Hidden away deep within the Austrian Alps the postcard perfect Lech is a village in the Alberg area, filled with exclusive hotels and restaurants, it is not immediately obvious what a pioneer in sustainability it is.
Lech, awarded the title of ‘most beautiful village in Europe’, maybe the perfect eco ski resort with the ingrained appreciation of nature the locals have stems back to their humble farming origins 600 years earlier. Living in this area in the 1400’s people were very respectful of the harsh and dangerous environment around them and that to damage it could be fatal. Today the area still has much game, including marmots, chamois, ibex and deer and in spite of the potential financial gains of cutting down their habitat the decision was made to not expand. Rather than investing in expansion, money seems to be directed in evolving the quality of the resort, resulting in everything being of a wonderful standard not to mention being pricey.
Rules preventing people having a second home in Lech ensures an atmosphere many villages have lost. It has the perfect geography for skiing with ample snow every year and a sheltered landscape. Due to the cattle farming history it has cultivated grassy fields rather than more rocky terrain meaning the snow does not need to be as deep to ski on. The river water is almost of drinking quality and this water supplies the snow making machines – maintaining at least a few inches of snow protects the sleeping meadow beneath, so that it blooms soon after the snow melts in May.
We were fortunate to meet the passionate and very knowledgeable Dr Hermann Fercher who had been director of tourism for 40 years in Lech. Learning about Lech’s popularity, we discovered that the Alberg region was one of the first areas in the world to have downhill skiing, where it dates back to before the war. It seems numerous world champions have come from this tiny village providing the perfect PR campaign to increase tourism and growth. Furthermore many writers have included Lech in books due to its natural beauty solidifying its reputation as the original ski resort. In the early days of ski holidays, many ski instructors that moved out of Lech set up ski schools all over the world – including the US and Australia, perhaps leaving Lech and Zurs as the mother resort.
He explained that his vision was to have a resort with people from all over the world creating an interesting cosmopolitan vibe rather than have it dominated by one nationality or culture, and this certainly is the case. In Lech cars are kept underground – the idea being out of sight out of mind – and travel around the Alberg region is supported with a free bus service. To compliment such eco credentials, a biomass heating system is used to heat 223 hotels and guesthouses in Lech, and coupled with the bus service the air pollutants are kept to a minimum.
Moving up to the satellite resort of Oberlech, a car free area 700 meters up the mountain, it seems magical the way hotels and bars function – until you find out of the underground tunnel system. 60% financed by the private hotels, the delivery of goods and removal of waste is conducted via an underground transport system using electric carts. The benefit of this is in the reduced noise and air pollution as well as enhanced beauty. While in Oberlech we had the pleasure of staying at a hotel leading the way in sustainability – The Hotel Goldener Berg. Lech is a magical resort with some of the best skiing we’ve ever had – it was a real pleasure to visit a place boasting a strong community feel with both locals and visitors looking out for our environment. We’ll definitely be back for some excellent skiing next season…
For more information on Lech and the Alberg region, please visit http://www.lech-zuers.at/