In the age of Instagram, many hotels have become style over substance. They look good on your grid, but there’s something major missing: an experience.
The Schmelzhof, however, the favourite Lech hotel of industry insider and founder of Eighty Four Rooms (eightyfourrooms.com), Sebastian Schoellgen, isn’t fussed about hashtags and bathtub selfies. Run by the Strolz family, who have been in Lech for several centuries, it’s a place defined by its warmth and soul that no post can quite capture.
And a true family affair it is: Robert and Gitti take the reins, with their son Arthur presiding over the bar and restaurant and even ‘grossmutter’ taking your coffee order in the morning. It’s this multigenerational passion and generosity that keeps their guests returning year on year to Schmelzhof.
Here’s the lowdown of staying with the Strolzes in Lech:
Where is it?
In the centre of Lech, one of the prettiest villages in Austria’s Arlberg mountains and possibly my favourite in the Alps. It’s old-school and elegant without being fussy, fashionable without ever going out of style. The main lifts are a quick five-minute walk away and you can reach all the restaurants and apres spots without ordering a cab.
Cosy, colourful, textured – your home from home (a cliche but apt in this case) has been layered with love and perfected year on year by Gitti Strolz, a woman with ‘the sun in her heart’ who’ll greet you like a long-lost friend with a giant hug. Gitti spends the off-season travelling around the world, dropping in at Maison d’Objet in Paris and other interior design fairs, adding little touches to her Lech hotel. The result is a rich – and always comfortable – palette of jewel tones and sumptuous fabrics. Think Highland-esque tartans mixed with soft velvets; Soho House by way of Scotland and Salzburg.
The rooms at the Schmelzhof range from basic doubles to the vast Schneeflocken suite. One of the best options are the Atelier rooms, which mix style, value and their own mountain-facing terraces with felt-clad sleigh beds, cosy sofas and floor to ceiling windows.
Food & Drink
The experience at this hotel (for us anyway), largely centred around eating and drinking. It all started when we arrived late at night as heavy snow began to fall, fresh off the Arlberg Express from the airport (more below), hungry and thirsty. Gitti disappeared off into the kitchen to bring us a perfectly warming broth with noodles and a wooden board laden with cheeses, cured meats and pickles, the holy trinity of Austrian cuisine.
Each morning at the Schmelzhof begins with a breakfast fit for an emperor to set skiers up for a day on the slopes. Our table taken in front of the dining room’s roaring fire, our coffee order given to ‘grossmuter’ (Robert’s mother), we’d pile our plates with fresh fruits, yoghurt, more hams and cheeses, sunnyside up eggs and crispy rashers of bacon – then perhaps some waffles and orange juice. After our day’s exertions, we’d arrive back to find the daily ‘yauser’ in full swing, a so-called ‘snack’ that usually comprised of another huge spread of cheese, cured meats and pickles, a pasta or a rosti and a pudding such as tiramisu. And all this, a light bite before a six-course dinner, which could include a cheese fondue or Tomahawk steak. In short: come hungry. It’s all aided by the charming Herb of The Blue Bar, the Schmelzhof’s iconic cocktail den that serves everything from punch glasses of Bellini to fine reds.
Up on the slopes, the best lunch spots we found this year were the Kriegeralpe for schnitzel and rosti and Rudalpe.
Lech is a serious ski destination. Thanks to the Flexibahn lift that opened recently, there are now 305 km of piste for you to explore, plus you can ski all the way to St Anton and back without taking a bus (unless you want to, of course). In the evenings, after some apres-ski – either at Hotel Krone or on Schmelzhof’s own sun terrace – it’s about discovering more food. As well as a brilliant raclette at Hus 8 (book ahead), our favourite find of the trip was Flexenhausl: recommended by our Lech insider Sebastian, it’s a tiny hut on the road to Zurs where you can guarantee everyone will be dancing on the tables after you’ve gone through your hot oil meat fondue and a few bottles of crisp Gruner Veltliners. Just make sure you book, it’s a hot ticket with raucous regulars.
Best for …
Lech and Hotel Schmelzhof in particular are very family-orientated but really it will suit anyone, from couples like us to groups of friends wanting to avoid St Anton-style party crowds.
How to get there
The closest airports are Innsbruck (a one-hour drive) or Zurich (a two hour drive). Arlberg Express runs private transfers as well as shared shuttles for up to 15 people from both. Find out more here: arlbergexpress.com
Rooms from €140 per person in a double room on a half-board basis, schmelzhof.at