Travel editor Neil Sowerby relishes two equally ravishing sides of contemporary Austrian hospitality in the Tirol – at the Hotel Rosengarten, Kirchberg, and the Singer Sporthotel, Bergwang – and revisits Sound of Music location Salzburg
THE last time I saw Salzburg I was a hippy youth, on a swift stop-off. I just had time to teeter perilously on the castle ramparts while juggling Mozartkugeln. Named after the city’s favourite musical son, they are still the tourist confectionery must-buy, like shortbread in Edinburgh – a cityscape similarly hewn from volcanic rock.
Now, older and wiser – and strolling complacently to the world’s oldest restaurant – I resisted an urge to revisit these chocolate-coated pistachio marzipan balls.
There was no escape from Wolfgang Amadeus’ legacy of the musical sort. But who would want to? At Festival time, even the buskers were giving us their Kleine Nacht Muzak on every corner.
Inside the St Peterstiftskeller dining complex, it was just a step up the musical scale. Bewigged and frock-coated performers hauled cellos and bassoons to the ornate upper floor ballroom to regale between courses a couple of hundred Japanese enthusiasts.
The immortal HerbertFounded around 800AD, the Stiftstkeller, within the monastery walls of St Peter’s ArchAbbey, is reputedly the world’s longest continuously operating restaurant. We dined in the bustling, arched courtyard, flickering candles casting shadows where a Salieri might lurk.
Great atmosphere, great service... but food that falls short of its aspirations. Who cares? What a people watching spot. Green Loden jackets, dirndls, lederhosen... cocking a snook at any contemporary Zeitgeist. Cashmere coats draped across tweed shoulders accompanying concert-going silk cocktail frocks. Veteran couples asserting the natural pecking order in this epicentre of Salzburg sophistication.
It felt like a scene out of The Sound of Music, if truth be told, but Hollywood’s “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Nuns and Nazis” saga, sicklier than a sticky kugel, has never been popular with the locals. I love it and was only narrowly prevented from breaking into ‘Climb Every Mountain’.
As we left, in recompense for my frivolity, I bowed solemnly to the image of Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989, 200m classical records sold), conductor and presiding magus of the Salzburg Festival. Then our driver steered us out of the car park caverns under the castle and out into the star-speckled Tirolean night.
Hotel RosengartenAn hour later and we were back at our initial Austrian base, at Kirchberg near Kitzbuhel, the Hotel Rosengarten. The phrase “spoilt rotten” applied here and continued to do so at our later billet up near the Bavarian border, the Singer Sporthotel & Spa.
The two hotels have one big thing in common, apart from the glorious surrounding mountain scenery. Both have been family-run for a long time and are now in the confident hands of a new generation. The emphasis at each, though, is quite different.
FOR chef/proprietor Simon Taxacher at Hotel Rosengarten there is a huge balancing act going on. Now 35, he has held two Michelin stars since 2009, which is a remarkable achievement for an Austrian “out in the sticks”. Driven man? Yes. Committed to chasing perfection in his own kitchen rather than TV celebrity, he has complemented his upmarket Restaurant Rosengarten with 26 rooms and suites.
This new-look set-up is divided off from the homelier original Hotel Taxacher, which retains a separate kitchen and traditional feel. It all ought to feel schizophrenic, but it doesn’t.
Two consecutive tasting menus, with nothing repeated and a dazzling spectrum of clearly articulated flavours, convinced us of a talent rarely encountered in contemporary British fine dining. The nearest I can think of, though more whimsical, is Simon Rogan up at L’Enclume in Cartmel.
Just a sample of Simon’s French Med influenced cuisine: St Pierre and Coquilles St Jacques sauteed, jellied cucumber; Deer, raspberry, pignolia, milk skin; Goose Liver, Gianduja bitter chocolate, granny smith; Elderberry-foam kiss, sweet woodruff.
Michelin artistry on a plateThe wine list, though negotiating the classic peaks expected of a Michelin-starred establishment, also offers a primer of more affordable Austrian bottles, including some interesting reds from grapes such as Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch.
Of course, eating at this intense level takes its toll and the basement holds an a la cate spa menu, Finnish sauna, steam rooms and a relaxation area with water beds, all perfect for a pamper. Add stupendous walking opportunities in the summer and Kitzbuhel’s great ski slopes on the doorstep for winter and you get far more than a “destination restaurant” for your money.
PAMPERING comes on an even more extravagant scale at the Singer Sporthotel & Spa, two hours away on the other side of Innsbruck. This is affiliated to Relais & Chatesu and the attention to detail shows. A colossal sum must have been spent on its separate spa complex on three levels, reached from the substantial timbered hotel proper by a dazzling, carpeted tunnel.
After treatments (I recommend the exclusive Caudaliewine therapy) you can lounge in the spa bistro or by the heated indoor/outdoor pool with panoramas of the mountains all around. Berwang is in the Zugspitze area, less pastoral than Kirchberg but no less attractive.
Singer spa complexThe head of the treatment team even took us on a guided tour up the wooded valley where she gathered wild plants to use in the treatments. It was an example of the well-honed hospitality the Singer family been practising at the hotel since 1927, latterly in the hands of Gunter and Gertie, now with son Fabian taking a prominent role.
When we arrived he had just returned from leading a group walk up the nearby 2,366m Roter Stein, one of several seriously challenging peaks in the area. Our freshly-renovated pine suite, the Thaneller, was named after another. It smelt like a walk in the forest. On our actual walks, though, we gravitated towards cheating, taking a ski-lift up, then ambling down with a beer en route. Highly recommended is the home is the dunkelbier from the Thaneller Gasthof microbrewery up the valley at Rinnen.
When a couple of heavy rain squalls turned up and changed plans, the Singer really came into its own, cosseting us with its innate Gemutlichkeit in the expansive upstairs lounge and dining rooms. The guests’ table d’hote food doesn’t aim to compete with the Rosengarten, but when we dipped into the a la carte menu on the second night we found a wealth of traditional flavours with contemporary refinement.
Which just about sums up, the Singer. Highly recommended and amazing value.
For Neil Sowerby’s Top Tirol Tips for the Great Outdoors visit www.planetconfidential.co.uk/Abroad/Top-Tirol-Tips.
Hotel Rosengarten, Aschauerstrasse 46. 6365 Kirchberg in Tirol. Austria (+43 5357 4201-50, www.rosengarten-taxacher.com).
Rooms are named after gourmet treats as befits a hotel attached to a 2 Michelin star restaurant. Ours was the Alba (home of white truffles in Italy). Standard double from 220 euros winter, 190 euros summer. Deluxe suite from 560 euros winter, 520 euros summer, inc gourmet breakfast but not local tax. Dinner menu priced between 102 and 135 euros.
To get there by air:
Salzburg – easyJet from Stansted – transfer 75 minutes; Innsbruck easyJet and BA from Gatwick – transfer 75 mins.
Singer Sporthotel & Spa 6622 Berwang, Tirol, Austria (+43 5674 8181 www.hotelsinger.at/en/).
A variety of prices. The room we stayed in, the deluxe junior suite Thaneller, will cost between 149 euros and 160 euros a night in summer 2012, 179 euros this winter, with a premium price of 240 euros over Christmas/New Year.
To get there by air:
Memmingen Ryan Air from Stansted – transfer 60 mins; Innsbruck easyJet and BA from Gatwick – transfer 75 mins; Munich BA from Heathrow and Gatwick –- transfer two hours.
To catch an early Ryanair direct flight from Stansted, we stayed at the Travelodge Bishop Stortford. Travelodge has 477 hotels (32,000 across the UK, Ireland and Spain and plans to grow its estate to 70,000 rooms (approximately 1,000 hotels) by 2020.
Over nine million people stayed with Travelodge last year and 87 per cent of reservations are currently made online at www.travelodge.co.uk, where room rates start at £19 a night.
Airport Parking and Hotels (APH):
We made use of their valet parking service at Stansted. One week’s Off-Airport Valet Parking booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH), costs from only £25.52. The car parks are situated only 10-15 minutes from terminals and offers regular complimentary transfers. One weeks Meet and Greet Parking (met at terminal) costs from only £40. APH offers services from all major UK airports. Visit www.aph.com or call 01342 859515.
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