Arlberg’s classic hotels blend local village DNA with generational commitment.
At the Gastof Post hotel, Florian Moosbrugger greets me.
He traces his family history at this five-star hotel in the village of Lech to his great, great grandparents.
At the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel in St Christoph, it’s Florian Werner — the fourth generation of his family running this place.
The family dynasties running classic hotels in Austria are sort of hotel royalty.
It is a unique feature of hospitality in Austria — I’ve seen nothing quite like it anywhere else.
It identifies Austrian tourism: Five star and family run.
Florian Moosbrugger refers to the historic Gasthof Post hotel in Lech as his “house”. And, indeed, he grew up in it, just as his own children are.
His grandparents, Erich and Irma Moosbrugger, opened the Gasthof Post as a small hotel in 1937.
It was the advent of skiing. Local skier Hannes Schneider had founded the first ski school here in Arlberg in 1922, and the first T-bar to tow skiers up the slopes was installed in nearby Zurs the year they opened.
Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Prince Bernhard came to stay at the Post and a deep, enduring friendship began between the two families.
International celebrities followed through the 1960s — skiing became the jet set’s winter treat.
Erich and Irma, both passionate skiiers, had three children and son Franz and his wife Kristl — Florian’s parents — took over the Gasthof Post in 1964.
Franz died of altitude sickness in the Himalayas in 1988 and Kristl ran the hotel. Her presence is still felt — she shot the big ibex which has been stuffed and stands near reception.
Florian and wife Sandra took over the hotel’s running in 1999.
They are the face of the hotel — Florian, in his traditional, collarless trachten jacket, and Sandra in her dirndl, a white bodice with a full skirt and apron.
The family is its heart.
Pig herder Heinrich Findelkind saw pilgrims getting lost and dying in winter in this Alpine valley. He managed to get land from the brotherhood of St Christoph and, in 1386, took in the first guests at what is now Arlberg Hospiz Hotel.
The Werners have owned and run the hotel since the 1950s. They, too, were there at the start of the skiing boom.
Florian says his father was a consummate and very creative host. He introduced “five o’clock tea” — gatherings for skiers before they went to dinner.
Florian was born here in November 1966. His first real appearance in the hotel was when his father put him in the Christmas crib, to play the part of the infant Christ.
“I was just the right size,” he says. “My first job was being Jesus.”
Florian says of being family owned and run: “It’s our strength. It’s what makes us different from the rest of the world.”
But he adds that the challenge now is to be a chief executive handling spreadsheets from 8am and the host entertaining guests until midnight.
Florian, also an abstract painter, has taken the hotel into a new era by building and selling luxury apartments to fund the building of the Arlberg1800 art exhibition and concert space. There have been 160 concerts here since October 2015.
He has also continued to develop what is recognised by many as one of the best wine cellars in Europe, holding vintages worth €45 million ($71 million). It is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever seen, lined with magnums, methuselahs (which hold the equivalent to eight bottles) and even balthazars (holding 16).
The original cellar under the Hospiz dates to 1386.
We lunch in the hotel’s restaurant, surrounded by wood panels, carvings, the honour board of the Ski Club Arlberg, and warmed by flames in the Arlberg’s biggest fireplace.
Almost next door to the Gasthof Post in Lech is the Gotthard hotel, with a warm welcome from Nicole and Clemens Walch.
Adelaide-born Nicole came from Australia to ski 28 years ago, and met and married Clemens, joining the sprawling Walch family.
The hotel has 52 rooms, its own bakery and patisserie, is famous for its strudel and ice-cream made from local milk, makes three types of gin, and is opening a microbrewery, making beers from its own spring water.
Clemens’ father died when he was 17, and his mother allocated each of four sons to a trade. Clemens’ choice was to be a butcher or baker but as any bread not sold one day could be sold the next for crumbs for schnitzel, his mother settled on that and the bakery was opened in 1931.
Despite this deep local history, Nicole brings a certain, comfortable, vibrant, fun, low-key Australianness to the hotel, making it a comfortable and popular place for us to stay.
Top end of town
The modern version of this hospitality is seen at exclusive hotels like the Hotel Tannenhof in St Anton, where enthusiastic owner and general manager Axel Bach casts a commanding presence.
He and wife Judith Volker are host and hostess.
They bought the hotel in 2010, rebuilt it in 2011 in 186 days into an exclusive, high service, seven-suite property.
At Aurelio in Lech, Max Pfefferkorn’s surname is synonymous with the village, and he blends his global five-star hotel experience with the history of having a host.
The newly built property blends clean contemporary design and flawless local materials with an acknowledgement of the area’s hotel heritage and style.
(Top image: Hotel Gasthof Post’s chalet can be rented. Picture: Stephen Scourfield)
FIVE VILLAGES, FIVE PERSONALITIES
Each village in the Arlberg has its own DNA.
- St Anton is the top ski resort on the Tyrolean side of the Alps — Lech is the top resort on the Vorarlberg side. There is now a gondola connecting them.
- St Anton is the place for skiers who just want to ski (and party at apres ski afterwards). It’s a bit sportier. It aims to feel a bit younger, a bit more fun. And the skiing can be as hard as you want.
- Lech has the reputation of being a bit more up-market and trendier (a bit more about being seen). The village is famous for its artistic connections and projects — but the skiing is still brilliant.
- Although Austrians think it’s very exclusive and expensive, and it is the haunt of celebrities and royalty, Australians may not find the rates too frightening, even compared with the cost of skiing at home.
- What’s more, the villages and ski slopes are connected by cable cars and chairlifts. They have spread, connecting ski areas, traversing the mountains.
- The Arlberg region has plenty to offer in summer, from the middle of June to October. There are many hiking trails of all levels, guided walks, mountain bike runs from mild to serious, climbing and bouldering, and plenty of places to hire. Or you can just cable car and stroll to a mountain hut for a wonderful lunch based on local produce, and perhaps an edelweiss schnapps.
- Austria planning and itineraries at austria.info
- For more on St Anton: stantonamarlberg.com/en
- Hotel Tannenhof, St Anton: hoteltannenhof.net
- For more on Lech: lech-zuers.at
- Gasthof Post, Lech: postlech.com
- Gotthard hotel, Lech: gotthard.at
- Aurelio, Lech: aureliolech.com
DisclaimerStephen Scourfield was a guest of Austrian National Tourist Office. They have not seen or approved this story.
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