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Katy Dartford visits Bad Kleinkirchheim in southern Austria where she shares the piste with a skiing legend and recuperates in a steaming thermal pool and state-of-the-art spa.  After a full day on the slopes, après ski in a few local bars is generally the order of the day. But...

A Champion Trip to Carinthia

Katy Dartford visits Bad Kleinkirchheim in southern Austria where she shares the piste with a skiing legend and recuperates in a steaming thermal pool and state-of-the-art spa. 

After a full day on the slopes, après ski in a few local bars is generally the order of the day. But when you’ve been skiing with one of the world’s greatest downhill racers, something a little more soothing is required. Fortunately, I’m in the handsome Austrian resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim in Carinthia, with natural thermal waters. Here the saying is ‘from the pistes into the spa,’ rather than to the bar. BKK, as the locals call the town, is all about combining snow with its spa temples and sees itself as Austria’s top wellbeing haven. 

I’d been lucky enough to be part of a small group who spent the day skiing with the legendary Franz Klammer. Meeting him for the first time in the five-star Hotel Thermenwelt Pulverer, he ominously enquired whether we had ‘waxed our skis.’ 

Franz speaks good English but ‘slow down’ isn’t really in his vocabulary. After a day trying to keep up with him as he swooped effortlessly down the runs he grew up on, it was great to take off our skis at the end of the final slope – the Franz Klammer downhill run – and rest our burning legs in the steaming pools of the Spa Thermal Romerbad, located right at the bottom of the piste. 

Bad Kleinkirchheim is an old spa town that spreads out along the beautiful, high Kirchheim valley on the south side of the Alps. Attractively developed with most buildings timber-faced and chalet style, it has two public thermal spas, the Romerbad and St Kathrein, 21 indoor hotel swimming pools and 50 saunas, all set in stunning ‘dumpling’ shaped mountains. No UK tour operators have a presence in BKK, so the resort is still relatively unknown to the British market. But visitors from across the world are attracted to BKK for a chance to relax and indulge in its health giving thermal waters. 

Legend has it that the recuperative powers of the local mineral water were discovered after the badly wounded fugitive Count Palatine Poto hid out in the Kirchheim Valley in 1055, and saw his injuries miraculously heal after quaffing some water from a fresh spring. Then in 1884 a local hotelier put out a brochure extolling the health benefits of staying in the town and it became a destination for the infirm seeking the ‘cure’. In 1934 the first outdoor thermal pool was built and the following year Kirchheim was granted the right to add the word Bad (designating it as an official spa resort) to its name. In 1969 came an indoor thermal pool and ten years later the Thermal Romerbad bathing centre was opened. Two families were responsible for most of the development of the spa resort – the Pulverer family, who also created the Thermenwelt Pulverer hotel where I was staying, and the Ronachers, founders of the Thermenwelt Ronacher hotel. 

The Thermal Romerbad public spa was recently completely refurbished as a 16-million euro ‘wellness oasis.’ It was designed and built by the architectural firm Behnisch Architekten, the same team that planned the Olympic stadium in Munich. The Romerbad has three 4000 square metre floors, each with its own theme and materials of the region. 

On arrival you are given a data carrier watch, which lets you in and automatically opens and shuts your locker. There is no need to remember your number, as it is stored on the watch and you just hold it up to an information terminal. Just as space age, is the fabulous sauna centre – the Romanum on level 1. Here you can pick from 13 saunas, all different shapes, sizes and varying heat levels, including a tepidarium where it’s comfortable to stay a little longer. Entering is like heading into a small space ship. But make sure you’re completely naked or you will get a warning from one of the toga clad attendants. 

Each pod has a different Roman name like Lucius Tepidarium, named after Nero, whose baths were opened in 62 AD. I headed first for the Lucius to relax in its warm air, said to provide a low level of stimulation, ideal for regeneration and to boost the immune system. There’s also the Finnish sauna, the Caracalla Laconicum, named after the Caracalla baths in Rome, one of the largest thermal baths ever built. The Caracalla is said to strengthen the cardiovascular system and has a detoxifying effect. Exploring the vast area, I also found a range of steam rooms, a solarium, a hot-spring swimming pool and even an adventure area for children.

Highlight of any visit to the Romerbad is to lay submerged in the Infinitum outdoor hot pool on level 3, the Maximum. The pool is heated to between 28ºC and 34ºC and overlooks the dramatically illuminated Franz Klammer ski run. Here, I contemplated the day I had just spent skiing with Franz Klammer, whose daredevil exploits brought skiing to the notice of millions in the 70s. Klammer won his first downhill race in Bad Kleinkirchheim, securing it the right to host the inaugural European Cup competition in December 1971. At the time, Franz, a poor farmer’s son from the Mooswald province of Carinthia, was struggling for recognition in the skiing world. But with that victory, the 18-year-old achieved a major breakthrough. He went on to win 25 individual World Cup downhill races, five World Cup championships and a gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck. He enjoys god-like status in Austria, with a new World Cup downhill course and a mountain restaurant named after him and is known to everyone in Austria as ‘Kaiser.’ Klammer has an Olympian, worldly, almost playboy-type presence, and despite achieving his skiing glory around the time I was born, could still burn me off the piste. 

Hence I was glad when it was time for my massage in the new expanded massage area, on level 2, the Noricum. The area is decorated with themes of water, forest and stone and there is also a wellness bar, a state-of-the-art beauty salon and a meditation area. To sooth my tired body I opted for a new type of massage, a herbal pad massage with algae. Other options are available. The pads are pleasantly warmed and evenly steamed for maximum absorption of the active substances by the skin. The algae is detoxifying and recommended for treating cellulite. Treatments cost about 55 euros for 50 minutes. I also contemplated the luxury facial with champagne and caviar, but as I’d already consumed plenty of both during the week in the Pulverer’s restaurant, I didn’t want to overdo it. 

The five- star Thermenwelt Pulverer, where I was staying, is keen to promote the thermal water’s health-giving properties for the sports-minded, rather than just for pampering. The hotel boasts the only in-house thermal spring in BKK, originating from the church of St. Kathrein with spa water used in all wellness and spa facilities. Hydrotherapy helps keep your body fit for skiing or boarding, while drinking the water cleanses you from within, boosts the immune system, strengthens connective tissue and helps the healing process after surgery or illness. Submerging yourself in this mineral rich water invigorates the circulation and limbs. Even the great Franz Klammer extols the spa water’s virtues. Prior to our ski day with him, the ‘Kaiser’ met us for dinner at the hotel’s rustic Loystuben restaurant. He announced that we should not order bottled water but drink tap water because ‘We have the best water in the world.’ 

Hotel Thermenwelt Pulverer
From €108 per person per night half board; the hotel offers a wide range of winter and summer short breaks including 3-night ski packages from €465 per person. Cost covers half board, spa treatment and use of therapeutic spa and sauna complex and a 2-day Gold ski pass, valid for 30 skiing areas in Carinthia with 800 km snow covered runs.Getting there: Nearest airport is Klagenfurt Airport (Ryanair from Stansted) – 50-min transfers to BKK cost from €25 and can be arranged with the hotel or with Kärnten Transfer www.kaernten-transfer.atKaty flew from London Gatwick to Salzburg with British Airways Transfers from Salzburg to BKK take 2 h
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