It's been a good summer for Gemütlichkeit. Since April, our direct mail advertising campaign has increased readership by nearly 30%. That means a substantial number of you are new to Gemütlichkeit. Many thanks and welcome.
I hope our veteran readers, a surprising number of which have been with us throughout the nine years of our existence, will forebear while I use this space to rattle on about our "philosophy."
Newsletters in general, and travel newsletters specifically, are a special breed. Unlike generic, broad-based publications such as Travel & Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler, they occupy a tiny niche and, compared to them, have a relatively small subscriber list. Because of that, they cost more. The excellent Hideaway Report is $100 per year, La Belle France is $85 and The Italian Traveler is $55.
You probably subscribed because of a special interest in travel to the part of Europe we cover. And, like the majority of your fellow subscribers, you're probably an avid traveler who starts thinking about your next trip the day after you get home from the last one. We attract readers with those qualifications. Armchair travelers who take 10 minutes to flip through a travel magazine, stopping here and there to daydream over the inviting photographs, are often not satisfied with our bare bones, newsletter format. Our pages contain a minimum of syrupy "travel writing" and only an occasional photograph, never in color. What you will find, however, is firsthand, hard travel information about the part of the world we cover. The fact is, we are unique. Nobody else does what we do.
Gemütlichkeit is a "how-to" reference for independent travelers. Note the emphasis on independent. If a Globus motorcoach tour of major European cities is in your future, this newsletter will be of little interest.
Reader surveys tell us the typical Gemütlichkeit subscriber travels to Europe with a spouse. Once there, most travel by automobile, a few by rail. Small, family-run hotels with traditional "old-world" charm are the lodgings of choice, as are simple, non-touristy restaurants frequented by locals and serving meals typical of the region.
At Gemütlichkeit, we view a European vacation as a getaway, a hideout, a respite from the pressures of jobs and everyday life; an interlude without schedules or ringing telephones. Our idea of travel is antithetical to a rigidly constructed minute-by-minute travel script.
Once upon a time, when I had a high-profile, high-pressure job, Liz and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Germany. Our total trip preparations consisted of purchasing plane tickets, reserving a rental car and tossing Michelin Red Guides, Michelin Green Guides and our collection of 1:200,000 scale Die General Karten (maps) into a suitcase. Only when we pulled off the road at a traffic roundabout leaving the Frankfurt Airport did we decide whether we would head north, south, east or west. Though this is a rather extreme example - even the most footloose traveler needs at least a skeletal trip outline - you get the idea. If, like Playboy, Gemütlichkeit has a philosophy, this is it: few reservations, no set-in-stone itinerary and the flexibility to allow extra time to enjoy unexpected discoveries along the way. Reservations, unfortunately, are often necessary, particularly in major cities and busy tourist destinations like Salzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
For us, an ideal day in Europe involves an easy drive over backroads, stopping here and there for a beer or a walk around a small village. In Switzerland and Germany, we use the Michelin Red Guide to locate lodgings for the night. When Michelin, through its use of symbols and red markings, makes our chosen hotel seem particularly inviting, we might call ahead around two or three o'clock for a reservation. If the hotel is booked we refer back to the guide. Sometimes we even have to change our destination town, but that is rarely a significant inconvenience. For hotels in Austria, a country for which there is no Michelin Red Guide, we use tourist office publications, the advice of the previous night's hotelier or perhaps a generic guidebook like Frommer's or Fodor's. We like to arrive at the hotel no later than four o'clock, then explore the town and decide where to have dinner. If the hotel's restaurant has a good reputation we might reserve a table upon check-in. At dinner we begin to discuss our alternatives for the next day which, if the hotel or the area is particularly attractive, might include staying right where we are. Otherwise the whole process starts all over again.
Based on the last two paragraphs, one might reasonably conclude we disdain trip planning. Not so. Poring over maps, reading guidebooks, rounding up free brochures from the various tourist offices, making rental car or rail arrangements, and performing all the other research chores attendant to a European vacation is an immensely enjoyable part of the journey. One of our major jobs is to help you plan your next trip.
For the most part we leave the descriptions and history of Europe's great buildings and works of art to others. Our account of which are the most important treasures in Vienna's Hofburg, for example, would be born of ignorance and a waste of time. We'll leave that to the scholars and such respected guidebooks as the Blue Guides and Michelin's Green Guides. That's not to say we'll never mention the Hofberg. We've written that we were wowed by its Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) and Gemütlichkeit also kept subscribers informed about the progress of repairs when the palace was closed following a fire in 1992.
What Gemütlichkeit does provide is up-to-date advice with a viewpoint on travel to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the "New Europe."
Mercifully, the dollar has strengthened this month to about 1.47 DM and 1.22 Sfr. But not soon enough, apparently, to save the tourist season in Switzerland. In an Associated Press story, Lorenz Schläfli of the Swiss Hotel Association characterizes the summer of 1995 as "catastrophic." In 1994, according to the AP, the number of Americans staying at Swiss hotels was fewer than 850,000, compared to 1.5 million in 1985, and hotels are disappearing at the rate of about 100 per year. Even at 1.22 Sfr. to the dollar, things are still pretty pricey in the country that many think is Europe's best. But empty hotel rooms, like empty airplane seats, spawn price cuts. There will be some good deals in the months ahead.