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A disappointing stay at a long-time favorite country hotel and restaurant near Bayreuth, the Feiler in Wiesenttal/Muggendorf

Would success spoil Horst Feiler? Such a question never entered our minds as we drove the lovely backroads toward the little hamlet of Muggendorf in the area of Germany known as Swiss Franconia.

Thirteen years earlier, the Feiler had been one of Gemütlichkeit's early discoveries - long before Karen Brown's books put it on the itinerary of thousands of U.S. travelers to Germany - and we were confident in our anticipation of a great meal and pleasant overnight. A warning sign we missed is that the hotel lost its Michelin "red" designation a few years back.

On our first visit, in 1987, we stayed in a kitschy little room with a four-poster canopied bed for about $50 and had marvelous meals that showcased the intensely-flavored wild mushrooms personally harvested from the forest by Herr Feiler. A couple of years later we featured the Feiler in our book, the Fifty Best Country Inns & Small City Hotels of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (regrettably, out of print).

Our description then stands up today: "the hotel is an intriguing stone and half-timbered country cottage. The roof is red tile and window boxes burst with flowers."

"Inside is a hodge podge of fine furniture, antiques, Victorian red plush, tanks of colorful fish and a zoo of stuffed animals and birds. One of its most appealing nooks is a small, but particularly charming inner courtyard overlooked by flower-bedecked balconies and windows."

Of the restaurant and the mushrooms we said, "The dishes that these fungi become are exquisite, subtle, beautifully presented and generally indescribable."

I have a vivid recollection of Herr Feiler stopping at every table both before and after dinner. The first time around he advised regarding menu choices and wine, and the next time he talked about his mushrooms; when and how they were gathered, and by whom. And he was there again the next morning at breakfast.

This time things were different. We arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were people everywhere; in the restaurant, in the courtyard, and at tables in various little garden niches. We were shown to a pleasant room about three floors up. There is no elevator and we hauled our own bags. (O.k., it's a three-star hotel and one doesn't always get help with the luggage.)

With our room reservation we had requested a table at dinner. It was a warm evening and we asked to be seated outdoors. A young man escorted us through the courtyard, past two empty tables, around a corner to the side of the building. We were shown to absolutely the worst table in the place. At that point we asked to be seated at an empty one actually in the courtyard and, after a few minutes, that's what happened.

We were thus pleasantly situated though the tablecloth was spotted from previous use and had not been changed. Feeling we had raised enough ruckus, we let it pass.

The four-course Pilz menu (about $55) - four small dishes featuring mushrooms - was good but the earth did not move. Another dish, Medallions of Maibock was an out-and-out loser, with a watery sauce, off-tasting mushrooms and ordinary vegetables.

Salads, usually a good measure of a kitchen's attention to detail, were indifferent; the appearance and texture of the cucumbers, for example, indicated they had been sliced hours before serving. Desserts were just o.k.

On this day, the Feiler did not merit its Michelin star and there was no sign of the owner, though we had seen him earlier in the evening.

The dinner without beverages was about $125 for two persons and the room €90.

This is still a charming country hotel with a good restaurant, but the signs are not good. Our assessment, of course, is based on one overnight, one dinner and one breakfast. It's possible but doubtful we just hit the Feiler at a very busy time, but details like limp salad greens, dirty tablecloths, and rushed, impersonal service are not evidence of too many customers but of lowered standards. And where, in all this was Herr Feiler? When we walked through the restaurant after dinner on the way to our room, we noticed him at a table with friends. Did we feel slighted? Not in the least. We don't know him, he doesn't know us. But Rome was burning and Feiler was fiddling.

The restaurant seating business is a special concern. Why would hotel guests be taken to such a remote table when other, better ones, were available? Is this standard operating procedure for American tourists - whom management surmises will never return? Let's hope not. Our overall impression is that the Feiler is now tremendously successful and has sacrificed quality for quantity. Too bad.

To reach the Feiler by car, proceed east from the Pegnitz/Grafenwhr exit of the Nürnberg-Bayreuth Autobahn. The closest rail station is in Ebermannstadt, which is about a 14-minute bus ride from Wiesenttal/Muggendorf.
Contact: Hotel Feiler, Oberer Markt 4, Wiesenttal/Muggendorf, D-01346, tel. +49/09196, 9295-0, fax 362. Proprietor: Horst Feiler
Daily Rates: Singles €50 to 65, doubles €79 to 90, apartments €115, suites €140
Hotel Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 12/20
Restaurant Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 10/20