Relaxed like a sultan
There are as many types of wellness hotels as there are, well, camels in the desert, perhaps? At any rate, a caravan seems to have taken a turn-off to Saalbach-Hinterglemm. Its legacy? Generous accommodation whose alpine, urban and oriental elements melded together to form a truly exotic oasis of relaxation.
Our noses are the first to grasp what hour has struck. The sliding doors barely open before we’re embraced by oriental fragrances of incense and spice – a subtle yet distinct aroma of clove, anise, cinnamon and the like. A sweetly scented trail guides us to the reception much like an ancient lingering scent from the legendary spice trade routes. We are first met by turbans. Could it be an illusion? Was the heady incense mixed with other ingredients? Please, don’t be silly! The head scarves couldn’t possibly be Western. It’s just wet hair wrapped up in towels. Besides, the mysterious characters aren’t sauntering in caftans – they’re only bathrobes. We’ll also be able to explore the superb wellness facility (including 15 points and 2 lilies from the Relax Guide Spa Award). But for now, we are warmly welcomed.
„Wer sich selbst und andere kennt,
wird auch hier erkennen:
Orient und Okzident
sind nicht mehr zu trennen.“
[„Those who know themselves and others
will recognise here, too,
that the Orient and the Occident
can no longer be separated.“]
With this quote from Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan in mind, we are offered Chai tea before the obligatory paperwork. Arrive, breathe, take your time – here at the „Time Design Hotel“ as the host calls it, only stress and frenzy are unwelcome.
This is otherwise known as the „Alpen-Karawanserai“ weekend in the Saalbach-Hinterglemm valley in Salzburg organised by Sommerbichler siblings Stefan, Andrea and Martin. The fact that this trio developed the concept is by no means a coincidence. Their parents ran the „Blumenhotel Tirolerhof“ in the same location. Fate brought even more fortune: Mr and Mrs Sommerbichler also had a carriage company in Persia and took their children along on their trips. It’s easy to imagine how this strange, colourful, magical world impresses its guests just like the young Sommerbichlers remembered it. When they took over the regiment, the siblings carried over every accommodation concept from the Orient to their alpine world without hesitation. It took two years to turn their vision into a reality in 2009: a caravansary in the Kitzbühel Alps except, of course, for cars in the underground car park instead of desert ships…
In the meantime, we’re still at the reception. Allow yourself to take in the heavy rugs, rectilinear urban wooden furniture and precious stone. Another ritual is meant to ease the transition from everyday life into this timeless, exotic world. We get to choose our favourite piece for our room among a tantalising aromatic selection of handmade natural soaps. Lavender, hay flowers or meadow herbs? Reception Director Elisabeth Breitfuß insists they are all „professed artisans.“ From massage oil to natural exfoliation through to soap, the team personally sees to it that select ingredients are given due value: organic vegetable oils, for example, mixed with essential oils or organic herbs from their own garden and the region.
Our double room is not very big at about 20 square meters. In exchange, the view is fantastic! The view overlooks the Reiterkogel slope from the back. Hikers (or winter skiers), what more do you want? The oak floor exudes a pleasant feeling when walking barefoot and the spiral staircase leads up to a neat gallery with a gel fireplace. The bathroom has slate grey stone warmly contrasted by a wooden shelf. The brown, beige, and red colours set the tone for the noble and elegant yet unpretentious hideaway. But after inspecting the sleeping area with such vigilant slotted Sherlock eyes, we see the caravansary was not designed for couch potatoes! What „designing“ time really means: enjoying every minute without stressing yourself out. Getting right to it! We savoured the „Amber Spa“ in the 2,500-square-foot wellness retreat based on those mysterious sea substances that developed into a distinctive fragrance influenced by light and air. Amber was once considered so precious it was worth its weight in gold! That’s what the hosts often say, anyway. It sounded promising we so eventually tried slipping into the available bathrobes which double as the entire building’s uniform from breakfast until a midnight snack.
We then enter a cosy yet contrasted world. Oriental lanterns give off a soft light while futuristic seating features modern accents. The hard facts starkly enumerated: two pools – one indoor, one outdoor (heated year-round) where the water impels an upbeat colour display; seven saunas, one hammam; two Kneipp cold water therapy pools (indoor and outdoor); a tropical indoor garden complete with a rainforest adventure-shower; an ice fountain in the fresh air room; five tranquil oases; a large design garden; a wellness bar with spring water, juices, teas and healthy snacks; so much in the basement and on the ground floor.
On the „skydeck“ – the name purposefully borrowed from cruise ships – awaits another wellness area with fresh air attractions such as a Finnish waste wood sauna, sun terrace, panoramic relaxation room, four-poster beds on the rooftop reed garden or the cooling immersion barrel. The biggest attraction, however, is the view. It appears to be only a stone’s throw away from the Schattberg summit or up the Zwölferkogel. As we lounge lazily in the sun, „Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang“ hasn’t yet started its lifts. During the golden autumn, the area with its 200 km of slopes is still green and perfect for exploring on foot. (We’ll go on a discovery tour another day with stunning panoramic views across the Dolomites or a journey up the walkable Jakobskreuz some 30 meters high in neighbouring Pillerseetal.) For today, we’ll head down again, dip our toes in the natural swimming pond and walk around the caravansary lake guarded by cedars and mountain pines, junipers and alpenrose.
Of course, it’s hardly a considerable walk. We slowly worked up an appetite all the same. The Alpen-Karawanserai remains true to form in the kitchen. The front of the restaurant „Freiraum“ features a colourful, fragrant spice bazaar that evokes the culinary achievements of eastern countries. A glimpse at the menu presented by Jan Müller (the extremely courteous, charming and eloquent Maître d’hôtel) announces the obvious yet ingenious in its execution: „Orient meets Modern Alps“ is the apt motto adopted by Executive Chef Christian Oblak for his five-course gourmet dinner menu. Traditional specialties from Salzburg paired with exotic dishes from the Orient. Dishes such as „Glazed Honey Duck with Apple Red Cabbage and Greave Dumplings,“ „Minced Dim Sum over Sautéed Chinese Cabbage“ or a „Red Mullet in Ginger Stock with Orecchiette and Vegetable Pearls“ demonstrate that native and exotic can combine to form refined new creations in a single pot. After all, the proof is in the pudding!
Such a spoiled body has to make a clear decision. Given the choice between sharing a hookah with chums in the smoker’s lounge, enjoying a nightcap at the bar or hitting the hay, complete fatigue takes the crown. It doesn’t matter, though. Tomorrow is another day. Keep in mind the caravan isn’t going anywhere. The clock seems to stand still. And so we close our eyes to dream of Arabian Nights…
A-5754 Saalbach Hinterglemm
Tel.: +43 6541 6497
Fax: +43 6541 649768
All photos: www.alpen-karawanserai.at
A-5754 Saalbach Hinterglemm
Tel.: +43 6541 6497
Fax: +43 6541 649768