The Alps have become a year-round playground and home to some of the most relaxing spas we’ve ever experienced. On a two-week jaunt through Italy, Austria, and Germany, we climbed mountains and forded streams in the Alps seeking spa destinations to soothe our muscles and relax our racing minds. Our post-summer vacation was planned with wellness in mind, and we were determined to follow this theme throughout an epic journey of hiking adventures and spa hopping through the Alps.
Yes, we may be bougie spa whores, but we managed to sprinkle in some amazing sightseeing and hikes to justify our time enjoying luxe spa treatments, massages, and more.
Alpine Villages with World-Class Spas and Adventure
Spanning 750 miles from France through Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia, the Alps have beckoned visitors for a variety of reasons, including serving as a host to the Olympic Games, ice festivals, and the go-to destination for sports (and extreme sports) such as heliskiing, mountain biking, mountain climbing, canyoning, and scuba and ice diving.
During the warmer months of the year, these same villages become retreats for an outdoorsy crowd who love to hike, bike, climb and explore. Visitors breathe in clean air and work muscles they forget they had while traversing pastures, mountain trails, and riverside paths.
In addition to offering an array of sports and activities, the mountain folk along the Alps really know how to create a welcoming spa experience. Lucky for us this practice has become a cottage industry of sorts with spas nestled inside small Alpine inns and boutique hotels. We plotted a course for several of these villages known for their spas and nearby outdoor adventures.
The charming Bavarian village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is postcard perfect. The buildings here have that classic but traditional Alpine architecture and design: sloped roofs, shutters, and window boxes full of brightly colored flowers. Locals walk the cobblestone streets wearing the traditional garb of lederhosen and dirndls, some looking quite strapping in their Bavarian couture. We never thought mountain wear could look so sexy!
After taking a nearby gondola for bragging rights to visiting the highest mountaintop in Germany for our first official outing on The Alps, we found ourselves in a virgin snowfall – the first of the season for this area. We weren’t dressed for hiking these slippery peaks, and it was darn cold up there at 9,700 feet. A couple of snowballs tossed, a few photos snapped for the ‘gram, a spiked hot chocolate or two, and we were back down the mountain to the Riessersse Hotel for a little spa time.
The Spa at the Riessersee Hotel
The Riessersee Hotel is a beautiful spot nestled in the Bavarian Alps overlooking the village and bright green valleys below. Donning our fluffy white towels, we headed from our loft room down to the hotel spa to enjoy the indoor pool, hot tub, steam room, and sauna. Everything here was clean, spotless, and pristine.
As with most European spas, clothing is optional, and the saunas and steam rooms are co-ed. We enjoyed people-watching while navigating our way from dry to wet saunas with cold showers in between. Buckets are provided to fill with hot water and soak your weary feet after a long hike. Later we bobbed in the jacuzzi and took a dip in the pool, leaving revived and ready for our next outdoor adventure.
The short drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Lech-Zürs was visually incredible with roadside pastures full of sheep and goats, flanked by the dramatic slopes of the Alps from high above. But when the landscape opened up and revealed the beautiful village of Lech-Zürs, we audibly gasped. This spot on Earth is nothing short of stunning.
A Tyrolean village perched in the Alps for centuries, Lech-Zürs has authentically evolved into what we imagine Austrian mountain towns should be like – modestly constructed wooden buildings are not too large, not too close, and not too ostentatious. The River Lech runs through the center of town, and along its banks, there are buildings with beds of colorful flowers as well as a surprising amount of public art.
Hikes in this area are legendary. Intrepid explorers can discover new heights and follow paths where hikers have trekked for more than 100 years. We took several hiking excursions over our three-night stay. Lechweg Trail was the longest at nine miles, threading through the river valley among pines and other trees and waterfalls tucked into forest canyons.
The Aurora Spa
In a sweet garden setting with 360-degree views of the Alps, the Hotel Aurora was everything we hoped for from an Austrian hotel and spa experience. Cozy and well-curated with comfortable furniture and a roaring fireplace, this family-owned gem oozes hospitality.
But let’s get right to the spa details because the wellness offerings at Aurora Spa are next level. This space is dark and luxurious, with hand-laid tile and wood-slat ceilings. In the wet and dry saunas, comfortable seating areas transitioned us into Zen mode as we sweated and warmed our muscles. We had to brace ourselves when taking a dip in the shockingly cold plunge pool. We could only stay in its icy water for a few seconds. Afterward, we tested the infrared sauna that heats your body, detoxifies the body, boosts your immune system, and calms your nervous system. This unique infrared therapy has also been known to help to relieve pain, help with the anti-aging process, lower blood pressure, and increase blood circulation and metabolism. This warmed us with a reddish glow before we headed back to the room for a good night’s sleep.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
As we planned our trip, we were excited to include Italy on the itinerary because we had heard so much about the beauty of the Italian Alps – the Dolomites. North of Venice, Cortina d’Ampezzo attracts travelers to its luxury hotels and designer boutiques. Major fashion houses have shops along the Corso Italia promenade, and stylish visitors sit at sidewalk cafes sipping prosecco while watching the world go by.
Hiking enthusiasts flock here to scale one of the many trails forming the Via Ferrata. This network of mountainside paths along sheer rock challenge some of the world’s best climbers – and novice visitors like us. Our Via Ferrata climbing experience included harnesses and carabiners latched to a steel cord as we sweated and crawled our way up. It was a harrowing, exhilarating, and amazing experience to climb a mountain – a feat we would have never thought possible. Thank goodness for the pasta reward at the end, which revived us with newfound energy and dreams of a relaxing massage.
Hotel Bellevue Spa
We loved our room at Hotel Europa, with its heated floors and wrap-around balconies. Welcoming guests for several hundred years, the hotel has amassed serious charm as an Alpine resort in the summer and winter. But there is no spa at Hotel Europa.
Luckily the Hotel Bellevue next door had a spa, and we walked but a few feet from our front door to theirs in search of an Italian spa experience. The massage was perfectly relaxing after our mountain workout, but the spa itself is the masterpiece here. Mosaic glass tiles line the walls, accented by curving wooden lounge chairs occupied by model-perfect visitors resting unclothed between experiences. In addition to the steam room and dry sauna, there was a wet sauna with jets and sprays we didn’t know we needed. Another jet-filled path took us from one rain shower to the next, each with different scented water at various temperatures.
Last but not least, we headed back to Austria and the village of Kitzbühel, home to world-class ski races like the famous Hahnenkamm Alpine downhill course, which is considered the most difficult in the world. So beautiful that it was never destroyed during centuries of wars, including the Austrian War (1809) and World War II, Kitzbühel is centered around a picturesque Old City. The cobblestone streets are lined with brightly colored buildings, shops, pubs, and restaurants. Above, on the mountainsides, a crisscross network of ski lifts and gondolas wait for snow and the onslaught of winter guests that will arrive soon to tackle the slopes.
Rain, Rest, and Shopping in Kitzbühel
Rain began to fall shortly after we arrived in Kitzbühel, and unfortunately, it continued for the duration of our visit. Although that meant hiking would not be on our agenda, we managed to get in our daily steps by working our way through the local shops. Between the fun European clothing brands, authentic sheepskin pelts, wooly sweaters, winter hats, and trendy ski clothes, we put a dent in our wallets and the local shops’ inventory.
After our retail therapy, we should have sought out a fabulous spa here at Lebenberg Schlosshotel. We’ve been told we missed out on an opportunity to enjoy their wealth of soothing experiences and gorgeous views. But alas, the mugs of warm spiked coffee and slices of apple cake waylaid us in café after café along the city streets. Sometimes it’s just perfect to sit inside next to a warm fire and watch the rainfall through fogged-up windows. Back in our cozy room at the Hotel Gastof Eggerwirt, we figured out a way to create our own private couple’s spa experience for each other. And it wasn’t half bad.
Vacation in the Alps
Are you thinking about planning a similar foray into the Alps? Well, there are several different ways to explore the world-famous chain of mountains, depending on which countries you plan to visit. Working with the good folks at Best of The Alps, we chose destinations that offered outdoor activities and luxurious accommodations. In addition to this great resource, the tourism bureau websites for each destination were extremely valuable when planning our active and relaxing journey through the Alps.