The remote natural beauty of the Austrian Alps has Jane Thynne Googling the definition of sublime
Woody Allen famously said he was at two with Nature, and there are many frazzled city dwellers who agree with him. But if you wanted to revoke that feeling for a few sublime days and experience a genuinely restorative connection with the full-on power of Nature, there are few better places than the Forsthofalm Timber Hotel.
Perched 1,050 metres up the Austrian Alps, an hour’s drive from Salzburg, the hotel presents as a typical, gemütlich, chalet style lodge, designed for winter skiers and summer hikers. But that would be deceptive. In fact the hotel’s owners are keen to tap into the year-round wellness market with an eco-hotel concept that offers a holistic experience of spa treatments, yoga programmes and an extraordinary range of organic and vegan food.
The first striking aspect of the hotel is the construction itself. Following the Austrian tradition of whole timber houses, it is made of ‘moon wood’, felled between January and November so that the levels of sap are low and the wood is super-durable. Beech wood dowels, rather than nails or glue, are used in the construction and rooms have names like Small Eden, Mountain Love and Secret Forest - in which the pine bed is suspended by ropes and surrounded by tree trunks. The ultra luxurious Suite 180 offers a panoramic view of meadows and forests while you enjoy your home theatre, open fire and outdoor sauna.
So far, so hipster – but in fact it works. The naturalistic flow of the walls, the cossetting timber, the décor of slate, linen, jute, leather and clay, make you feel immersed in Nature. The air is perfumed with larch, birch, beech and pine. Wood is supposed to slow the heart rate and while I’m hazy on the medical evidence, it did certainly improve sleep. The attention to holistic detail extends to the Sky Spa, where customers are asked to decide which element of their being most needs sustaining – brain, soul, energy, love or muscle – and massage oils and ambient music tailored accordingly. Frankly I needed all five, but I chose brain (the most popular choice for stressed-out city dwellers) and received an hour of life-enhancing massage. The chemical free oils and creams are devised by Claudia Widauer, the owner’s sister, using herbs picked from the surrounding mountains.
These herbs are also incorporated into the hotel’s food, and it’s the cuisine that is Forsthofalm’s USP. The Kukka restaurant, with charcoal grill and bread oven at its heart, offers a range that includes the most delicious vegan food I’ve encountered. Far removed from the chickpea-dominated sludge vegans expect, the proprietor Markus Widauer presides over a locally sourced menu that includes sweet potatoes hollowed out and stuffed with mushrooms, tofu steaks grilled on an outdoor fire-pit, vegan burgers and pancake desserts. This is not to deter meat-eaters, who are superbly catered for. A traditional ‘Jause’ savoury tea is served between 3-5pm, with a range of sandwiches, hot food and cakes.
For the full-on Sound of Music experience, take a swim in the rooftop outdoor pool against the background of the awesome Leoganger Steinberge. In winter, guests can ski to the door, and in summer hikes include a mountain walk fragrant with mint and thyme and the ground bursting with sweet alpine strawberries. A path with views straight out of Caspar David Friedrich takes you to the Birnbaumloch – a river source where wild and icy water tumbles from a shady cave and Wagner might as well be seated alongside you.
It’s not only the soul that is catered for. A range of exercise classes is provided in the well-equipped gym and a variety of yoga traditions practised on the alpine grass. All rooms have bathrooms, balconies and terrace, but although they are welcome, it would not be the ideal place to take children; the rooftop pool is too small and the spa area sometimes off limits. Packages include couples breaks, girls’ breaks, and ‘babymoons’ and the hiking and mountain-biking mean that if one member of a couple is ski-phobic, they won’t have to sit fretting by the fire.
Even when the cloud comes down over the mountains, and the air is thick with pine and mist, the peace is indescribable, and had me Googling the Wordsworthian definition of the sublime; a spiritual connection with the grandeur of nature. Three days is almost enough for complete detachment, though I still thought it was my iPhone buzzing, when in fact it was only the distant low of friendly cows.
Holzhotel Forsthofalm, Leogang, Austria.
Hütten 37, 5771 Leogang, Austria
Tel: +43(0)6583/85 45
Prices with ¾ board and pampering from €128 pp per night (winter)
€119 pp per night (summer)
Suite 180 from €215 pp per night, (winter) €205 pp per night (summer)