If Wes Anderson and David Lynch were to make a movie together, they’d set it in Bad Gastein. The spa town’s Grand Hotel de l’Europe looks remarkably similar to Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and on grey autumnal days (just two days after the first snowfall), the imposing mountains lend a Twin Peaks feel to the area.
Bad Gastein’s heyday was back in the nineteenth century, when royals such as Austria’s Kaiser Franz Joseph I and the Prussian Kaisers Wilhem I and II were regular visitors, alongside the likes of writers Robert Musil and Thomas Mann, and philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Now, many of the resplendent art nouveau buildings are empty and gathering dust. But something’s in the water (and it’s not just the healing properties of Gastein’s thermal water). Artists in Bad Gastein are drawing other creatives to the Austrian spa town – the design hotel Miramonte hosts regular photography workshops, there are yoga retreats aplenty and design hotels such as Regina, Miramonte and Haus Hirt cater to a young, hip crowd wanting to escape the city.
Design in Bad Gastein
I’ve spent a few days in Bad Gastein before, at the offbeat Villa Mühlberger, where Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein spent their holidays:
This time, my visit was more luxurious – I’m eight months pregnant, and Haus Hirt is more suited to a lazy maternity break away, with its AVEDA spa, three meals a day and a cosy reading room with a fireplace.
Haus Hirt is run by Evelyn and Ike Ikrath, and has been beautifully and lovingly decorated. Together with the Tokyo-born design consultant Elma Choung, architect Ike Ikrath aimed to capture the elegance of the thirties, while keeping the space modern and clean. Leather and velvet armchairs are dotted around the house, the old wooden floors creak and the selection of books in the reading room inspire and teach.
The hotel is made up of nineteen double rooms, one single and nine suites. The AVEDA spa is compact but offers everything you need for a few days of R&R – a pool, a steam room, a sauna and a large relaxation room with views over the mountains. I enjoyed a pedicure and a facial from the lovely Palma, and my boyfriend tried to battle his cold with a thermal bath and an ayurvedic massage.
Local, organic meals were served three times a day, and there’s no chance you’ll go hungry in Bad Gastein. Come breakfast, there was bread, muesli, fruits, hams and cheeses, plus scrambled or fried eggs if you fancied. The lunch buffet started just two hours after breakfast finished, and alongside pasta salads and vegetables, Haus Hirt dished up one hot meal and a soup. Lunch ended at 5pm, and dinner got underway at 7pm – a four course affair with a meat, fish or vegetarian dish to choose from as a main.
And if you get hungry in between, it’s just a ten-minute walk to the wonderfully kitsch Cafe Schuh, where you must try the Powidltascherl (plum jam turnovers).
Haus Hirt is ideal for families, which isn’t what you’d expect from a spa hotel. But Haus Hirt not only welcomes young children, it positively spoils them. Several hours of childcare is included in the room price, and the kids can head down to dinner earlier (between 6pm-7pm), allowing the parents to eat together afterwards while their child is looked after by hotel staff.
Hiking in Bad Gastein
Bad Gastein’s a great place to go hiking with (or without) kids. Sport Gastein is just a short drive away and offers relatively gentle hikes (at least in summer), and there are plenty of hikes that start directly from the hotel door. We took a stroll to the Himmelwandhütte, which was just an hour away (probably far less, but I was waddling!). On the way, we met horses, alpacas, goats, a one-eared cat and a very cheeky kitten.
The Himmelwandhütte is as Austrian as it gets, and they offer an excellent selection of homemade, hearty lunches, including a dozen strudels. If you’re planning on a longer hike (last time we’d planned on heading up to the Reedsee before bad weather set in), the Himmelwandhütte will help recharge your batteries, and if you’re just a pregnant wanderer, it’s a nice reward before heading back to the hotel.
You can also plan your day’s hiking activities at breakfast, where a Bad Gasteiner local comes round to offer tips and ideas – which is a great idea. If you’re travelling alone, you can join a tour for the day, and family activities are also planned, allowing kids to play together and make new friends.
Bad Gastein’s just three hours away from Munich, and it’s another world. It’s charming, outré and artistic, and whether with or without family, it’s the ideal spot to relax and recharge.