Classically Tyrolean it is not but Obergurgl is a unique, almost otherworldly resort. Close to the Italian border but easily retaining it’s Austrian identity and at 6300 feet, it boasts of being the highest parish in Europe.
The Tyrol, when romanticised by travellers, many of whom have never been there, conjures up images of geranium-heavy window-boxes in Alpbach or picturesque, pedestrian-friendly towns like Seefeld. But yet, there are two distinct sides to the Tyrolean experience with the raw, ruggedness of Galtuer, St. Anton, the Stubai Valley and most of all, Obergurgl being the flip-side of the Groschen.
Obergurgl is not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s incredible altitude as a starting-off point can certainly take some acclimatising to and a mere week in the Oetztal is not recommended, considering the potential effects of altitude-sickness when trying to do ‘too much, too soon’. As a village it has its moments but I suspect it looks prettier under a blanket of snow, which will inevitably hide the multitude of architectural sins; no names mentioned hotels Josl and Lohmann… If you are fortunate with the weather, as I always have been then the hiking options are myriad and spectacular. The terrain does not overly extend oneself but the altitude does slow progress, although the Oetztal Matterhorn known as the Hangerer is a punishing, in parts dangerous but rewarding ascent. Highly recommended too for most abilities is the day-hike to the Ramolhaus, an improbably perched hut owned by the Scheiber family who, similar to many Austrian resorts that have a dominant family, seem to have fingers in most of the local strudel.
Thankfully, the lifts extensively operate in the Summer, opening up the incredible glacier-laden scenery to even non-walking day-trippers. The Hohe Mut http://www.hohemutalm.com/ affords fantastic views of this almost impenetrable landscape, unsullied by mans best efforts. The lower Schoenweishuette is an excellent starting point for day or multiday hut-to-hut hikes to the Langtalereckhutte and Hochewildhaus, it’s high and wild positioning make it a classic example of nominative determinism.
Even in the Summer accommodation is plentiful although you’ll be struck by many of the larger hotels lying empty, looking almost abandoned in a Overlook Hotel fashion. Having experienced one particularly gruff, hotelier, I am tempted to quote a hotel-owner from St. Wolfgang who informed me that ‘hoteliers in Obergurgl don’t have to be friendly as they’re already millionaires’. However I have found this to be the exception to the rule with the custodians of the Jenewein and Hochegg being unfailingly helpful, patient and polite. For the prodigious range of facilities it offers, I would also endorse the Edelweiss & Gurgl, which is prominently placed for the lifts and what shops Obergurgl has.
If it rains, you will be stuffed, make no mistake about this. Obergurgl offers very few hiding-places from the elements or options to escape, due to it being at the far end of the valley and a long way from the Oetztal Bahnhof, which interfaces with the Inn Valley. I can offer you few suggestions on how to pass a rainy day but dropping to lower levels will get you out of the clouds which obviously descend on such a high-resort with alarming rapidity. An Aqua Dome down the valley in Langenfeld might save you from the rain but there is little point in getting wet in trying to avoid doing so.
The Oetz Valley offers dry-day alternatives to Obergurgl but these will be fleshed out in more detail on another day, as will the tale of Otzi/the Similaun Man/the Tyrolean Ice Mummy and how to reach his fundstelle above nearby Vent.
Finally, no mention of Obergurgl would be complete with quoting a British traveller I overheard several years ago, whilst in the Edelweiss & Gurgl. Remembering now, dear reader, that this is Obergurgl at a jumping-off altitude of 6300 feet, the highest parish in Europe with achievable walking to over 10000 feet. The British traveller? She didn’t like heights…