Hotel Tyrol

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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.

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Tumbleweed Towns


The horror film 28 Days Later depicts a (fictional) post apocalyptic UK in which our protagonists struggle for survival following the release of a deadly virus and the collapse of society.  When the protagonists reach London they find a ghost city – the empty streets around well-known landmarks looking eerie without people.

The scenes were laboriously filmed early on Sunday mornings during the long days of summer – when the sun was up but Londoners were still in bed.  The early morning light adding a gritty cinematic feel to the vacant streets.

The film would have been much easier to shoot – though less cinematically arresting – if it had been filmed in any provincial town in Britain where shops routinely shut up shop at 5:30pm – and town centres soon after take on that empty abandoned quality in the film.  

The photo above was taken at just after 6pm on a Saturday afternoon – a time when town centres should be buzzing.  The photo was taken in Eastbourne – but it doesn’t really matter where it was taken as the scene is played out across the country.

I was looking for nothing more than a coffee and newspaper. But the streets were so barren I began to fear the zombies were coming and the break down of society had already begun. And we wonder why we have a problem with the decline of highstreets in this country.

When the shops close there’s no reason to come into town. And the problem is that there’s no incentive for one shop to extend their hours as no one bothers to go into town after work, or on a late weekend afternoon because they know everything’s closing. 

But imagine if provincial town centres were routinely open for business untill 9pm. Cafes and restaurants could spill out onto the pavements. People could pop into their local shops for the odd last minute dinner ingredients and wind down with a drink –  rather than face the hassle of a vast soulless hypermarket and sprawling car park. 

As businesses close so early, what remains for local youths to do? Bored youngsters are a recipe for trouble. Empty streets encourage crime and antisocial behaviour as the moderating oversight of others vanishes.  The zombies really do come alive when the streets are empty.  

What’s required is for one brave town centre to take a punt. Perhaps to cut business rates for shops that are prepared to help add some life to town centres after hours.  Shops that only open whilst most people are at work have never struck me as a recipe for retail success. 

In 28 Days Later it was a virus that wiped out the population and laid the capital low.  London’s now buzzing late(r) into the evenings with shops and cafes routinely open till 10pm.  And the economy is doing better for it. 

It’s a simple cure. But there’s no one left to hear it.