Photographs by Brandon de Kock
When Albert Schwaighofer invited us to Hinterglemm, we went to spend time with him. Though time on the slopes is the reason most people make the journey to this tiny town that’s roughly two hours by train from Salzburg, Austria.
Our friendship with Albert and his partner, Feike, was sealed when we hosted the couple in Cape Town, so when Albert heard we’d be in Munich, he suggested catching the train to Zell-am-See for a short stay in his family-owned hotel: Adler.
We booked our tickets on a local train with one change in Rosenheim and were collected from the station by an Adler driver, who transported us by car for the 30-minute connecting journey to Hinterglemm.
Albert is a man of few words and swift action, impeccable grooming and good taste. Feike, who is (naturally) a ski instructor and loves being outdoors, knows all the best spots for lunch – many of which can only be accessed by a ski route.
If you look closely at the art on Adler’s walls you’ll find the initials ES, which belong to Albert’s mother Elisabeth. The hotel’s origins can be traced back to a single family plot that belonged to her family.
It was augmented with additional parcels of land and 30 years ago, Albert’s parents built the hotel. It remains a family business, with his father, Albert (Senior), working behind the scenes and his brother, Sebastian, in the kitchen and, not least, our friend Albert (Junior) as manager.
The brand-new rooms combine the warmth of wood with clean, modern design. Many are built for sharing with friends or as a family, with multiple sleeping options and more than one bathroom – it’s clear the all-in package is the way to maximize the experience.
The rooms are fully kitted out for self-catering, with vending machines dispensing dishwasher tabs and coffee pods dotted around the hallways, but showing up for the extensive breakfast and dinner buffet will make a stay even easier.
The traditional Austrian spread on a Saturday evening includes brawn with chive-flecked cream cheese and a salty potato crisp and Tafelspitz or beef marinated in oil and vinegar with onions and red peppers. In the Altitude Grill, I wholeheartedly back Albert’s preferred pairing of dry-aged steak with a bottle of The Butcher red.
Exit the hotel, turn right and walk a few steps and there’s a ski lift but when the young intern who welcomed us asked whether we would be skiing during our stay, we answered a firm ‘No’. having grown up in sunny South Africa, snow is not part of my culture. He smiled, ‘I think you may be the first guests I’ve checked in to answer that!’
Knowing we were more interested in the après than the ski, Albert suggested we buy a ticket for the ride up (12 Euros per person), take a 30-minute walk to the Rosswaldhütte for lunch – a favourite with him and Feike – and then walk down. We could have tobogganed down too.
We followed his instruction and on crossing the piste, which is what it must feel like to sprint across Cape Town’s N2 hoping for the best, a skier slid to a halt next to me with a spray of white powder and asked in German, ‘What happened? Did you leave your skis at home?’ When I told him we came from Africa his grin was replaced by a look of disbelief.
Yet the scene on the restaurant veranda reminded me of home. It was not unlike Plett in season circa the late 80s – plenty of neon and jostling for an outside table with view – except, of course, the recreational raison d’être was ski not sea related.
We settled in for broth with Knödel, dumplings made with Pinzgauer Bierkase, followed by apple strudel with whipped cream. Then we walked slowly and carefully all the way down, doing our best to avoid slipping on the sheet ice and stopping often to take in the trees, the mountains, the view.
By the time we returned we were ready for a drink in the Altitude Bar where there is a selection of gin, bubbly and schnapps carefully curated by Albert, in whose taste I trust. He pointed us in the direction of the local Edelbrand Vogelbeere.
The following morning I gazed out the window at the skiers spilling out of resorts on the facing slope, lining up to take the ski lift and come gliding down, only to begin the cycle all over again. As we checked out, the RAF checked in and even though we didn’t partake in the primary winter activity offered at Adler, it was with very heavy hearts that made our way home.