Holzhotel Forsthofalm is a bio-hotel 1050 metres above sea level, nestled within the mountains of Salzburg. A family-run “eco-hotel” with spa in a scenic, alpine location, it’s an ideal choice for outdoor pursuits including summer hiking and biking, yoga, and winter snow sports.
The hotel is made of 70% recyclable materials, with solar panels providing 30-40% of their power source. Around 70% of the energy used by the hotel is renewable, and 40% is produced by solar power.
Owned by the inimitable Markus Widauer and his wife Claudia, the hotel has been in the Widauer family since 1972. Originally a traditional Austrian restaurant, Markus’s parents handed him the reins in 2008, and, adding rooms bit by bit, the hotel grew in size and character, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Who Goes There:
Forsthofalm is built for yoga bunnies, hikers, ski buffs in search of new terrain, and as of their recent winter après-ski parties, a torrent of new, cool kids on the block.
In the summer, guests flock to Forsthofalm for the world-class spa, along with the mountaintop yoga, circuit-training and hiking. In winter, distinguished skiers come for the black runs, while in-the-know cool kids flock here for the underground djs and outdoor terrace parties in this otherwise tranquil, unassuming valley.
Guests are largely made up of couples and friends, although it’s one of the few places I felt so comfortable, and so relaxed, I could imagine visiting solo and actually having a pretty great time.
Markus has a brood of impeccably behaved, blonde-topped, free-range children, but allows only a handful of guest’s children at any one time. While the hotel would be amazing for little ones, he keeps it predominantly adults only, which is a Very Good Thing. In the grand European tradition, the spa and pool are swimwear-optional after 3pm – the hotel is calm and serene – and gaggles of kinder splashing in the roof-top pool and tearing through corridors could very quickly burst its tranquil vibe.
The clientele is mainly German – Salzburg is pretty close to the border – followed by Austrian, with a token smattering of French and English visitors.
Reminiscent of the alpine spa in Sorrentino’s 2015 classic, Youth, Forsthofalm could be straight out of a film-set. The Sound of Music was set in these very same mountains, and everything about it is mesmerisingly cinematic. The opening scene of The Shining also comes to mind, where hypnotic panning shots of mountains and forests belie its sinister end. There was nothing sinister about Forsthofalm however, as, dear reader, I go on to explain.
Forsthofalm is constructed entirely from sustainably-felled wood, even using wooden nuts and bolts in lieu off nails. The bed, table, walls, floor, ceiling and bathroom are all solid alpine pine; rooms smell like a sauna – the olfactory holy grail.
Staying in one of the couples’ rooms in the newer part of the hotel, the minimalist decor was a perfect backdrop to the outstanding natural beauty without. Spacious and airy, the sheets were soft, the pillows pneumatic, the mattress firm and vast – and the views unreal.
All walls were constructed of alpine logs, bar one, which consisted entirely of glass, with a door opening onto the large, private, and equally bare-beamed terrace.
Replete with rocking chair and 1950s-Lindt-advert-postcard-perfect views, it’s hard to imagine a more tranquil wilderness. Think dramatic skies unfettered by street lamps, misty peaks, and nothing more than the distant chime of cow-bells to rouse you from your reverie.
The room had an unobtrusive TV, offering predominantly German-speaking channels, but I’d challenge anyone to choose television over the live Sound of Music green-screen gazing right back at them.
Venturing beyond my room, the SkySpa, with its sun-trap roof terrace, infinity hydropool, steam room and saunas was insane. Both the Hot and Very Hot saunas have glass walls and windows within spitting distance of the vertical peaks – so close you’re practically immersed in their glacial dew – reassuring when sweating in 90C heat.
There are extensive massage and spa treatments on offer – guests can choose from an array of locally sourced herb-infused oils to either relax, uplift, calm, or energise. My massage coincided with a thunderstorm – an excitingly regular occurrence – which only added to the transcendental experience. The therapist expertly worked through my knots, untangling one so deep below my shoulder-blade no previous masseur had got close.
While Forsthofalm is good at wellness, food here is on another level. For all its wholesome pursuits, the food is too good to write as an afterthought.
Most guests book on a half-board basis. A vast buffet spread breakfast with press-your-own orange juice, cooked-to-order eggs, bacon, omelettes and pancakes, a cheese and meat spread, fruit, cereals, freshly cooked bread and pastries and everything in between. This is followed by an optional light lunch (most guests are out and about and still full during the day), culminating in an evening spread so extensive it’d put Henry XIII to shame.
If you’re into hiking, come to Forsthofalm, if you’re into yoga, come to Forsthofalm, if you’re into skiing or snowboarding (and know what you’re doing), come to Forsthofalm, if you’re into hardcore mountain biking or 2km flying foxes at 100mph, come to Forsthofalm; but if you want to starve, go to the Mayr Clinic.
It’s not that there aren’t healthy options available – most of the food is incredibly healthy and all is of impeccable quality. It’s just that the food is so bloody good I’d challenge anyone to resist the standard four or five courses on offer at dinner. Which if you’re partaking in their outdoor pursuits programme, would be entirely justified.
Be wholesome, eat wholesome, look wholesome – it all seems so effortless and simple when cocooned in this other-worldly utopia. Everyone from the yoga instructors to the receptionists to the dining and bar staff epitomise this philosophy – everything in moderation – and everyone glows. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air, the natural materials that comprise the hotel, or simply a sense of serenity and well-being imparted by the improbably beautiful surrounds, but whatever it is, Forsthofalm has cracked the formula to radiant, timeless, glowing good-looks.
Out and About:
Forsthofalm prides itself on its outdoor pursuits – everything from onsite (alpine open-air) yoga classes, to yoga hikes (gentle rambles interspersed with yoga breaks at scenic spots), to more advanced mountain hikes to glaciers, all the way up to proper mountaineering, a terrifying 100mph flying fox, and some very serious mountain-bike trails.
Almost everything is included in your stay, including said hikes, fitness classes, yoga hikes, outdoor yoga in the grounds, and aerial trapeze yoga – and almost anything else can be arranged by the amazing, and amazingly hands-on owners.
Having said this, I’d happily visit for the spa alone. The rooftop infinity pool with its hydro-jets, deck-chairs and cabanas is the perfect sun-trap. The location is amazing, the rates so unfeasibly reasonable that the all-inclusive wellness programme would, for me, just be an additional bonus.
Leogang – the immediate area – is known for serious mountain biking, and bike trails wind up and around the mountains ahead. If you’re brave, and experienced, these trails are considered some of the best in the world. And if you’re a serious adrenaline junkie looking for your next white-knuckle hit, the flying fox gives Cresta a run for its money.
The views alone are incredible – the final, steep 200m drive to the hotel lurches through pine forests and perilous hairpin bends – your life may flash before you, but the beauty of the last few minutes up, up, bending, swerving, up, up and up some more to reach Forsthofalm is unmatched.
The Worst Thing:
If really pushed, the only criticism I could muster is that my alpine paradise lacked a bath, but given the exhaustive (and exhaustingly beautiful), sauna and steam rooms, not to mention the rooftop pool nestled between glaciers, I imagine most guests would have drunk their fill of H2O several hours before bedtime.
Being used to a meditative hourly bath morning and evening, I was surprised to find I didn’t actually miss my daily immersions. And as well as offering an optional private rooftop bath for couples (on request, at cost), replete with rose petals and Champagne, I’m pretty sure you could just request a room with a bath if it were that important to you.
The Best Thing:
The vast rolling hills and mountains surrounding the hotel in every direction; the view of said peaks from your bed; the tranquil rooms, with improbably comfortable mattress and bedding; the alpine yoga and glacier mountain hikes; the restaurant terrace surrounded by cattle – distant cow bells on the wind the soundtrack to each meal; the rooftop pool and spa; the wonderfully friendly staff and atmosphere; and last, but certainly not least, the insane selection and calibre of food.
The fact that all of the above comes at a mind-bogglingly low price is absolutely baffling. Sort your prices out Forsthofalm – just not before I’ve sent all my friends there, and returned with my boyfriend, which I’m planning on arranging ASAP!
Rooms at Forsthofalm start from €128 per person per night based on bed and breakfast. For more information visit www.forsthofalm.com.