Sleeping in thin air high up in the Alps

Sleeping in thin air high up in the Alps

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Holidaymakers can find out what it's like to slip into a pair of pyjamas at an altitude of 3,000 metres.

At 3,000 metres above sea level, the air in the Alps is low on oxygen and in winter much colder than below in the valleys.

The view, however, easily makes up for those discomforts, especially when towards the end of the day the ski runs empty, solitude closes in on the peaks, mountain goats appear and the sun disappears below the horizon.

If the thought of enjoying a sunset in the Alps seems enticing, consider spending the night in the mountains as there are a number of hotels located high in the Alps where holidaymakers can find out what it's like to slip into a pair of pyjamas at an altitude of 3,000 metres.

The highest hotel in the Alps is in Schnalstal in Southern Tyrol, in Italy. Grawand hotel has 45 rooms and is situated at 3,212 metres above sea level.

"From this point you have a view of 350 three-thousand-metre mountains as well as the only 4,000-metre mountain in the eastern Alps, the Piz Bernina," says hotel director, Arthur Gfrei. On a clear day you can see as far as Lake Garda.

If you're thinking of trekking to the summit, you'll need a few days to get used to the thin air.

Life at this altitude is more strenuous than in the valleys and people with heart conditions or high blood pressure are advised not to book into the hotel, says Gfrei.

Many guests have problems getting to sleep in the first night, "others wake up during the night."

But after a few days sleeping patterns return to normal. "The body quickly gets used to the altitude." After a week on the mountain, you return to the valley feeling like a new person.

Grawand hotel is only open in the winter season. The second highest hotel in the Alps is open all year round: Kulmhotel Gornergrat is located at 3,100 metres on the same-named mountain in Switzerland, opposite the Matterhorn.

The hotel was built in 1907 in a solid looking design with two towers capped by two domes. The 100-year-old structure is a mixture of designs that still manages to cast a spell over visitors to this day.

None of the 25 hotel rooms has a number, but are named after mountain peaks that can be seen from the room's window.

Beds, cupboards, desks and wardrobes are made of Swiss pine wood and the bathrooms are lined with granite. The walls are hung with drawings of the mountains that gave the rooms their names and each room has a rock sample from the mountain.

People from all over the world come to the hotel and it's not unusual to see Asian visitors taking a snapshot of the Matterhorn at sunrise. Astronomers also come here to study the skies.

"You can see 29 4,000-metre mountains and experience amazing sunsets and sunrises. It also has a very impressive view of the stars at night as there is no light pollution from the village below," says hotel manager, Fabienne Clemenz.

The highest hotels in Austria are in Oetztal. "They include Hotel Rimli right beside the ski run in Hochgurgl-Obergurgl," says Birgit Gamsjaeger of the Austrian tourist office in Berlin.

The hotel is 2,250 metres above sea level. "You're surrounded by 250 3,000-metre mountains as well as the Wildspitze, the highest peak in Tyrol."

There is one disadvantage to the hotel: "Guests must be ready for fast changes in the weather and bring snow chains for their cars."

Verena Wolff, dpa

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