The popular Austrian “Sommerfrische” is back again. Especially now, during the summer of 2020, as the travelling world still reels with the shock of the current pandemic, many people simply look to recover closer to home, and want to spend some quality travel time in peaceful, quiet, and natural surroundings. “Of which Austria has plenty, and we out here especially”, Simon Bauernhofer tells us, welcoming us to his Naturhotel Bauernhofer in the Styrian alpine upland. The small town Brandlucken, where his hotel is located, is right inside a nature park, called “Steirisches Almenland”, and both his hotel as well as the wider area are dedicated to many efforts of ensuring sustainable and ecological development. But not only that. There is room for fun and creative stuff, too! Know the high seats used during hunting in or near forests? Simon has single-handedly converted them into love nests and hideaways for his guests! He has also turned a run-down inn into a thriving grocery shop, theatre and civil registry office (the theatre, meanwhile, totals well over 600 seats and receives up to 14.000 guests a year!). So how does all of this go together, and even result in a place ideal for young families, too (my husband Georg and my young one-year-old son have also joined me on this trip)? Let me explain – and the journey begin.
A word about sustainable development:
Our host Simon Bauernhofer recommends us to visit several of his regional business partners, among them the nearby distillery Graf.
It is not far from where we are in the Styrian “Almenland” to Sankt Kathrein am Offenegg, indeed a lovely drive through the densely forested alpine upland northwest of the Styrian capital city Graz. The Graf family welcomes us to their distillery and explain that in order to produce their high quality spirits from local endemic produce, such as pear or berry varieties, they need about 35-40kg of fruit in order to make one litre of schnaps! What they don’t harvest themselves, they buy within a 20km radius from their property, fulfilling strict Slowfood criteria in the process. After our guided tour, we are invited to harvest and taste some cherries from their orchard. They are simply delicious, and Liam just loves this new summer flavour, while we indulge in a spirits’ tasting ourselves.
Our trip exploring the nature park “Steirisches Almenland” results in a short hike around Teichalm and its local nature trail.
Without our little Liam, Georg and I would have likely gone off on a major hike, of which there are plenty in the Almenland nature reserve. Instead, however, we tested the (stroller-friendly) nature trail leading us through an alpine moorland and slightly off the busy Teichalm lake. As for a foodie experience, we can recommend “Stoakoglhütte” (an alpine hut) near Sommeralm. It comes with a possibility to climb the nearby Plankogel summit (either before or after that delicious slice of cake ..!).
Environmental efforts, sustainable development, staff commitment and theatre production: Why you can also just spend some days relaxing at Simon Bauernhofer’s eco hotel.
One day after breakfast, Simon Bauernhofer sits down with us and tells us “his story”. Of how it all started back in the late 70s, when thousands of “Sommerfrische” guests came from Vienna and Graz, seeking refuge in the Alps from hot city temperatures. Thus, the old inn and farm business have been revived, and now stand as an energy-saving, Passivhaus hotel business with 58 rooms heated by a power plant using local wood chips. Guests around us are couples of all ages, as well as families with (young) children, those who love hiking, food and nature. “It is four pillars we build on”, Simon explains his philosophy, as well as his recent award of the Austrian Eco Label for tourism. “On the one hand side, we take care of our environment through reusable bottles, recycled paper, the wood chip heating facility, shared mountain taxis, e-bikes, the like. On the other hand side, we also strongly support our regional farming network, what with our local grocery shop serving as a direct point of sales for nearby farmers and producers. Add to it our deep care about our employees and their development, as well as our commitment to culture, and you get to where we stand today. The old ‘Huab’n’ inn, which you see right across the hotel, is our stage for countless theatre productions, and our theatre has turned into a hub for young, aspiring actors.” Simon Bauernhofer, we gather, could go on talking forever. So let’s add a few more images and personal impressions to his account!
Check out all my travel pictures here:
Disclaimer: We have been invited by the Naturhotel Bauernhofer supported by the Austrian Eco Label on this trip to Styria. All opinions are my own.