With the 2014-15 ski season due to get underway, I head to the Austrian village of Lech am Arlberg for a couple of nights in the family-run Hotel Gotthard.
The hotel has been in the hands of the Walch family for more than 80 years and is currently run by Clemens and Nicole, a husband and wife team. Nicole originates from South Australia and like the Gotthard’s receptionists and waitresses, wears a traditional Austrian Dirndl while at work. Chatting in the hotel bar, Nicole tells me she moved to Lech 22 years ago and has been living at the Hotel Gotthard for 17.
Evolution into a 4-Star Superior hotel
“The hotel’s changed a lot. We used to have a 3-star B&B and Clemens was working full-time in the bakery but we bought the Gotthard in 2000 and completely renovated it. It went up to a 4-star hotel and is now a 4-star superior,” explains Nicole.
Clemens continues his active involvement in the Backstube Lech, the on-site bakery which produces between one and one-and-a-half tonnes of bread and pastries each day. His produce, including soda bread baked in a wood-fired in front of the hotel, is delivered to local shops and served in the Gotthard’s café and on the breakfast buffet.
“About 70 per cent of our guests come back every year. They’ve grown with us,” says Nicole. “We want guests to feel like they are coming home and are relaxed when they are here.
A modern take on traditional Alpine
The hotel’s décor blends modern and traditional Alpine influences. I’m staying in a garden-facing, Comfort class double bedroom. The room is has wood-panelled walls, a flat-screen TV plus a mini-bar and a wooden balcony with chairs. Deluxe and Superior rooms and suites are also available.
I don one of the white gowns hanging in my wardrobe and head down into the wellness area. Fellow guests relax on loungers by the swimming pool. A couple of people work out in the fitness room. The area also has a family sauna in addition to the textile-free sauna.
I do a couple of rounds of the bio-sauna, the Finnish sauna and the steam room before forcing myself into the cold pool to close my pores. I grab a cup of rooibos tea and stretch out in the relaxation room before drifting into an unscheduled sleep.
The renovated Gotthard Stube
The hotel’s Gotthard Stube dining room has been renovated ahead of the 2014-15 winter season. After rousing myself from heat-induced slumber I hurriedly dress and head into the restaurant to sample the evening dinner menu, available to guests who select the half-board option. The menu features locally sourced ingredients. I select a starter featuring lean looking venison served with a salad then order a main course of char, the succulent freshwater fish known locally as Saibling.
A selection of international and regional dishes are also available in the hotel’s Lecher Stube dining room. With a wood-panelled ceiling, patterned curtains and a tiled Kachelofen heater, most Austrian’s would describe the restaurant as gemütlich, a term evoking relaxed cosiness and tradition.
Traditional Austrian cuisine
The savoury dishes on the Lecher Stube’s a la carte menu include Tafelspitz (a traditional Austrian dish featuring boiled beef and horseradish), Wiener Schnitzel, spinach dumplings and fondues. Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancake served with apple sauce and a dusting of icing sugar) – a dish that was reputedly loved by Austria’s Emperor Franz Josef I – is among the desserts that may appeal to anyone who has built their appetite during a day in the mountains.
The hotel and the Gotthard’s staff make a positive impression but, unfortunately for me, the opening of the ski season is postponed by a week due to an unprecedented lack of snow on the first weekend in December.
“You’ll just have to come back here later in the season,” says Nicole smiling. I nod and head to the bar to order a glass of gentian schnapps before bed.
See the Hotel Gotthard (tel. +43 5583 3560 0, Omesberg 119, 6764 Lech am Arlberg) website for information on room prices and availability. Accommodation is available with breakfast and also with a half-board option (including an evening menu served in the Lecher Stube restaurant).
The hotel offers a hiking guide during the summer season along with an option to walk to the Walch’s mountain hut, about 70-minute’s by foot from the Gotthard, where breakfast can be served.
Winter sport lovers will be pleased to learn that snow fell during and after my visit. The ski season opened a couple of days after my departure and is scheduled to continue until 26 April 2015.