Naturhotel Forsthofgut review: a chic retreat in the Austrian Alps
Tradition takes a back seat to style at this five-star spa hotel
It’s not uncommon to arrive at an Austrian hotel and find yourself in a kind of gingerbread house, dripping in kitsch decor that makes extensive use of varnished pine, heart motifs and chintz café curtains.
It’s an olde-worlde aesthetic that draws tourists to places like Salzburg. But just an hour’s drive away in the mountains of Salzburgerland, the Naturhotel Forsthofgut proves that Austrian hotels – even rural ones – can embrace a cosmopolitan vibe that acknowledges the country’s heritage without going full Sound of Music.
The interior of this sizeable spa hotel marries the natural wood of the forested landscape with an industrial vibe of concrete and glass to create a stylish oasis in the heart of the Austrian Alps. And the owners’ £10.6m lockdown investment in a Scandi-style new lake house including an Onsen pool, new loft suites and spa features – opened in May 2021 – further ups its modern credentials.
Following the upgrade, the hotel’s WaldSPA now offers 5,700sqm of hi-spec indulgence that’s so alluring, tearing oneself away even for fresh powder on the slopes of the nearby Saalbach-Hinterglemm ski area would seem almost foolhardy. Luckily, our visit to the hotel fell just before the start of ski season, allowing us to swerve that particular Hobson’s choice.
Why come here?
The Forsthofgut has been in the Schmuck family for decades – current owners Christoph and Christina Schmuck are the fifth generation to run the hotel, dedicating themselves to sustainability as well as constant updates. The reception area and common rooms boast an urban chic vibe with nods to the Austrian setting – wood is used tastefully and Austrian objets d’art range from giant metal reindeer statues and wall-mounted antlers to bouquets of branches in giant vases: chic, not cloying. There is prudent use of natural wood, fine leather, stone and loden, the traditional woollen material used to make traditional Austrian coats like the one Captain Von Trapp wore.
Mostly, the vibe is sleek: in the lounge and Botanist Bar area, a polished concrete floor, arrangements of plush sofas, glassed-in modular fireplaces and eye-catching light installations create an atmosphere that wouldn’t seem out of place in stylish city hotels in Vienna. We were welcomed with a glass of Ruinart champagne, enjoyed pre-dinner drinks there and wandered straight in from the spa in our robes every afternoon to enjoy the waistline-killing “Strudel time” from 3pm to 5pm.
The hotel’s 102 bedrooms and suites are fairly minimalist, another welcome change from frou-frou flounces. Heavy wood doors, woollen rugs and fabric headboards in natural hues complemented the view we had of fir forests and snow-dusted granite peaks of the Leoganger-Steinberg mountains. Bathrooms boast heated stone floors and walk-in rainfall showers. In keeping with the hotel’s eco-credentials, drinking water and the mountain-scented St Charles bath products come in refillable containers and the dissemination of bath towels is kept to a minimum.
What to eat
The sustainability ethos continues with a half-board menu that emphasises provenance and local produce. Breakfast is a vast hot and cold buffet laid out in a self-service area called the “genussmarkt”, where a bewildering variety of brown breads are on offer, plus smoothies, fish, scrambled eggs, Birchermuesli, waffles, fruit, cheese and pastries. In the evenings it’s transformed into a salad bar and cheese buffet for the first and final courses.
Dinner always includes a vegan menu as well as an R50 menu using ingredients from within a 50-kilometre radius. Fine dining can be had in the a la carte 1617 restaurant and Japanese cuisine in the new lakeside restaurant, Mizumi. Most nights we went for the fish course on the R50 menu – the pike perch was a memorable favourite, washed down with an assertive Gruner Veltliner chosen from the hotel’s vast wine list. My dessert-loving other half was particularly impressed with effort put into Saturday night’s sweet, a Paris-Brest, a choux-pasty doughnut sandwiched with pistachio cream. Generally the food had a haute cuisine edge to it that channelled the metropolitan vibe.
What to do
As mentioned, we spent pretty much every moment between meals in the WaldSPA. The recent revamp has seen the chemical-free swimming pond doubled in size to accommodate the pièce de résistance, the Onsen pool, which is enclosed within it. It’s kept at a delectable 42C, which meant we could enjoy its soothing water jets even in the November chill. Also new are a 35sqm Finnish lake sauna and infinity pool and a vast relaxation room packed with lounge beds positioned to take full advantage of the mountain views.
Most days I was torn between turning into a prune in the Onsen pool and venturing to the 3,500sqm adults-only spa. There we left our inhibitions behind – a peculiar quirk of Austria is that nudity tends to be compulsory in grown-ups’ saunas – for a spell in the old wood spa and heated outdoor whirlpool, both of which afford sigh-inducing views of the mountains. After checking out the other sauna options – a steam bath, an infrared booth, a cubicle for rubbing ice on one’s flesh, I curled up under a fleecy blanket in the relaxation lounge and fell asleep to the sound of piped-in birdsong. In between naps and before Strudel Time I fuelled myself with nuts, dried fruit and tea from the spa bar.
I also treated myself to a signature facial by a beautician called Fanni, who smoothed endless unguents onto my visage made by the high-end South Tyrolean brand Dr Joseph, which uses natural ingredients that smelled gloriously of herbs and citrus and forest scents. Each potion was followed by the application of a hot cloth to cleanse my skin before Fanni began plucking and squeezing and generally giving my ageing face a thorough going-over. The 50-minute session flew by and left me feeling, if not exactly looking, ten years younger.
Though the Forsthofgut is a haven for couples, it’s also a magnet for families – among its rooms are 43 family suites plus two chalet suites. We noticed how little ones were welcomed with warmth and a wealth of facilities. Parents and cherubs have their own spa area that includes a 21m indoor pool and water-play area, plus kids’ playrooms and family relaxation area. Outdoors is a children’s farm, playground and game reserve. Parents longing for me-time can sign their children up to kids’ clubs and workshops. A devoted family dining room and kid-friendly food options ensure mealtimes are pleasurable affairs for everyone.
Outside of the hotel, Leogang is a small, quiet village strung out along the valley and there’s little apres-ski to speak of. But there’s plenty of action up on the mountain. Leogang is part of the Skicircus of 270km of pistes and the Asitzbahn cable car is mere yards away from the hotel entrance, with the Steinberg lift about a kilometre’s walk. Both whisk you to the Asitz mountain station at 1,760m, where the skiing or hiking can commence.
Alas, on our trip to the top it was too early to ski but too snowy to hike, so we stopped on the terrace of the Alte Schmiede restaurant to drink in the fresh mountain air and a cheeky beer before heading down to – where else? – the spa at the Forsthofgut.
Marrying urban cool with understated Austrian tradition and a warm welcome, it’s a hotel at the forefront of showing chintz the door.
How to book
Double rooms at the five-star Naturhotel Forsthofgut from £191 mid season (or £162 low season) for a minimum five-night stay. Or from £217 mid-season (or £187 in low season) for a one- or two-night stay. See more at forsthofgut.at.
A “Winter Wellness Escape” package starts from £725 per person for three nights and includes an Onsen Ritual and a €50 voucher per room for use against spa treatments. All prices include a nursery lift pass for children up to five years, free toboggan hire for use on the hotel’s toboggan run and free daily childcare from the age of two.