Driving into the High Tauern mountain range—part of the greater Austrian Alps—it’s easy to get carried away by the romance of it all. Like something out of a Bavarian fairytale, lush green peaks and valleys meet bushy white clouds floating across an aqua blue sky. Welcome to the Bad Gastein, otherwise known as the “Monte Carlo of the Alps.”
Much like its southern sibling in Monaco, Bad Gastein and its adjacent towns (Bad Hofgastein and Dorfgastein) attract nobility of the highest order thanks to their long-standing notoriety as spa destinations with an abundance of natural thermal baths and healing caves. For decades, Belle Époque hotels and palaces have sat precariously on the cliff sides surrounding the Gasteiner Ache, a waterfall that rushes 340 meters through the center of town.
Today the Grand Hotels and imperial elegance live on, but a fresh scene is taking hold through entrepreneurial visionaries. Hoteliers and restaurateurs have refurbished and reinterpreted what hospitality should look and feel like for today’s modern traveler, both returning the area to its former glory, while also managing to stay current.
Popular with skiers in the colder months, art lovers should visit between July and September, when the art festival Sommer Frische Kunst takes place. Year round, architecture fanatics will enjoy the brutalist structures that offer a unique tension between the romantic flourishes and futuristic lines in this otherwise old-timey Alpen town.
Bad Gastein is far from a fading beauty. Here is our guide to soaking up all the good—old and new—that this imperial spa town has on offer.
Haus Hirt, a once traditional Alpine Inn, is now a pleasing marriage of traditional and modern Austrian architecture and hospitality. Brimming with contemporary finishing and furnishings, this venue also sports an epic art collection. There are morning outings and hikes for the whole family, but there's plenty of reason to hang around for those that don’t want to leave the premises. At the Haus Hirt Bar & Restaurant, if the pleasing tinkle of glassware and twinkle of candlelight do nothing to win you over, the views and fresh organic fare should do the trick. Arrive early to have an aperitif at the bar before meandering in for a lovely meal.
The Alpen Lofts are contemporary chalets with plenty of room to spread out and take in imposing mountain views that will take your breath away through the wide bay windows. Nestled on the hillside, the structure is made of 100% natural materials and features its own thermal baths on site—the perfect place to unwind.
A stylish mountainside retreat, the former 1960’s glory of Hotel Miramonte has been polished up and brought back to life. From the gleaming green terrazzo floors to the original mural in the bar, the design details are impressive, as is the afternoon tea spread. You can also find fine cocktails and local cuisine served in a mid-century setting with bucolic views of the valley at their upscale bar and restaurant.
High up in the hills above Bad Gastein—and among the clouds—are organic gardens and a 600-year-old four-room guesthouse. The owners are a pair of former Berliners who brought their metropolitan style and locally-sourced cuisine to Bad Gastein.
A hipster haven by the restaurateur who founded the legendary Bar Hamburg in Germany, Regina Hotel is the type of place you can enjoy all day and long into the night. Be sure to check their website for classic film screenings in the property's original cinema.
Be sure to grab coffee (and cake—you’re in Austria after all) in this former power plant at the foot of the Bad Gastein Waterfall. Sit on the deck in the summer and feel the cooling mist from the adjacent waterfall.
A Bad Gastein institution, this cafe is on the lush Kaiser Wilhelm promenade. The perfect place for a pit stop on your stroll, whether you are coming or going. Try a piece of cake—never enough cake!—and a strong Austrian coffee.
Conveniently located in the center of town, the patio is a great place to idle away an afternoon of people watching, caffeinating and indulging in one of the many varieties of tortes.
Locals call it Tiny Tibet, or Patagonia of the Alps. The national park region above Bad Gastein reaches almost 3000 feet from the base and provides hikes at varying degrees of difficulty with Sound-of-Music-style views. Plan a hike followed by a hut lunch—most are located on or at the end of a trail and offer cold beer and rustic, regional cuisine.
A trip to the Gastein Valley is never complete without a visit to one of the many spa’s and thermal waters. The baths provide a welcome antidote to sore ski or hiking muscles. It doesn't hurt that this particular spot features natural boulders mixed with modern architecture and has been around for over 50 years.
The outdoor thermal swimming lake at the Alpentherme in Bad Hofgastein is not to be missed. Float among the steaming, clear blue water while surrounded by majestic mountaintops.
If you are interested in bio-hacking (or suffer from chronic pain), you’ll definitely want to plan your visit around these healing caves. Discovered by gold miners in the 16th century, the high levels of radon provided huge health benefits to all the miners who spent time in the a unique therapeutic climate of the caves.