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Thursday: Hotel Säumerhof, Grafenau

At breakfast, the decision was made to veer northeast into the Bayerischerwald (Bavarian Forest) near the Czech border. First, however, came a two-hour stop for a walk around Burghausen, a charming town on the Salzach river straight north of Salzburg, but still in Germany. Looming above the town is Burghausen fortress which runs along a bluff for half a mile, the longest citadel in all Europe. Perhaps its off-the-beaten-track location explains why the town attracts so few English-speaking visitors.

Then it was north across the Danube, mostly over backroads, into the Bayrischerwald to our destination, Grafenau, and the Hotel Säumerhof.

Located in a residential neighborhood, the 10-room Säumerhof is undoubtedly a product of the hit and miss 50s-60s-70s post-war construction period - and not much has been done since. It is not an attractive building. Inside, however, an urbane, well-dressed, 60-ish, woman extended a friendly welcome, then personally escorted us to a two-room suite - obviously an upgrade from the double room we had reserved by phone earlier in the day. Later, she would graciously bring us dinner in the rather formal dining room. Our room/suite, a throwback to the 70s in style and furnishings, came equipped with more than we needed for our one-night stay, including a stereo with a rack of CDs. The TV, however, had no English channels.

Except for one other couple, we were alone at dinner in the eerily silent, carpeted dining room. But they were soon gone and we were left to whisper alone among the potted shrubbery. Fortunately, our host Frau Endl (Herr Endl is the cook), was talkative and accommodating. For example, she recommended a specific German red wine but when we said only a half bottle, she opened a full one and charged us half price. And, even though Vanilla Eis mit Schokolade isn't on the menu, she had Herr Endl melt a bar of chocolate to pour over ice cream. Delicious.

Unfortunately, your reviewers didn't see eye to eye on the food. There was no argument about the amuse-bouche, a generous dollop of subtly smoked trout mousse on a bed of marinated beetroot. It was a clear winner, no argument. Same for small bowls of leek soup liberally laced with butter and thick cream. But Liz's venison-sautéed pink strips served on a slightly sweet green peppercorn sauce -lacked the characteristic "wild" taste she prefers. On the other hand, my filet of Zander (pike-perch) at E17 was the best single plate of food in a four-week trip. A three-quarter inch high triangle of the meaty Zander was likely first sautéed, finished in the oven, and then served perfectly moist on a bed of handmade, squid-in-its-ink pasta. Under a sprightly dressing of white wine, vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and chopped shallots, the dish flirted with greatness.

Breakfast (excellent: eggs to order, fresh orange juice) in the dining room bolstered our surmise that we may have been the hotel's only guests.

Without beverages, dinner was $62 and the room cost $83 for a total of $145 or about $196.

Epilogue: With its 2007 Red Guide, Michelin cruelly withdrew Säumerhof's "Bib Gourmand" designation. That may be less about the food (Michelin's decision had already been made at the time of our visit in December) and more a reflection of the hotel's general need for refurbishment. All is clean and tidy, and we were certainly well cared for, but there is a distinct air of faded glory. While the physical aspects of this hotel are only adequate, the more important "people" component is well above average. We recommend it -especially the Filet vom Zander.

  • Contact: Hotel Säumerhof, Steinberg 32, D-94481 Grafenau, tel. +49/085 52/40 899-0. Grafenau is not serviced by rail.
  • Daily Rates: Singles $38-50, doubles $59-100. A four-night package includes room, breakfast and four, three- course dinners for $219 per person.
  • Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 14/20
  • Restaurant: Quality 15/20, Value 16/20