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Schloss Haunsperg: A longtime country hotel treasure remains as delightful as ever

Hotel Haunsperg
Love at First Sight

In 1989, when we made our first visit to ivy-covered Schloss Haunsperg in a Salzburg suburb, the highest rating Gemütlichkeit could give a hotel was three stars, defined as a "memorable experience." Haunsperg became the first to get both our three-star rating and our "$" (significant value) designation. It also won a 1989 "G Award." We saw it as a fairy-tale castle, the very essence of gemütlichkeit: full of priceless family heirlooms and old-world charm and operated by an energetic, gregarious husband-wife team, who seemed to genuinely enjoy their guests.

Certainly the story has fairy-tale elements: patrician young couple restores old family castle that has lain moldering for decades and turns it into dreamy, movie-set hotel. Not only is the couple handsome, gracious, and charming, but they are also skilled in the business of running a hotel, with a born-to-it knack for making guests feel at home.

Many years later, much wiser in the ways of European hostelries, we returned to Haunsperg with a more jaded, critical eye. Could the place possibly be as appealing and authentically homey as we gushed way back in 1989? Is it really an idyllic hideaway, or were we just easily impressed? Could the husband and wife team possibly maintain their wonderful enthusiasm and almost unbelievable level of genuine hospitality? After all, the bed and breakfast business is notorious for turning enthusiastic inn-keepers into burnt-out cynics.

Amazingly, except for the prices and a change of phone numbers, our 1989 story holds up. Haunsperg is as delightful as ever. For the hotel itself, that may not be so surprising. If you're a castle going on 700, a decade or so isn't a long time. It's different, however, for humans. Energy can flag and enthusiasm wane. But Eike and Georg von Gernerth seem as resilient as their Schloss. Their special talent for making guests feel welcome is fully intact. And isn't that more than half the battle? If some dour duo were at Haunsperg's helm, we'd no doubt be carping about the lack of an elevator, minibars, CNN, and in-room direct-dial phones. In any case, such amenities would be out of place at Haunsperg.

The castle has eight rooms/suites for rent, every one a charmer. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and furnishing. Some are very large, and each has a special character. High ceilings, ancient three-foot thick walls, squeaky wood floors, antique furnishings, and glorious objet d'art, most of which have been in the family hundreds of years, will do that for a hotel room.

You'll be happy with any of the eight rooms, but two couples traveling together should ask for what we had: the suites that connect with the music room. Our quarters consisted of a giant corner bedroom and sitting room, plus separate rooms for toilet and bath and a second small bedroom that could have been used for a third person. On the other side of the almost opulent music room, with its black Bösendorfer grand piano, numerous windows, and crystal chandelier, our companions occupied an equally comfortable bedroom and separate sitting room. The four of us shared the music room, thus having most of an entire floor to ourselves-a total of at least 1,500 square feet of living space. The price in off-season for four persons will be around $500.