indoor spa with chairs

The Tyrolean Alps in southern Austria and the Dolomites of northeastern Italy (also called South Tirol) have one of the most stunningly beautiful natural landscapes in the world — jagged mountain peaks, crystalline skies, piles of soft snow in winter, colorful wildflowers in spring, verdant green forests in summer, and vivid foliage in autumn. But what makes the region
especially appealing is the hospitality that’s equal parts homespun and five star. A hotel might have all the trappings of 21st-century luxury, but also staffers who wear dirndls and hotel mascots like a deer wearing pearls and a fedora. Unsurprisingly, the cheese in these establishments is extraordinary. But so is everything else, from the elderberry juice to the deep wine cellars, from the mountain sports to the lavish spas, from the unselfconscious folksiness of the live music to the sophisticated service of a five-course dinner. And then there’s the fascinating world of the coed, naked event saunas.


Stanglwirt, Kitzbühel

It’s tricky to pick a favorite detail of this hotel in the Kitzbühel Streif mountain recreation area, but one is that parts were built with recycled wood — in this case Arolla pine — some six decades ago, way before sustainability became fashionable. Current owner Balthasar Hauser was only 17 when he took over the property that had been in his family since 1722 (making him the 11th generation to do so), and no bank would give him a loan to buy anything new. More than 60 years later, Stanglwirt has grown into a 170-room resort, with all the new wings connected in a warren of confusing corridors. The stable is wrapped inside that maze, and the cows are visible through glass in the dining room of the homestyle Gasthof tavern. (There’s great cheese, obviously, and much of the other food comes from the resort’s own 160-acre farm.) The spa is massive, with some 130,000 square feet of space and the largest saltwater pool in Europe, and Austria’s own Arnold Schwarzenegger designed part of the gym. There’s also a tennis academy and Austria’s first private Lipizzaner riding school — the arena can be seen from the bar.

Das Edelweiss, Grossarl

luxury indoor pool at das edelweiss mountain resort
Courtesy, @Das Edelweiss Mountain Resort

Das Edelweiss started life in the late 1970s as a simple café and guest house with 14 rooms. The Hettegger family, longtime natives of this region outside Salzburg, expanded it to a bed-and-breakfast, and then a smaller hotel. Their son Peter Jr. worked as a lumberjack before coming back to the family business and expanding it further. Still, the aesthetic is old-timey mountain lodge, all rough-hewn wood and bowls of apples on the counters. There’s a massive spa with an event sauna, of course, and a number of other expansions and improvements over the years have earned it five-star status. There’s also a bit of quirk, when I arrived close to midnight, I heard a club mix of “Rocky Mountain High” playing in the hotel bar (a staff party, not a nightly event). Founder Peter Hettegger remained highly involved until his death at the beginning of this year, at age 94, and 14 family members still work at the now-148-room hotel, in roles ranging from CEO to restaurant server. One of them is head chef Alexander Hettegger, whose Edelweiss Mountain Cuisine earned the hotel two toques in Gault & Millau.

DasPosthotel, Zell am Ziller

Chrstina, Reinhard, and the rest of the Binder-Egger family sign the promotional texts welcoming guests to their family-run, nature-and-design hotel that “strives for a unique feel-good atmosphere” in the Zillertal, a four-season mountain resort. DasPosthotel was envisioned with timber construction, bold colors, and clean lines by architect Thomas Urthaler and interior designer Harald Margreiter to reflect the nature around it. Their restaurant, DieMarie, relies on regional organic products to create a modern Austrian cuisine with vegetarian specialties as well the customary carnivore fare. The eggs come from their own chickens, the bread is baked daily from a family recipe, and the venison bacon is from deer they hunted themselves.

Das Goldberg, Bad Hofgastein

slopeside pool in the salzburg region of the alps

Georg and Vera Seer sign the welcome letter, along with their children, Anna and Peter, at this slopeside hotel in the Salzburg region. Currently undergoing a renovation, the design and nature hotel Das Goldberg will be back in July for the summer 2024 season, with an increased emphasis on views of the high peaks of the Hohe Tauern — floor-to-ceiling windows in the expanded restaurant and terrace, a covered outdoor extension of the lounge (enlarging the infinity pool to nearly 75 feet long), and adding glass roofing to the sun terrace to make it usable throughout the year. As always, the guiding philosophy is “Forest.Meadow.Valuable” and everywhere you turn, there are local woods such as spruce and oak, regional plants like ferns hanging from blackened metal rods, and decorative elements in wool, linen, and leather. Unexpectedly, the place has an Alpine beach bar, with tropical drinks, light snacks, daybeds, and “heaven swings” beside a natural swimming pond.


Hotel Chalet Mirabell, Merano

sauna overlooking the mountains
Courtesy, @Hotel Chalet Mirabell

It’s the view that greets you when you arrive at Hotel Chalet Mirabell that wins you over: jutting peaks in the background, rolling hills in the middle distance, and the hotel’s gardens and pool in front. And although you can’t see it, the cable car to the top of the Merano 2000 ski Resort — which also has trails for summer hiking and mountain biking — is a short shuttle ride away. Local owners Christine and Michael Reiterer received the plot of land as a wedding gift, and having grown up in hotels, they knew right away they wanted to make one of their own. They opened in 2004 with 16 rooms. Now it’s grown into a luxury hotel with 70 guest rooms with stylish wood furniture and those silly deer on the walls, and one of the largest wellness zones in the region, with a “room of tranquility” and a full floor (and week) devoted to saunas. The buffets at the Alpine Lifestyle Restaurant, which is recommended in the Michelin guide, are luxuriously laden with fresh products from nearby farms, organic meats from the village butchers, and local cheese.

Forestis, Brixen

More elegant and less quirky than some of the other hotels in the region, the new Forestis is offering “peace as a new luxury” and emphasizing four natural elements — pure spring water, fresh mountain air, hours of sunshine, and a mild climate — and a tasteful wood-forward architecture that plays up the sense of place. Hosts Teresa Unterthiner and Stefan Hinteregger (the son of the man who found the abandoned building in the year 2000 and first turned it into a hotel) emphasize the natural doctrine of the Celts, who once called this land home. The Dolomites’ mountain sports are always on offer, of course, but there the emphasis is on mindfulness and wellness, less adrenaline and more contemplation.

Castel Hörtenberg, Bolzano

castel hortenberg pool
Courtesy, Castel Hörtenberg

Although it’s no longer in the hands of the founding family, this meticulously restored Renaissance castle has an impressive 500 years of history. Now the only five-star hotel in Bolzano — the “gateway to the Dolomites” — Castel Hörtenberg began when Leonard Hiertmair arrived in the city and transformed the estate into a mansion. He managed to be elected mayor, obtained the title of baron from the emperor, and changed the family name to von Hörtenburg. Like any good European castle, it saw its share of battles and wars, not to mention love affairs and childbirths, and changed hands a few times before landing in those of real estate developer Alex Podini and his daughter, Anna. Over the past few years, they’ve overseen every step of the renovation together. Her youth and cosmopolitan upbringing make the palace stand out from other hotels in the region, as seen in the rooms they combine traditional elements with streamlined contemporary furnishings.

Featured image courtesy of @Das Edelweiss Mountain Resort

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