as the liveliest village and with a few more guest beds than Oberau. The whole region is currently participating in a ten year plan to ensure that the region continues to successfully merge tradition and nature with the needs of modern living and tourism in the new millennium.

Wildschonau is made up of three villages with separatre ski areas which are marketed together. Oberau is a tiny village close to the dense lift network of larger neighbours Auffach and Niederau, to which it is not lift-linked, A free local bus service links all three villages which also participate in the huge Kitzbüheler Alpen pass offering around 700km of trails on one ticket.

Mountain

The Wildschönau's skiing is a fragmented affair with the largest areas above Niederau and Auffach and half a dozen small separate beginner areas next to the villages themselves. A free ski bus links the various areas. Niederau has perhaps the largest area and most varied terrain, whilst Auffach, with largely intermediate category skiers, has the biggest vertical and highest lifts. Oberau itself has seven parallel drag lifts next to one another along a road that runs out above the village. They serve about a dozen short beginner runs on wide sunny meadows beneath the forest. There is also one longer drag serving an intermediate descent. Niederau's skiing is the main attraction for advanced skiers with the three black runs all here, including an excellent mogul run beneath the new Markbachjoch gondola with a vertical drop of nearly 700 metres. Ski touring is another opportunity with a ski school guide. Auffach's two stage gondola accesses more than half a dozen reds and the most snowsure skiing in the area, including some above-treeline terrain where powder can build up that's pretty well absent elsewhere. Cross country skiers will find 50km (31 miles) of trails along the valley floor.

Families

The Wildschönau ski school runs a kindergarten based in Niederau for children aged two to six years. It operates 9.30am to 4.30pm from Sunday to Fridays and includes lunch with a drink. This Mini Club has its own fenced in terrain park and a roundabout ski lift, as well as a friendly penguin mascot called Bobo. For under fives a 'test day' is available to see if your child and the kindergarten like one another. Run by the delightfully named Happy Ski & Snowboarding School, the mascot is a friendly dinosaur and the school lends out free helmets for small children as well as organising sleigh rides, tubing parties, races and even kids' discos. Indoor pools are open to the public in Oberau in the Hotel Angerhof, Tirolerhof and Talhof, in Niederau in the Hotel Austria and Sonnschein, in Mühltal in the Hotel Bergkristall and in Auffach in the Hotel Bernauerhof.

Eating Out

The majority of the restaurants of the Wildschönau are hotel based and serve traditional Tyrolean meals. This is very much the case at the hotel Austria in Niederau where local specialities and fondues are on the menu. For Italian, the Pizzeria Treff in central Niederau is the place to go or the Pizzeria Italia 90 between Niederau and Oberau. In Oberau the Hotel Tirolerhof serves international food as well as Tyrolean specialities. These include sweet and savoury pancakes and a unique Wildschönau Sturmlöda cake. The Riedlhof, up on the slopes and a 15 minute walk from the village, is famous for its enormous Wiener Schnitzel and its Tyrolean fry ups. The most atmospheric dining experience must be a meal in the 800 year old wine cellar of the Kellerwirt which refitted an à la carte restaurant and cosy bar in there recently. The Kellerwirt, formerly owned by the local monks of Seeon, also has an old Wirtsstub'n restaurant where local specialities and traditional Austrian cuisine is served. For healthy eating, head over to Auffach and the Culture Hotel Bernauerhof's Restaurant and Café. This establishment has carved a niche for itself with classical music, health treatments such as reflexology, and healthy light cuisine (not the Austrian norm!) to match.

Apres

Niederau is generally regarded as the liveliest choice of the three. The "Dorfstub'n" Fun-Pub there offers dancing and live entertainment every Sunday from 8:30 pm. The café at the Simmerlwirt is often lively as soon as the lifts closes and sometimes has live music. All of the villages organise Tyrolean evenings several times weekly and the ski school in Niederau throws a snow party every week. Lively evening toboggan parties with glühwein and moonlit sleigh rides to fondue parties are the order of the day. The local brew is a version of schnaps made from turnips!

Boarding

With a family feel, two thirds of the terrain graded easy and ninety per-cent of the terrain served by drag lifts, most of them T bars, Niederau and Oberau will not appeal to the hardcore 'boarder. There are plus points to the area however, including a fun park with half pipe at Auffach which, along with Niederau, has top to bottom gondola access. Niederau has some fun terrain with natural terrain features on the long fast black down from the gondola, so if you approach the place with an open mind, you can have a lot of fun. The Happy Ski and Snowboarding School offers tuition. There's also a Swatch Race 'n' Boarder Arena in Niederau.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Vertical drop
900m
Ski area
63
Resort height
936m
Airport
Innsbruck
Train station
Wörgl
beginner
20%
intermediate
63%
expert
17%