Schloss Haunsperg: A longtime country hotel treasure remains as delightful as ever
|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.
Luckily, (for us, not the von Gernerths), we were the only four guests in the hotel. In the morning, in a cozy room with vaulted ceiling on the ground floor, a splendid table for four was set for breakfast with fresh flowers, gleaming glass and silverware, and starchy linens. There were boiled eggs from free-range chickens, plenty of juice, fresh cantaloupe, and the freshest cheeses, thinly sliced meats, breads and rolls.
If it is solitude you seek, the von Gernerths will leave you alone. The rest of us are invited to join them for glasses of Austrian wine-in their garden in summer, at other times in the comfortable leather furniture of a small parlor, and occasionally at a nearby Gasthaus.
They are also delighted to show you their castle and share its history. There seems to be an interesting story behind every apartment, every picture, every rug, every piece of porcelain and China, and every antique.
From World War II through the early '60s, for example, the top floor was occupied by a family displaced by the war. For some 20 years they lived in the von Gernerth's castle, rent free. During the war, the government allowed such families to occupy vacant buildings all over Austria. By law, they cannot be evicted by the owners except under rare circumstances. In fact, Mrs. von Gernerth told us some apartments in Vienna remain occupied by families put there by the government more than 50 years ago and who still pay virtually no rent.
Haunsperg's pièce de résistance is its Baroque chapel. The ornate altar appears to have been executed in marble. However, the area around Hallein is so rich in marble that the stone was bypassed as being too common. Instead, the altar was made of wood and then a faux marbre finish was applied by craftsmen. In the tabernacle is a rotating platform that turns to show three scenes, including a carved mother and child and a reliquary with a sliver of wood purported to be from Christ's cross. Mass is held there four or five times each year but the ancient bell (1570) in the tower above is rarely rung-the last time at a family wedding.
Though the approach to Haunsperg is through an industrial neighborhood, all that is forgotten once you enter the park-like, six-acre grounds. Tall trees surround the property, and there are a couple of acres of lawn and a clay tennis court.
Don't stop here just for an overnight. Pack away your undies and socks in the drawer of an antique chest and hang your clothes in a hand-carved armoire. Spread out, put your feet up, and unwind for a few days. Shop and sightsee in Salzburg during the day and, in the evening, dine casually at nearby Restaurant Hammerwirt. Take a daytrip to the Königsee, a walk in the forest, drive the Rossfeld Ringstrasse or just hang around the castle and read. Whatever you do, don't miss Schloss Haunsperg, a special place run by special people.
Haunsperg is easy to find. Go south from Salzburg on the A10, exit at Hallein, then come back north toward Oberalm. In short order, you will see signs to Schloss Haunsperg. It is west of the Autobahn and east of the Salzach river.
Daily Rates: Doubles €126-170, suites €144-200
Contact: Schloss Haunsperg A-5411 Oberalm bei Hallein
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 18/20
Dinner in Oberalm
This lively village Gasthaus seems almost an extension of the Haunsperg. The family-run Hammerwirt's service is friendly and the food above average. The von Gernerth's, naturally, made our dinner reservation and, even though it is only a short walk, insisted on delivering us to the front door in the hotel van.
There are comfortable banquettes around the room and tables are decorated with pink and white linen cloths and napkins, real flowers and candles. Walls are hung with prints of familiar paintings.
The ubiquitous mixed salads were a tasty melange of the usual vegetables; chopped greens, corn, red peppers, and sliced cucumbers in a tangy dressing. Asparagus soup was delicious, but mostly cream and butter—delicious but deadly. The best main dish consisted of juicy, perfectly done duck breast served with sliced Knödel and chopped cabbage and chard sautéed with ham. Chunks of baby lamb deep fried was somewhat less successful. We finished with plates of various flavors of ice cream buried in whipped cream, hot chocolate and berry sauces.
Beverages were Kaiser Bier vom Fass, a bottle of Sonnhof Rotspon Blauburgunder Zweigelt (when in doubt for red wine in Austria, order the reliable Blauburgunder) and apricot brandy. For four, the bill came to about $148. The Blauburgunder was about $25.
A most pleasant dining experience.
Landgasthaus Hammerwirt A-5411 Oberlam, tel 06245/83664.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 14/20
Lunch in Salzburg
St. Peter Stiftskeller
This landmark restaurant in St. Peter's Abbey has been criticized as touristy but in the off-season it's snug, wood-paneled rooms are filled with locals. In summer, of course, you'll want to be in the open-air, vaulted courtyard, the rear portion of which is dug from the side of the mountain. Started by Benedictine monks in 803, it is reputed to be the oldest restaurant in Austria.
The menu emphasizes such typical Austrian specialities as Tafelspitz (boiled beef) and Schnitzel cooked in the Vienna style so it flops over the plate. This is not haute cuisine but the dishes were good examples of their type. Main courses are in the $12 to $16 range. The uniformed male waiters provide quick, pleasant service.
As we left the restaurant, a bell began to toll and we stopped while a procession of mourners, all on foot and preceded by a rather small wooden coffin, exited the church and serpentined around the little square. As we stood by the restaurant entrance, they passed in front of us on their walk to the cemetery. A sobering moment on a bright, beautiful day.
St. Peter Stiftskeller St. Peter Bezirk 1-4, tel. 0662/841268-0, fax 0662/841268-75.
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 12/20