Hotel of the Month: Naturhotel Forsthofgut, Salzburgerland

This Austrian farmhouse has transformed from a few rooms into a hotel and on to its final form, a welcoming five-star Alpine experience

Austrian hospitality – gemütlichkeitpredated hygge and is so enveloping, it makes the Danish concept look uninviting. And nowhere is the gemütlichkeitladled on thicker than in family-run ski hotels. However, what happens when a charming guest house expands into a huge five-star resort hotel? The danger is that it becomes a soulless international luxury space.

The Schmuck family first let a couple of rooms of their Leogang farmhouse in 1960. They added a chalet-style hotel in 1990. Since 2006, however, the hotel has grown and developed into one of the most luxurious in the Alps – and is the size of a small village (a ski piste even runs through it). Yet the Forsthofgut retains its cosy appeal. On the path to the front door is a chalk board welcoming new arrivals by name. And the first thing delivered to your room is not your luggage, but a cake.

Hold off from eating that Gugelhupf though, because you’ll probably have arrived in time for a half day’s skiing. In winter, Salzburg Airport has BA flights from London City on Friday and Saturday mornings, as well as from other UK airports and international cities including Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Paris and Stockholm. And the Salzburgerland resorts are all within 90-minute transfers. Leogang is connected to Saalbach-Hinterglemm and is part of the Skicircus – with 270km of pistes, an underestimated giant of a ski area.

As well as a piste map, there is a plan of the WaldSPA too. Back when those two rooms were let in 1960, guests could swim in a natural pond. Now, the pools, saunas, treatment rooms and water slides (yep, water slides!) form a 5,700m2 steamy labyrinth spread across large parts of the hotel. The family pools and textile saunas also provide ‘a retreat for our international guests who practise different sauna cultures’). Most of the (largely Nacktzone) adults-only area is in a cool contemporary building clad in silvery-black larch. It includes a 25m pool, outdoors but not overheated (sustainability is part of the hotel’s ethos), and a rooftop hot tub. But there is also a satellite clothes-free area by the lake with an onsen, sauna and a hole in the pond for an icy plunge.

There’s a similar sense of different areas with separate vibes when it comes to the evening. The hotel has three à la carte restaurants – 1617 is a Stube serving Austrian classics; Echt is a chef’s table experience; and Mizuni is a Japanese restaurant. But most guests eat the inclusive six-course menu. Half the courses are fine-dining dishes brought to the table. For the rest, the Forsthofgut has elevated the traditional salad, cheese and dessert buffet to vertiginous levels – there are regionally specific drawers of cheese and a separate bread pantry.

Instead of one huge dining hall (too canteen-like), there are a dozen or so individually decorated dining rooms (from plush red velvet to minimalist wood to antler-adorned trophy room). And many of the ingredients are sourced from the family’s own farm or from a radius of 50km.

Forsthofgut is a year-round family hotel and has facilities or programmes for babies, toddlers, children and teens. There are craft studios, soft-play areas, even a petting zoo. The most recent addition is a world-class equestrian centre, with a covered dressage arena and stabling for guests’ own horses in addition to the hotel’s.

The other thing that’s gemütlich about Austrian ski hotels is the fact that the same guests return year after year. With the Forsthofgut, that’s essential – it takes at least a week to be able to navigate it without the map.

Hütten 2, 5771 Leogang, Salzburgerland, Austria; forsthofgut.at Chris Madigan is a London-based writer with a focus on travel and drinks

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