"For many, one ‘rule of thumb’ we cling to, while contemplating a re-run of a memorable holiday or life-changing experience, is to ‘never go back’. Those rose-tinted, halcyon days of our youth, especially, are cherished as never-to-be-repeated times of endlessly sunny summers when the Flake in your ‘99’ was unquestionably bigger – and flakier – and the pound in your pocket-money pocket went much, much further...
So it was with some trepidation that I anticipated my first return to Austria’s winter wonderland in over 30 years. Was the love affair that had crystallised with my zweite Heimat (‘second home’) back in the early 1980s about to turn to slush? Given that I no longer bear even a passing resemblance to German pop queen Nena (with or without her 99 Luftballons ), it seemed unfair to expect the well-worn mountain slopes of the Austrian Tyrol to have held up any better through the passage of time.
But when I returned, I realised that I need not have worried. OK, the bouffant hair-dos and menacing shoulder pads of 30-odd years ago might have been consigned to the dustbin of history (no great tragedy, perhaps); but here at the heart of vibrant, 21st-century Europe there is still space for family values and long-held traditions to endure, and for the Tyrol’s bucolic landscapes to enchant in a singularly timeless fashion. Amid such unsullied surroundings, my sense of nostalgia remained happily intact.
Pertisau, an otherwise unremarkable village, little-known in the UK outside Inntravel circles, is famed for two reasons. Firstly, cyan-hued Achensee – by whose shores it nestles – is the largest lake in the Tyrol; secondly, it provided the inspiration for British author Elinor Brent-Dyer to pen her episodic Chalet School series, set in an Alpine boarding school. For this particular foreigner, though, the Leithner Ski School held even greater significance: it took me back to an even earlier time when my polyester-clad mates from East Yorkshire and I underwent tutelage on our first – and therefore never-to-be-forgotten – ‘School Ski Trip’. We were under the watchful eye of Gustav Leithner, current owner Christoph’s father, and we’re not even talking Spandau Ballet or the Sony Walkman here – think Slade, Farrah Fawcett and that most indispensable of all 70s mod-cons, the teasmade.
But all was just as charming as I’d remembered, and even the weather played ball with possibly the heaviest snowfall since – yes, you’ve guessed it – 1983! That said, Ms Brent-Dyer would have been somewhat taken aback to see how a simple Tyrolean farmhouse, so lovingly described in her books, had been transformed into the fabulous Hotel Wiesenhof, with its state-of-the-art swimming pool capable of morphing into a dance floor at the flick of a switch. This fusion of modernity and tradition, I reflected, is the country at its finest: neither style nor that much-admired sense of Gemütlichkeit (an untranslatably warm sense of well-being) are compromised in the Austrians’ quest for the pinnacle of hospitality, and unbeatable standards of customer service.
I might have used GPS to navigate my electric car through this idyllic country, largely unscathed by the ravages of time, but the strains of Wham’s Club Tropicana are still playing in my head."