Save for a few miles on the shores of the Baltic, the Germanophone world is sadly lacking much in the way of coastline. What they lack in beaches, both Germany and Austria more than make up for with a thriving network of big resort hotels nestled in the mountains.
Hotel culture in France has been largely ruined by the rise of now ubiquitous Accor Hotels. Ibis, Mercure, Novotel and Sofitel have sucked any individuality out of the sector. Each brand carefully graded so as not to encroach into the next price bracket. You never experience any unexpected charm. You are guaranteed uniformity – which is generally uniformly bad. Britain’s hotel sector was similarly saddled by kitsch bed-and-breakfasts and latterly by the rise of Holiday Inn and Premier Inn.
But in the foothills of the Alps, both Germany – in the Berchtesgaden National Park and Austria, in the Tyrol – have a vast array of charming resort hotels tucked away in mountain valleys. Designed for the ski season – but perfect too in the summer.
I flew into Innsbruck in a creaking Bombardier turboprop. The creaking probably had more to do with the updrafts and assertive weather sweeping through the valleys than it did the ageing aircraft. The approach to Innsbruck’s delightful airport (recalling the best of Berlin’s now defunct Templehof) requires proper old-school flying by the pilots as you sweep along the valleys, making sharp turns left and right to avoid mountains which obstruct the flightpath.
Moments after stepping onto the tarmac I was at the wheel of my hire car and heading south towards Italy. Fifteen minutes later – and just before the border – I’d turned off the Autobahn and trundled along a valley to find my hotel.
The hotel, despite being similar to the countless other spread along the valley – felt individual and built to its surroundings rather than a template. It had solid-feeling wooden doors a vast Greco-Romanesque health spa. Germans and Austrians do good health spas.
At check-in I was instructed that “I will” come for coffee and cake at 3pm – the linguistic false friends of English and German, mistranslating Will and Want.
Of course the hotel staff meant that coffee and cake is served at 3pm and I would be welcome to join. But I very much liked the ‘will’ instruction. In fact this carried on for much of the stay.
I was tired and in need of rest. I wanted to have my choice limited and my decisions made for me.
Choice once was the luxury above all others. But now choice has become a chore rather than a desire. We are now surrounded by so many inane choices – often of such little consequence – that not having to chose is wonderfully refreshing.
At dinner that evening I was handed a five course menu in such flowery German, that rather than reach for the dictionary, I handed the menu back and told them to chose for me. The food was wonderful. And each course a surprise.
Tucked away in a mountain valley, the television channels were strictly limited. I left the television switched off. Have you every found anything good to watch on a hotel television anyway? And how much time have you wasted flicking through the plethora of national propaganda channels. Russia Today anyone? It was one less choice.
So I slept like a log. In the morning I descended to the breakfast room to be faced with a huge buffet breakfast. The choice was overwhelming.
What I would have given for a simple coffee and a croissant in the sun.