Winter is not the best time for visiting castles - they can be pretty dreary at that time of year - which may partly account for why we were disappointed in our stay at Deuring Schlössle, a Relais & Chateaux property.
We telephoned for a room a day in advance after deciding to break up a Munich-Zürich train trip with an overnight in Bregenz, at the southeastern tip of Lake Constance.
Since there had been no offer of a ride from the hotel, we took a taxi for the short ride from the rail station.
The vine-covered stone structure above the town sits cheek-by-jowl with other buildings in a residential neighborhood, and exiting the taxi it took a moment to spot the hotel entrance. The welcome from the lone young woman at reception, though not unfriendly, fell well short of effusive.
We were shown to a poorly-lit, barn of a room, Number 102. The floors were polished herringbone garnished with a couple of unimpressive oriental rugs and enclosed by totally bare walls save a single flowery, boring still life. The room's TV had a screen so tiny it was not viewable from either the couch or the bed. The antique furniture was rather impractical and not particularly comfortable.
The bathroom, however, was huge; with windows, a separate toilet cubicle, marble tile, and an elegant, gold-framed mirror over the stand-alone washbasin.
After check-in we immediately set out on a walk down the hill to see the town. Bregenz is noted for its massive, floating stage on Lake Constance; from it, musical and dramatic productions are presented to patrons in grandstands on shore. The annual summer music festival attracts world-class performers and no doubt the town has more charm at that time of year, but on this winter day we found little to attract us, not even a cozy Bierstube to escape a chilly wind.
Deuring Schlössle is renowned for its restaurant. In 1998, chef-owner, Heino Huber was named Austria's best cook.
We ate dinner in a nearly empty but attractive dining room (we may have been the only guests in the hotel). Tables are set well apart and draped with white cloths and napkins and topped with candles, real orchids and an array of glass and silverware. The room is partly in the castle's turret and there are deep window alcoves, herringbone floors and a low, dark wainscoting.
We chose the "surprise " menu in which each course was matched with an appropriate wine chosen by the house. The first, a flowery but surprisingly dry Wachau Riesling, came with quenelle-like goose liver pate, a slice of papaya and a bit of cranberry aspic. After a refill of the Wachau came a distinctly Asian Zanderfilet (pike-perch), with sesame seeds, rice vinegar, daikon radish, cabbage and cucumbers.
With a buttery, smooth lobster bisque enhanced with sesame seed oil and chunks of lobster, our server poured a sprightly, non-oaky Sicilian Chardonnay (Planeta 1997) which was perhaps the best pairing of the meal.
The main course was a wonton-wrapped filet of venison with Spätzle sprinkled with bits of apple and a sage-infused mixture of chestnuts and wild mushrooms. The accompanying red from Tuscany (1996 Vigna al Covalieri) faded in the glass after a promising start.
Pastry-wrapped vanilla ice cream draped with poached plums was served with a lovely, sauterne-like Austrian dessert wine: Weissburgunder Burgenland, Ruster Alesbruch, from the Neusiedlersee, just south of Vienna. This we polished off with the de rigeur plate of small pastries and candies.
The per person price for the food was about €42 while the four wines were €25. With mineral water and a €3 cover charge per person - not uncommon in fancy Austrian restaurants - we paid about $180 for two persons. At such prices, excellence is expected. In this case we had to settle for very good.
To be fair, one can dine less expensively than we did. Ala carte first courses are in the $10-$12 range and main dishes about double that.
Deuring Schlössle was pleasant enough but hardly memorable.
Daily Rates: Singles €80-107, doubles 1€131-216, suites €203-407, half board €35 per person
Hotel Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 8/20
Restaurant Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 8/20