Enjoying the Highs
Tony Gearing takes his family on a summer trip to the southern Alps and enjoys the hospitality of the hotel Neuwirt
WE ALL KNOW a hotel can make or break a holiday. I have luxuriated in famous five-star establishments in London, Paris and New York, but I have returned to only one hotel and that is in a little-known valley in Austria.
The hotel Neuwirt nestles half-way up a hill above the bustling resort of Schladming in the southern Alps. Family-run, it offers quiet relaxation, although don’t be surprised to hear children playing. The Neuwirt achieves that continental balance where children are seen and heard, but do not get out of hand.
The home-cooked food is tasty and filling, and much of it comes from the fields around. The Neuwirt used to be a farm and the Hutegger family still rear sheep on the flowerstrewn slopes above and cattle in the lush valley below. If you are so inclined their fare will end up on your plate, but there are always vegetarian options. My kids loved the salad bar – try the local pumpkin oil – and would run off to the playroom in-between courses.
Before breakfast or dinner you can swim in the pools, inside or outside, or go to the saunas, small gym or pay for a spa treatment. The bedrooms range from cosy doubles in the original farmhouse conversion to spacious apartments in the modern wing.
But as hospitable as the Neuwirt is, don’t stay in the hotel all day – there is a whole valley to explore. Petra, the manageress, will give you a Sommercard which entitles you to free transport around the valley (although I recommend hiring a car), free rides on cable cars up the mountains as well as discounted or free activities.
Our boys tried rock-climbing under the supervision of a professional mountaineer while my wife and I enjoyed coffee and apple strudel. They also did archery while mum and dad went for a walk to work off the strudel.
The whole family went for a hike beside the Wilde Wasser river. Down in the valley, the ‘wild water’ appears to be falsely named as it flows through gently sloping fields of wild flowers with cows clanking their bells in the background. You could even push a pram here.
But, at the base of the waterfall proper, the river lives up to its name. Millions of litres plunge over rocks for hundreds of feet. The path becomes much steeper and your walk becomes more of a scramble up beside the falls.
The boys and I stopped on rocks halfway up but their more intrepid mum made it higher to a footbridge, strung between the cliffs, that looked like something out of an Indiana Jones film.
My highlight was riding on top of a cable car to visit a glacier. Yes, I said on top. For the trip up to the Dachstein glacier – at 2,700 metres the highest point in the area and nearly four times taller than the highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales – you can ride on top of the cable car in little more than a Perspex box.
Knowing I do not have a head for heights, my wife challenged me. I was lucky the ride went through clouds so I could not see just how high up I was. Back on firm ground I looked back, the clouds had cleared and the valley was beautiful.
Hotel Neuwirt’s outdoor pool