If You Only Ever Visit One Wellness Hotel, Make It Forsthofalm
What: Holzhotel Forsthofalm is a bio-hotel 1050 metres above sea level in the mountains of Salzburg and probably my new favourite place on earth. Described as a “wellness hotel”, staying there nourishes the mind, body and even the environment.
New? Originally a traditional Austrian restaurant in 1972 with 40 covers, the owners kept slowly increasing the restaurant in size, eventually adding in guest rooms. In 2008 the Widauer family handed over control to their son, Markus Widauer, who transformed Forsthofalm into the seven-storey wooden wonder that it is now.
First Impression: From the moment I left Salzburg Airport I felt like I was a in beautiful postcard, everywhere I looked were perfectly manicures lawns, picturesque houses with blooming flower boxes and most importantly, mountains. It takes 90 minutes by car to get to the hotel but it feels like being on a scenic tour rather than an extension of the journey; it’s a fairly gentle incline most of the way until it hits the bottom of the mountain and then it gets quite steep and windy for the final part up to the hotel – those with travel sickness, you’ve been warned.
On The Menu: As a vegetarian I know I’m safe as vegetable pie eating out in London, as we are catered for so well, but start venturing abroad, especially to Europe, and options become sparser; I certainly didn’t think I’d enjoy eating out in the Austrian Alps so much. Forsthofalm caters well for both vegans and vegetarians, after evolving to cater to the on-going demand they faced, as well as pescatarians and omnivores – basically everyone’s dietary requirements are covered. The main restaurant, KUKKA, aims to be as sustainable as possible, with everything sourced either in their garden or from the local area.
The Look: The hotel itself is made entirely from wood and is 70% recyclable, being environmentally friendly is important here and they also have solar panels that provide 30-40% of their power source. No glue or metal nails were used in the structure of the hotel, instead they used a special plank layering process, secured with wooden rods. It may not look the most exciting but I really enjoyed knowing how eco-friendly the hotel is.
What We Ate: For a fairly small restaurant space, they sure fit in a lot of options. The breakfast buffet is laden with choices like granola, nut butters, yogurts, a bread station with daily freshly baked bread, meats, cheese, pastries, 6 different types of honey, a juicer and fresh fruit as well as a griddle where the chef will whip you up eggs how you want them or make you fresh pancakes and waffles. Lunch is a little lighter and not so much attention is given here as people tend to be out and about, spending days in the mountains skiing or hiking or biking.
Dinner is where it gets exciting again; imagine the breakfast buffet but with salad options, so all the bread and meat again plus fresh salad, nuts, seeds and a selection of pickled vegetables plus crisps, actual crisps! That’s course one. Then you pick your starter, soup option, main and dessert – there’s also a cheese course afterwards if you’re up for it. The menu description is a little lacking, it lists a few ingredients and then it’s up to you to work out how it may come served. That’s a pet peeve of mine at restaurants but by the end, the chef had earned my trust and I was up for whatever concoction he threw my way. The best part is, if you don’t like anything, there are so many courses and so many options that you certainly won’t go hungry.
What We Drank: The difference between a vegan and non-vegan wine is how the wine is clarified (as I learned on this trip) so a lot of the wines served here are natural which makes them a little cloudy but not any less delicious. You can also make your own juice here, enjoy vegan smoothies or stick to classic tea and coffee.
The bar overlooks a grass mountain and I imagine in winter, when it’s covered in snow and the roaring fire is going, there would be few cosier places to be. Come summer, the sliding doors are opened and the patio is open for business.
What We Did: I genuinely enjoy exercise (Charlotte during school PE would tell a different story) so I was pleased with the range of classes and activities available, all of which are advertised in the reception as they change every few days. It ranges from options like sunrise yoga and yoga walks up the grass mountain by the hotel (less strenuous than it sounds) and increases in effort to circuit classes like boot camp and guided mountain walks to Birnbachloch, 1240 metres above sea level. The latter takes 2-3 hours to complete, you can quench your thirst by filling up your water bottle from a mountain spring (the ultimate refreshment), the mouth of which is at the final destination at the top.
How We Relaxed: One of the reasons I liked Forsthofalm so much is, it is very calming just simply being there, apparently natural wood can have this effect. If you need a little more than that to destress then there is a rooftop pool with beautiful mountain views and a jacuzzi area in it where you can lay down and let the bubbles get to work. A big draw is their Sky Spa where I spent much of my time melting in the steam room, sweltering in the sauna (whilst enjoying yet more beautiful mountains) and relaxing in the chill out room in my robe.
Forsthofalm grows herbs in their garden which they use liberally throughout the hotel; a different herb is used in the steam room and sauna each day, they use them in their massage oils and of course, the restaurant. Qualified massage therapist, wellness coach and Markus’ sister, Claudia Widauer, also uses the herbs to make a line of moisturisers and lip balms “Nature Kiss by Holzhotel Forsthofalm” which is sold in reception, guests can attend a masterclass to learn how they are made.
The spa program is individually tailored to the guest and their emotional state of mind, it offers 5 different types of massage based on a person’s mood. Choose from a selection of smells and touches and whatever you are drawn to will dictate the type of massage you have, it is supposed that your body instinctively chooses what it needs. I decided on ‘muscle’ with peppermint oil for an energising massage.
Go With: I genuinely think you could go here alone and have a great time, just swan about getting spa treatments and enjoying pensive mountain walks – as long as you don’t mind eating alone. While Forsthofalm is child-friendly I wouldn’t say it’s the best place for families with young children because a lot of the activities are geared towards adults like use of the SPA, circuit classes and extreme biking/mountain hikes. Couples looking to go off-grid to enjoy nature, and each other, would get the most out of this experience.
Where: Hütten 37, 5771 Leogang, Austria www.forsthofalm.com
Final Word: I love exercise, nature and eating, and Forsthofalm perfectly combines all of these elements. I felt really connected to nature, waking up every morning and drawing my curtains to see trees and a looming mountain stirred the inner hippy in me. I loved being able to start my day with yoga and freshly made pancakes before climbing a mountain and coming back to get a full body massage with herbs picked from the garden and then feasting on a 5-course eclectic, vegetarian feast. The best part is that all food, access to the SPA and all activities including guided mountain walks and all fitness classes are included as part of their ‘Mountain Life Programme’ in the nightly rate you pay, which starts from EUR 128 per person per night.