Close your eyes and think of Austria, and what do you see?
In all likelihood, at least one of your associations was a snow-covered ski slope, shimmering in the peak of the winter season.
And there’s a reason for that. Ischgl , a ski resort village in the heart of Austria’s Paznaun Valley, is alive with the sound of skiing every winter as its slopes fill up and its cute log cabins pack out with perennial snow-sports enthusiasts.
But there’s a change underfoot - for this quaint 1,500 resident ski resort is becoming increasingly popular with summer tourists keen to sample the greener side of the slopes.
The Yorkshire Post had chance to try out the summer offerings, heading to the hills of Ischgl to follow Yorkshire’s Michelin star chef supreme Michael Wignall on a culinary journey through the Alps.
For 10 years, the Culinary St Jacobs Way has brought delightful food to the Tyrol area, and to celebrate, five celebrity chefs from across Europe were invited to Ischgl to set up an unforgettable dining experience in the mountains.
Each chef was asked to create their own contemporary version of the region’s specialties, culminating in the award winning food maestros trekking seven kilometres up an Austrian peak to show off their best work in the most staggering of surroundings.
And the surroundings truly are staggering.
Little log cabins sit in the base of a valley surrounded on all sides by bright green slopes, glowing in the summer sunshine.
Because temperatures top out at about 18-20 degrees C in summer time, with a fresh rather than dry air, Ischgl is an ideal summer destination for all manner of outdoor activities beyond the ski slope: think hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining and rock climbing for starters.
Indeed, the culinary hike was the highlight of the trip, not just for the Michelin-star food waiting for us at the summit, but for what Ischgl has to offer as a summer outdoors destination.
Looking up from the base of one of Ischgl many peaks, it truly is a breathtaking place. Swathes of forests line the hillsides, while ski lifts cut through the rocks carrying hikers safely back down the mountain after a day’s trek.
The grassy, rocky hills are perfect for rambling. We followed a rough path through the trees that was just the right side of steep, with the sun not-too-blazing and the air fresh.
It was certainly familiar terrain for Michael, a keen hiker, snowboarder and extreme sports enthusiast in addition to his culinary pedigree.
As we made our way up the hillside, Michael told me how he wanted to put a fresh twist on British cuisine, with inspiration from the Alps incorporating local ingredients.
He was getting ready to present his dish for the occasion: a venison sausage with a chocolate and peppercorn sauce with sautee potato and pickled veg (mouthwatering, by the way).
The Michelin star chef took over the Angel at Hetton, North Yorkshire, in 2018 and won glowing praise from the Yorkshire Post’s own food critics.
Tucking into melt in the mouth venison while looking out across a shimmering lake atop the 2.1kilometre high hill, I might be biased, but I assured Mr Wignall that his dish had beaten out the offerings from four other multi-award winning Michelin star chefs who had also made it up the mountain to present their dishes for the event at the Friedrichshafener Lodge.
Ischgl and the Alps has a rich culinary history, and spring/summer trippers here will be delighted not just by the many outdoor activities on offer but by the variety of the food on offer - including in the resort’s 14 mountain restaurants.
The five star Hotel Trofona Royal is renowned for its food and chef Marin Sieberer was responsible for inviting the five chefs from across Europe for the weekend. He served up a sumptuous feast.
Another culinary highlight was the gourmet restaurant Stüva. Located in the heart of the Ischgl village the young chef delivered a sumptuous 13 courses, while we learned about pine Schapps, a local drink which made from flowers picked on the Austrian hillsides.
Apparently, this drink is so revered for its alleged life-giving properties that the local government sets very strict quotas on their cultivation and offer an annual lottery to businesses for the chance to be allowed to pick them. It’s pretty tasty, too.
It’s clear then, that whatever your pursuit - be it skiing, hiking, mountain biking or just ruddy good food, there’s something hidden in the Ischgl hills for you, any time of the year.