It’s just past the witching hour on a frigid December night as I creep down a steep, dark, medieval stone staircase into a crypt-like wine cellar. My guide on this nocturnal voyage of discovery is Alois Seyrling, the dashing young owner and managing director of the Hotel Klosterbräu, a luxury five-star establishment housed in a 500-year-old building once inhabited by a brotherhood of craft beer–making Augustinian monks who loved brewing suds almost as much as praying.
“Nosferatu was a German vampire, right?” I ask, my voice cracking from a semi-real vampire-phobia I’ve nursed since childhood. “There’s no chance he’d be lurking about in the Tirolean Alps on a cold night like this?”
“No, Michael,” Seyrling replies, “no vampires – just a lot of very old stone arches and some fantastic wine.” He smiles, pointing to nooks in the thick walls stacked with some very fine looking old vintages. “It’s all good vibes here.”
This ancient town, Seefeld, has never been on my ski radar, even though it sits on a beautiful high alpine plateau overlooking Innsbruck, which I’ve visited more than 20 times over the years.
“Seefeld is a global hotspot for cross-country and nordic skiers, and is hosting the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 2019,” says Sammy Salm, a seasoned Swiss tourism veteran who now fronts Best of the Alps, a PR umbrella group representing a who’s who of high-end European ski resorts. “It’s also been an Olympic venue twice, but for many alpine skiers it’s a lesser known destination with many secret treasures waiting to be uncovered.”
Secret No. 1: Chocolate spa treatment
One of Seefeld’s most unusual secrets, and perhaps the most exciting if you’re a chocoholic, is an extensive cocoa confection spa treatment. The tip-off to this wellness/chocolate crossover came as I checked into Seefeld’s ultra-elegant Astoria Relax & Spa Hotel and noticed an affiliation with another luxury hotel. A five-star alpine gem, the Astoria is owned by the Gürtler family, who also operate Vienna’s famed Hotel Sacher, which both the Queen and John F. Kennedy called home during visits to that city.
The Hotel Sacher shares its name with Franz Sacher, who created the Sachertorte, a confectionary masterpiece of chocolate, apricot jam and whipped cream, in 1832 at the behest of Prince Wenzel von Metternich.
Seefeld visitors can enjoy this scrumptious Austrian treat with a cup of coffee – or as a guilt-free, non-caloric “dessert for the skin” in the form of a deep cleansing peel or rich body wrap at the Astoria. The original Sacher treatments include body and face masks, as well as massages using a fragrant cocoa butter that is rich in protein, antioxidants and minerals. But beware, this chocolate spa experience from heaven has a bittersweet downside; it leaves your skin feeling moisturized and supple, but you’re not allowed to lick the bowl!
Secret No. 2: Tre Culinaria – Italian charcuterie in the Austrian Alps
It’s fairly easy to miss Tre Culinaria while wandering around the medieval labyrinth of cobblestone streets that snake around Seefeld’s majestic 15th-century gothic Parish Church of St. Oswald, but once you’ve discovered this hidden culinary jewel, you’ll never stroll past it again without popping in.
Located inside the Plangger Delikatessen, Tre Culinaria serves up some of the most unusual cured meats, gourmet cheeses, and rare condiments you’ll ever have the good fortune of consuming. My smorgasbord included a wide assortment of Austrian specks and Italian salamis and sausages made from pork, lamb, ibex, moose, ostrich, wild boar and venison that were deliciously paired with a fragrant Prosecco flavoured with fresh rose petals.
The meats, cheeses and breads at Tre Culinaria are to die for, but the real finds here are the condiments you can savour with your meal or purchase on your way out. Some of the standouts: a 150-year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena, a speck pesto from Austria’s Vorarlberg region, onion jam, homemade saffron honey, and the Holy Grail of mustards – the ultra-rare “black gold” from Lustenau, Austria. Simply put, this mustard is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Black in colour, this magical mustard is a bold, alchemic concoction made from grape seed oil, balsamic vinegar, raw cane sugar, sweet cider and salt – and it’s delicious.
Secret No. 3: Cruiser’s paradise
As much as I enjoy the steeps and deeps of the powdery Austrian Alps, sometimes I’m in the mood for a nice, long, ski cruise, especially if I’m spending the day with friends or family who are intermediate-level skiers.
Located 1,200 metres above sea level, Olympiaregion Seefeld is a super-chill ski resort with long, wide boulevards and very little skier congestion because most of Seefeld’s ski tourists are of the cross-country variety.
With 37 kilometres of quiet pistes and 34 lifts spread out over the Gschwandtkopf and Rosshütte areas, Olympiaregion Seefeld has on occasion been an under-the-radar training area for World Cup superstars like Lindsey Vonn and the recently retired Maria Höfl-Riesch. And it’s no surprise that the world’s best come here to hone their skills. Seefeld is rich with alpine skiing history as the birthplace of the modern parallel turn, a technique invented at the resort by four-time World Champion Toni Seelos in the early 20th century. His grandson Werner Seelos still skis and instructs here, and if you’re lucky, you may get him to give you a few tips on your turns.
Secret No. 4: The Hotel Klosterbräu, where beer and meditation become one
If the hip-looking proprietor of a chic European hotel ever asks you to follow him down a dimly lit flight of stairs into a wine cellar/beer microbrewery that could easily double as a castle dungeon in an episode of Game of Thrones, say yes!
My midnight journey into the nether-regions of this 500-year-old converted monastery is a trip anyone can take when they visit or stay at the Hotel Klosterbräu. Tucked away in the deepest part of this stone behemoth lies a rabbit warren of romantic candlelit rooms with vaulted ceilings that look like they may have been decorated by Dracula himself. Fortunately, as an ex-monastery, the Klosterbräu’s hallowed grounds probably have enough “holy” left in them to dissuade any potential bloodsuckers from sinking their fangs into the guests.
With little chance of becoming vampire food, patrons of the Bräukeller & Grill restaurant (bräukeller is German for brew cellar) can sink their own teeth into a juicy cut of black angus steak with a view of the hotel’s award-winning in-house microbrewery through a glass partition.
“It’s an honour to be making beer here, just like the monks did 500 years ago for the pilgrims who visited,” Seyrling tells me proudly as we raise a glass of the champagne beer he helped create to celebrate Klosterbräu’s 500th birthday in 2016.
And, finally, for brew lovers who want to take their affection for beer to a more spiritual level, the Hotel Klosterbräu offers its guests a cushy meditation room and an “eternal beer fountain” conveniently located near a magnificently curvy Hobbit-inspired wood sauna. The circuit here is simple: sweat out your toxins in the sauna, immerse yourself in cold water, and then lay back and chill out on a chaise longue with a nice, frosty brewski.
– By Michael Mastarciyan