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Hoof it to Austria and rein in time of your life at spa resort; NICOLA DUNSEITH unwinds in style near Vienna and finds a few surprises.

Byline: NICOLA DUNSEITH

IT'S never easy when you don't speak (or read) the language so imagine my horror after stepping into the male changing rooms, or so I thought.

Trying to make a speedy exit from the marbled surroundings of what had been crowned Austria's best spa, I slipped in water from the giant jacuzzi and then it finally hit me - they all go naked over here.

The ethos at Reiter's Burgenland Resort is for well-being and while mine was interrupted it was quickly restored in the luxury getaway just south of Vienna.

But the sumptuous spa was merely complementary to my stay and to ease my weary muscles after a day horse riding.

From hacks on riding trails - which some of our group chose to do in the snowtipped woodland - to dressage training with Grand Prix rider Kirsa Steinbock in the indoor sand school which I opted for.

What made this really special was that most of the horses were Lipizzaners - or "emperor's white horses", the ones that are famously trained to leap in the air.

This impressive breed is renowned the world over and I was pleasantly surprised that many here were quiet enough for even beginners - and kept four hooves on the ground as required.

On arrival, we had been very aptly given a tour of this resort by horse-drawn carriage.

With a distinct chill in the air the horses weren't for hanging about but under the capable care of guide Patrick we were shown the sights in style. It was a magical introduction and accompanied with an exceptionally warm welcome we were to get quickly used to - every member of staff says hello and most speak perfect English (apart from the Shaolin monk but I'll get to that).

The carriage took us from the door of the five-star Supreme Hotel and around the grounds with professional tennis training arena, 18-hole golf course and, of course, the equestrian facilities. And with steam rising from the amazing outdoor thermal pools it hinted at what the awesome spa had to offer.

The Reiter Spa is built around a natural hot water spring and the water comes from a depth of 896m at a divine 32.6C - the only down side is you can only stay in it for 20 minutes.

The Yin-Yang Spa also boasts fresh and salt water pools, hot whirlpool, Roman steam grotto, organic herb steam room and various saunas, pool bar with fresh juices and vitamin drinks. There's even a sleeping room and relaxation room where you "float" on water-like beds.

And if you're still not totally relaxed then a La Stone massage will be your saving grace.

There's also a Merkur Centre which offers a more medical approach to your needs.

Also in the grounds was a fourstar Avance hotel which caters specifically for families and has thought of everything.

From mini pizza parlours for kids to supervised play areas and pools, the parents can get a break too - or not if they prefer to keep their tiny tearaways with them at all times.

The hotels are linked by an underground tunnel, which is adorned with marble walls, boutiques, hairdressers, glass wine cellar (of which there are guided tours) and fitness rooms.

And it was here where I got a beginner's guide to Tai Chi from a master - a Shaolin monk on a sixmonth "loan" from a Chinese monastery.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well I could follow the routine while slightly perturbed at his flexibility, particularly the splits.

We had a translator but the monk's relaxed demeanour and sense of humour spoke for itself.

We also had a crash course in Ashtanga yoga which is a favourite with celebrities and a fantastic complementary course for athletes.

It counteracts muscle imbalances, increases concentration while increasing stamina.

I have to admit I found this a little more taxing, but a few glasses of wine the night before - I have no willpower - may not have helped my 7.30am workout.

Our instructor, again, was one of the best in the world in Sylvia Hammerl.

Feeling virtuous at our earlymorning routine we could head to the restaurant for breakfast. With a sophisticated juice room you could create just about whatever combination you wanted.

The huge buffet area had everything could think of and far more besides along with table service.

Depending on your mood, there's a restaurant to suit you. For decadent dining there's Traube which has a Gault Millau award.

The high-class food here was washed down with some wonderful local wine - I took the liberty of buying a few bottles I spied at the airport so I could fondly remember my holiday.

I'm far from a connoisseur but this was very good and tremendous value as it's made in the area.

We also enjoyed a few glasses of champagne after our horseriding success as we had decided to celebrate in style - almost, we were still in jodhpurs.

At just EUR7 a glass it was great value for the five-star surroundings as we bagged a seat by the roaring fire in the vast lobby bar with panoramic views.

It's easy to get swept up in the surroundings of this hotel which is designed to unwind but you don't have to panic about the purse strings as it is reasonably priced for that very reason according to owner Karl Reiter.

He was often spied about the hotel and sometimes with his white Alsatian in tow - dogs are welcome.

Coming from a hotelier background he accompanied his passion for horses in making this resort unforgettable.

And for anyone hoping to escape the the galloping pace of daily life it's a tonic to the body and soul.

HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT IT COSTS

WE FLEW with Ryanair from Gatwick to GRAZ Airport. Direct flights are also available from Dublin.

We were travelling with THE RIDING COMPANY who met us at the airport so the one-hour transfer is included in the price.

Five-star SUPREME Hotel at REITER'S BURGENLAND RESORT includes half-board accommodation, use of Yin-Yang spa among various other facilities.

You can book a 7-night comprehensive riding holiday from pounds 850 or tailor to your specific needs with yoga/Tai Chi combinations if you wish.

You can also book a basic break with as many hacks, private lessons, carriage driving lessons, carriage rides or pony rides with prices from pounds 14.

Suites are also available.

At the four-star AVANCE hotel all meals and drinks are also included as is childcare from 9am to 9pm.

For more information visit the website WWW.THERIDINGCOMPANY.COM

LATE FLIGHT DEALS

GOA Head for the coast of south-west India with return flights from pounds 429pp, departing London Heathrow until June 30. Visit www.cheapflights.co.uk

REYKJAVIK Icelandair is offering flights from Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow to the cool capital of Iceland from pounds 98pp (one way). Visit www.icelandair.co.uk or call 0800 988 9989.

CAPE TOWN Drink in the in the sights of Table Mountain and the fabulous Cape wine regions. The Flight Centre has late availability departures to Cape Town for pounds 432pp until June 30. Offer ends May 31. Visit www.flightcentre.co.uk

PACKAGES

TUNISIA Combine culture and relaxation with three nights at the Dar Said in Sidi Bou Said in North Africa followed by four nights on the island of Jerba at the Movenpick Ulysse Palace (right). Price is pounds 830pp between May 28 and June 23, including breakfast, plus return scheduled flights from Gatwick or Heathrow airports and private transfers. Call 020 7836 4999 or visit www.aspectsof tunisia.co.uk for more info.

THAILAND Spend 10 nights in Thailand at the Regent Chalet Cha-am on a room-only basis for pounds 599pp. This price is for departures on June 18 including Gulf Air flights from Heathrow airport. For further information go to www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk or call 0871 664 0246.

IBIZA Stay at the Miami Apartments in Escana on thee Balearic island from pounds 285pp on a self-catering basis. Departing Gatwick on May 28. Visit www.thomas cook.com or call 08450 70 25 30.

CAPTION(S):

LESSON: Nicola riding Beletria the Lipizzaner; DRIFT AWAY: Ultimate relaxation in the spa; IMPRESSIVE: Spa resort south of Vienna; TRAINING: Lipizzaner springs into action at show; DIVE IN: Relax your weary muscles at one of various pools at Reiter's Burgenland Resort
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 17, 2008
Words:1394
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