Posthotel Achenkirch, Tirol, Austria

The luxury five star resort called Posthotel Achenkirch, near Lake Achensee in Tirol, Austria, is one of this beautiful region’s oldest and most well know spa hotels. It has become one of our favorite travel destinations as the hotel makes a great base for not only touring the surrounding picturesque Tyrolean mountain towns but is also convenient for day trips across the nearby border into Bavaria, Germany.

A few months ago, my husband and I returned to the Posthotel Achenkirch for several relaxing days as we had loved our all too short visit there the previous year. Even though the hotel is one of the larger resorts that we stay at, it never feels crowded…in fact it feels peaceful and romantic. The reason might be that this is an adults only hotel, where guests must be age 14 and over.

The service at the resort is never lacking and that starts as soon as you enter the free underground parking garage. Upon our arrival, we were greeted, our luggage unloaded and we were guided through an underground passageway to reception. There we were warmly greeted with a glass of champagne and offered something to eat from the afternoon buffet while our luggage was taken to our room.

The hotel offers an excellent buffet each day for breakfast, a lunchtime snack and a five course dinner in the evening. The food is delicious and most comes from the hotel’s own farm and other regional sources. All your meals are included in the price of your room.

At mealtimes, you have a reserved table in one of the several dining rooms or cozy parlors, all individually designed. In addition to these rooms, there is also a beautiful bistro and outdoor terrace where you can relax in your bathrobe and have a snack, enjoy a glass of wine or beer or perhaps have a pastry and a good cup of coffee.

After our lunch, we were shown to our room where our luggage had already been placed. We had a cozy country house suite, decorated in a natural tones and wood with contemporary accents. It had a king size bedroom and a separate living room with doors that led out to a large terrace with lovely views of the little St. Anna chapel and the surrounding mountains.

Since it was cold and drizzly on our day of arrival, we decided to go down to the wellness area in the hotel’s warm bathrobes and slippers to enjoy one of the warming saunas. You can also relax and read a book or perhaps take a nap in one of the quiet rooms. If you want to totally relax, head underground to the “sunken temple”  to sit in the dome of silence for some quiet meditation before heading off to the steam baths and saunas.

The wellness area is a guest’s dream come true with six indoor and outdoor heated pools, numerous steam rooms and saunas as well as a center for traditional Chinese medicine.

I can see why it has earned 4 lilies and 19 points in the renown Austrian Relax Guide. The Atrium Spa (which has a women’s only section) offers a variety of facial and body treatments and a multitude of massages. While there, I had a wonderful Posthotel Kraftritual, which is their signature wellbeing treatment. Afterwards, I was escorted to the spa’s lovely relaxation area, wrapped up warm and soft to enjoy moments of serenity. Delightful!

On a nice day, you might want to go outdoors to the yin yang pool where you can enjoy both its adjacent warm and cold waters or visit the large heated outdoor pool and whirlpool.

If you are athletic or just want to make sure that the delicious food you enjoy during your stay doesn’t go straight to your waistline, the hotel has a fitness center as well as sports and activity programs that you can join. They include Nordic walking, tai chi, qigong, pilates, yoga and meditation. There is also the option of a game of golf at the Posthotel’s 9 hole course or a game of tennis at one of the hotel’s courts.

I would also suggest a visit to the hotel’s stables to see their beautiful Lipizzaner stallions. You can take a riding course at the indoor arena on one of the Lipizzaner or take a carriage ride pulled by two of these magnificent horses.

If speed is more to your liking, you can try out one of the hotel’s Johammer electric motor cycles or perhaps test drive their Tesla sports car. A boat ride on Lake Achensee, the largest lake in the Tirol, is also a nice option. Last but certainly not least, there is an underground shopping area for those so inclined.

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We love the Tirol region and have probably visited it more than any other part of Austria. You might think that we are avid skiers or mountain hikers but that is not the case. We return to this area as each day there are countless opportunities to explore the beautiful countryside.

The Benches At The Entrance Say It All…Life Is A Journey

After a day’s outing to one of the nearby cities like Innsbruck or Kufstein in Austria or Rottach-Egern in Germany, it is always a pleasure to return to a wonderful hotel such as Posthotel Achenkirch where welcoming smiles are plentiful, good food is abundant and the amenities are absolutely wonderful.

During an evening welcome cocktail party, we were told by Karl Reiter Junior, who now runs the fourth generation family owned hotel, that this year is the 100th anniversary of the hotel. The original building from that time has been renovated with the addition of nine new bedrooms, a hands on kitchen for cooking classes and another bathrobe restaurant and terrace. Hopefully my husband and I will have the opportunity to once again visit the hotel and enjoy these new facilities.

 

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Sausage, Kale And Black-eyed Pea Risotto

Creamy Risotto With Italian Sausage, Kale And Black-eyed Peas is so good that your friends and family will all want the recipe. That is what happened to me when I took it to a gathering of friends on New Year’s Day. Everyone took a small bite for good luck but were soon going back for more. During the course of the afternoon, I was repeatedly asked if I would share the recipe. Of course, I would be happy to and I have decided to share it with you as well. Enjoy!

Risotto With Italian Sausage, Kale And Black-eyed Peas

I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like the silky, creamy texture of risotto. Perhaps the most famous is Risotto alla Milanese which is risotto with saffron and parmesan cheese. Simply prepared, it is usually served as a first course or side dish in an Italian restaurant. When risotto is cooked with a combination of meats and vegetables it is usually served as a hearty main course. That is how I would suggest you serve this sausage, baby kale and black-eyed pea risotto. A crisp green salad, crusty bread and a glass of wine would be a nice accompaniment.

Sausage, Baby Kale And Black-eye Pea Risotto

Serves 4, adjust the recipe according.

  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 links (1.25 lbs.) hot Italian sausage, casings removed and meat crumbled
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. low salt chicken stock, more may be needed
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 15 oz. pkg. frozen black-eye peas (about 2 1/2 c.)
  • 1/2 lb. fresh baby kale, stemmed or a 9 oz. box
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig of fresh thyme or 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/4 c. Arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2  Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 c. more or less of Pecorino Romano or Parmesan grated cheese

Heat the oil in a large pot or deep sided skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and sauté, breaking up the meat up as it cooks, until browned. Add the onion, cook until translucent then add the garlic and cook about a minute. Add the stock and water, bring to a boil and then add the black-eye peas. Bring to a second boil, reduce the  heat and cover. Simmer 25 to 30 minutes or until peas are tender. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig. Add the baby kale and stir until wilted. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage mixture to a bowl. Keep the stock warm on the stove.

Heat the butter in a high sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat then add the wine and stir until absorbed. Ladle the stock a little at a time and cook, stirring every minute or two, until the liquid has been absorbed. Keep stirring and adding broth until the rice is just tender and creamy.

Add the reserved sausage, black-eyed peas and baby kale mixture to the rice and stir until just heated through. Remove from the heat, add the cheese and stir well. If the risotto is too thick, stir in a little extra broth to give it the consistency you like. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Spoon into bowls and finish with a drizzle of your finest olive oil, if you wish. Serve addition grated cheese at the table.

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Sausage, kale and black-eyed pea risotto, rich with Italian flavors, is a thick, hearty and comforting dish that should please even the pickiest of eaters. I was very surprised that my husband who doesn’t really care for black-eyed peas very much, loved this dish. He said he would be happy if I made it often, it was too good to only eat on New Year’s day to bring us luck. My friends seemed to agree with him and I hope you will as well.

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Hotel Nesslerhof, Grossarl, Austria

Hotel Nesslerhof in Grossarl, Austria is less than fifty miles south of Salzburg yet it is surprising that most tourist have never heard about either the hotel or this village in the southern part of Salzburgerland. The small Austrian village and hotel seem to be a well guarded secret except among Austrians and their neighbors from Switzerland and Germany who visit seeking outdoor adventures or just want to relax and enjoy Hotel Nesslerhof’s amenities and its highly rated wellness spa.

Click on any photo in article to enlarge and see a slide show.

Grossarl is located at three thousand feet above sea level in one of Austria’s most beautiful mountain valleys near the Hohe Tauern National Park which is the country’s largest national park. Visitors travel to this alpine region to enjoy its unspoiled natural beauty…hiking and cycling during the spring, summer and fall and then skiing in the winter.

The Nesslerhof is a four star superior hotel owned and managed by the Neudegger family, Hermann and Tina, who are always present and very helpful. Hermann, owner and former chef, oversees a team who are behind the wonderful culinary creations that feature Austrian cuisine based on local products. Tina, his wife and partner, runs the front of the house operation as well as marketing. She is also the sommelier and introduced us to some fine Austria wines during our stay. We had a chance to chat with each of them and they are a genuinely friendly couple and made us feel comfortable and welcomed from the beginning to the end of our stay at the Nesslerhof.

The bright and modern alpine hotel has a contemporary style and is decorated with natural stone and wood from the region. The large open rooms are furnished with a blend of traditional and modern furniture all covered in fine fabrics. Large glass windows provide wonderful views of the great outdoors and let in lots of natural light throughout the hotel. The modern hotel has a stylish sense of sophistication without loosing any of its Austrian charm. There is also a touch of whimsy which can be found in the fun artwork in various areas of the dining rooms.

The hotel has 71 very comfortable rooms and suites. We reserved the Suite Weitblick, one of the new, spacious suites on the top floor with breathtaking views of the mountains through a large wall of floor to ceiling windows. The amazing room was done in light woods with contemporary lighting and furniture. It had a kingsize bed, fireplace, sitting area, an open bathroom with a rain shower, bathtub, double sinks, its own combination of infrared/sauna cabin and a separate toilet with its own sink. There was a wonderful loggia where you could relax and enjoy the splendid views of the snow capped mountains and the hotel’s beautiful gardens.

After a long day of outdoor activities or touring, it is nice to come back to the hotel’s  extensive wellness complex with indoor and outdoor pools, a spa with panoramic views of the outdoor gardens and surrounding mountains as well as a gym. My husband and I had a couples massage twice during our stay…probably the best we have ever had. The hotel also has a delightful terrace that can be reached by stairs from the spa area where you can go in your bathrobe to sit and enjoy a snack while admiring the surrounding view of the mountains.

Each evening, we would head down to the bar for an apéritif then on to the dining room for our evening meal. You could start with selections from the buffet, then order an excellent five course dinner from the menu. There was always an option to choose a seafood dish, a vegetarian dish as well as delicious Austrian specialties. Each and every item the kitchen served, was imaginative and featured products from the region.

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Hohe Tauern National Park

Although my husband and I are not outdoor adventurers, we are enchanted with the beautiful mountain landscapes of Austria, the charming village of Grossarl and the Hotel Nesslerhof was a nice discovery. This area with its green mountains topped  with glistening white peaks is a destination that we hope to return to, it is nature at its finest. With very good mountain roads leading  into this alpine valley of lush  pastures, the Nesslerhof makes a good base for day trips. You might want to visit the beautiful lake town of  Zell am See and then drive the famous Grossglockner Road in the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, both very memorable outings.

Our stay at the Nesslerhof was one of the highlights of our European trip last year. The region is beautiful, the hotel and its staff were wonderful and the food was delicious, what more could one ask for.

 

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Shrimp Cocktail Phyllo Bites

Serve these super easy Shrimp Cocktail Phyllo Bites at your next cocktail party, at the beginning of a small dinner party or at any festive celebration and they will be an instant hit. What could be better than a crispy phyllo cup filled with creamy cheese, cocktail sauce and a bite size shrimp sitting on top.

Shrimp Cocktail Phyllo Bites

Everyone loves a shrimp cocktail but unless you are sitting at a table, you might think twice about dipping a large shrimp into cocktail sauce while dressed in your best outfit at a party. Finger food is always nice as it can be eaten in one or two bites and these little shrimp cocktail phyllo bites make a great party appetizer.

Shrimp Cocktail Phyllo Bites

Serves 4, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 1 box of (15) frozen phyllo cups*
  • 1/2 of an 8 oz. container of whipped cream cheese
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. more or less, fresh lemon juice
  • a drop or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • a pinch of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper
  • 1/4 c. cocktail sauce
  • 15 small fully cooked shrimp
  • 1 or 2 romaine leaves, finely chopped (optional)

*The phyllo cups are fully cooked but I like to bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes for extra crispness.

In a small bowl, stir together 4 oz. of whipped cream cheese, the sour cream, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Season with the garlic powder, onion power, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Spoon the mixture into a ziplock bag and seal. Cut off a small tip of the bag and pipe into the phyllo cups (about 2/3 full). Drizzle the cheese mixture with cocktail sauce and top with a shrimp. Sprinkle a little finely chopped lettuce leaves on top, if desired.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for 30 minutes. You can make your cheese spread and seal in a ziplock bag the day before serving. Do not fill the phyllo cups until right before serving so that they keep their crunch.

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Crunchy, creamy, and a little spicy from the cocktail sauce, these shrimp cocktail phyllo bites are delicious and the nice thing about them is that they take less than 15 minutes to put together. I brought them to a friend’s dinner party and the shrimp bites also  travel well. After filling the cups completely, I placed them back into the plastic holder they originally came in and then put them in a plastic storage container to take to the party. I do hope that you get a chance to serve the mini shrimp cocktail phyllo bites to your friends and family over the course of the next year as I believe they will be a hit with everyone who tries them.

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Shrimp Cocktail Phyllo Bites And Champagne

As this year comes to a close, I’m always reminded that when people gather together at midnight on New Year’s Eve and sing Auld Lang Syne, they pledge that whatever may change in their lives, that old friends will not be forgotten. You, my friends, are what makes writing Back Road Journal such a pleasure and you will always have a place in my heart. May the coming year be a healthy and happy one and I look forward to your next visit.

 

 

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Christmas Wishes

CHRISTMAS WISHES

I Wish You A Moment Of Peace

I wish you

a moment of peace, a moment of silence,

a moment of serenity.

I wish you 

a magical holiday season 

with family and friends.

I wish you

a joyous Merry Christmas

and a New Year full of happiness

and good health.

With Warm Wishes, Karen

 

 

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Hotel Spa Der Steirerhof, Bad Waltersdorf

Hotel And Spa Der Steirerhof is perhaps the most welcoming hotel I’ve had the pleasure to stay at during my many years of traveling.

Der Steirerhof, Bad Waltersdorf   Photo: Courtesy of the hotel

Located an easy 75 mile drive south from Vienna in the Austrian state of Styria, this lovely region is filled with historic towns, beautiful landscapes, numerous castles, orchards and vineyards. All in all, this picturesque hilly landscape has a rather Mediterranean feel that is far different from the Tirol region that my husband and I often visit.

Click on any photo in this article to enlarge and see a slide show.

Der Steirerhof is located on a hilltop just outside the village of Bad Waltersdorf. The village is known for its healing thermal waters and has been voted one of the most beautiful flower villages in Europe. As you drive through the gates of the resort you see that it is surrounded by acres of gardens. Walk inside the stylish, traditional hotel and you see that Frau Gunda Unterweter, the gracious owner of Der Steirerhof, carries her love of plants and flowers indoors as well.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Frau Unterweter and her lovely daughter Anna with a  glass of sparkling wine and shown to the hotel’s restaurant for a light lunch while our luggage was placed in our room and our car parked in the hotel’s garage.

All meals are included in the room rate and you can’t help but be impressed with the restaurant’s food. In the morning, you can enjoy is fresh coffee and pastries by the pool. Freshly prepared eggs as well as meats, fish, cheese, cereals, and freshly baked breads can be had from the breakfast buffet. There is even a specially cooled fresh fruit room where you can select fruits to juice yourself or take a piece as a snack anytime during the day.

At lunchtime, there are a variety of salads, soups and a hot dish available from the buffet. In the afternoon, you can enjoy strudel and cake in the dining area or at the poolside bistro. Dinner features salads from the buffet and then you have a choice from four different five course dinners. The ingredients are natural, organic and come from the region which has led to the restaurant being awarded the Grünen Haube (Green Toque) designation.

After lunch and getting settled in our room, we headed down to check out the pool and spa area and it is lovely. Der Steirerhof is ranked as one of the best 5 star hotels in Austria and has been awarded the best possible rating of 4 lilies and 20 points in the Relax Guide, the most respected wellness (spa) guide for Austria and Germany. The hotel’s spa area is the perfect place to relax in one of the seven indoor and outdoor pools or ten saunas. There is even a separate lady’s spa.

Each day after breakfast, we went out for a drive to explore different areas of Styria which is called the “green heart of Austria”. Fields were filled with pumpkins and sunflowers, orchards had trees loaded with apples and many of the vineyards had  grapes just waiting to be harvested. Absolutely beautiful scenery was around every curve in the road as we explored the region.

One day we drove a portion of the “castle route” and visited Castle Riegersburg, an impressive medieval castle perched on a steep volcanic rock hill. It was interesting and had magnificent views in all directions. If you visit the town of Riegersburg, you might also want to stop by the Zotter chocolate factory which is considered one of Austria’s best chocolates. In the same region there are also wine and apple routes to explore and if you are more adventurous then we were, there are hot air balloon rides to see this region from a bird’s eye view.

Another scenic drive took us to the pretty market town of Pollau. The town’s main attraction is  Schloss Pollau, a former Augustinian monastery. The huge St. Veit’s church, which was built in the early 1700’s, is part of the complex and is decorated with wonderful trompe l’oeil frescoes.

At the end of a day’s explorations, it was always nice to return to the hotel. You could enjoy a drink or snack on the beautiful terrace or by the fire, play a game or read a book in the lounge or change into your bathrobe and relax out in the spa garden or at the pool and watch a hot air balloon drift on the horizon just as the sun set. It doesn’t get much better than that as far as I’m concerned.

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Der Steirerhof, with its tradition of warm hospitality and high level service, is a hotel that creates an environment that makes you want to return to year after year. I do hope that my husband and I will be fortunate enough to return, perhaps next year.

 

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Vienna Will Steal Your Heart

It doesn’t take long for Vienna to steal your heart. It is a fabulous city with a rich heritage and is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. While my husband and I were happy to wander Vienna’s elegant streets and admire the beautiful buildings, others come to attend a performance at the famous State Opera House or at one of the concert halls to listen to the music of Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven. During the celebrated three month ball season, many come to Vienna to attend one of the extravagant formal balls. My husband and I may not have waltzed the night away but we had a great visit. We especially enjoyed the incredible Imperial palaces of the Habsburg Emperors  that have been transformed into wonderful museums.

The Gloriette At The Schoenbrunn Palace

We arrived in Vienna late in the afternoon after a beautiful drive along the Danube River that runs through the Wachau valley a little more than an hour outside the city. Vienna is divided into different districts with many good hotels in each but for our first visit to the city we wanted to stay in the Innere Stadt (1st district). This historic district in the very heart of the city has a wonderful amount of palaces, museums, and churches to visit. This is also where you will find lots of restaurants and cafes, many on pedestrian only streets, to enjoy after a full day of sightseeing.

We decided on the Bristol Hotel. The hotel is located just across the street from the Vienna State Opera House. The doorman quickly greeted us, took our car and had the luggage delivered to our room while we registered at the front desk. The Bristol Hotel has a nice mix of history and modern comfort and felt very welcoming.

Click on any photo in this article to enlarge and see a slide show.

When making our reservation, I able to choose between staying in one of their classically designed rooms or one of their new Art Nouveau rooms which was my choice. Upon being shown to our Bristol Suite, I was thrilled. Our corner room was filled with light from floor to ceiling wrap around windows that looked out at the Opera House. The living area was not only beautifully designed but was very comfortable with a seating area in front of a bookcase wall with a fireplace and TV, a desk behind the sofa and a small dining table set up with an Italian coffee maker.

The separate kingsize  bedroom also had a floor to ceiling window looking out at the Opera as well. I guess you could say that staying in this beautiful suite made me feel like Cinderella…all I needed was to be able to go to one of Vienna’s famous balls.

The hotel’s location was great as most everything we wanted to see was within walking distance.

On a rainy day…yes, the clouds and rain continued to follow us from Berlin, Prague, the Bavarian Forest and now Vienna, we bought tickets through the hotel’s concierge for the hop on, hop off bus tour. One of the bus stops was right in front of the Opera. The bus tour was a good introduction for our first visit to this beautiful city.

The Karlsplatz tram and U-bahn interchange was just steps outside the Bristol Hotel and was very useful for going to the sites that were not within walking distance, such as the impressive Schoenbrunn Palace.

After a full day of traveling, we wanted to find a cozy little restaurant where we could relax and have a good dinner on our first night in Vienna. I asked the concierge at our hotel and he recommended an Italian restaurant called Sole just off the main shopping avenue that was within walking distance of the hotel.

We were warmly greeted and shown to one of the last available tables in the tiny restaurant. After a delicious meal, the owner, Aki Nuredini stopped by to make sure that we enjoyed our meal and offered us after dinner drinks. Aki, such a warm  and sincere gentlemen, treated us as kindly as the famous opera singer who was dining at a nearby table. His restaurant is a favorite with singers, conductors and musicians that perform in Vienna as well as politicians and actors. I can certainly see why it is a favorite, it feels like your home away from home.

The fine food and the personal attention shown at the restaurant had us returning on our last evening in Vienna for another meal. This was the first time in all the years of traveling that my husband and I returned for a second meal in a city we were visiting so that lets you know how much we enjoyed Sole. At the end of the evening, Aki walked us out and wished us safe travels.

While Vienna is both an elegant cultural and musical destination with fine restaurants, it is also is known for its traditional coffee houses, pastries such as apple strudel and a famous chocolate cake called Sachertorte and Wiener schnitzel. You can have a good meal in a Michelin rated restaurant or at a simple café, there is surely by something on the menu to please your taste.

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My husband and I have traveled to Austria many times spending days in the Tirol and the Lake District. We enjoyed the cities of Salzburg and Innsbruck as well as many small villages but we never visited Vienna. Why did we wait so long…I can’t really say. We only had two full days to visit this beautiful cosmopolitan city and the weather was not ideal yet Vienna captured our hearts. I hope that we get the chance to visit this delightful city again on a future visit to Austria.

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The Bavarian Forest, Jagdhof Röhrnbach And The Danube

The Bavarian Forest, Hotel Jagdhof Röhrnbach And The Danube. While most everyone has heard of the Danube River and tens of thousands of people take river cruises on it every year, the nearby Bavarian Forest is almost an unknown region to most of those same travelers. The beautiful and uncrowded outdoor hiking area of Bayerischer Wald as it is called in German is located in the southeast corner of Germany between the Danube River and the border with the Czech Republic and Austria.

Bavarian Forest   Photo Courtesy of: Tourism-marketing-bayerischer-wald.de

Within a two to three hour drive from Munich, Prague and Vienna, my husband and I decided to visit this region and chose the Wellness Hotel Jagdhof in Röhrnbach as one of ten hotels we would be staying at during this year’s five week European holiday. We knew the hotel would make an ideal base from which to explore the Danube and the well known German towns of Regensburg (73 km), Passau (25 km) and other towns nearby.

The Jagdhof is the only five star spa hotel in the Bavarian Forest and what a nice hotel it is. Located in the center of the small town of Röhrnbach, the hotel is designed with a nice mix of trendy modern comfort and German traditional style. The large lobby is decorated in warm colors with white columns, marble floors and a huge chandelier.

While not the largest room at the hotel, our very large Wellness suite (60 sq. meters) had everything you could possibly want and then some. Decorated in a contemporary country style, the suite had an entrance foyer with a large walk in closet. The living room had a large flat screen TV, a Nespresso machine and a mini bar. The separate  kingsize bedroom had a flat screen TV as well. The large bathroom had a soaking tub, walk in shower, and separate toilet. There were two an outdoor terraces, one from the living room as well as one from the bedroom. This was a room you could definitely call home. Add the wonderful restaurant and modern spa and you might never want to leave the Jagdhof.

In our case, that is exactly what we did for our two nights at the Jagdhof as the weather ended up being rainy during our entire stay. Instead of day trips to explore the nearby towns on the Danube, we ended up spending each day in the hotel’s outstanding spa, the largest in Bavaria. We had walked many a mile visiting the historic cities of Berlin and Prague before arriving at the Jagdhof and it actually felt very nice to just relax for two days.

The spa area is huge and includes both indoor and outdoor pools, six different saunas, a separate ladies spa and large relaxing areas both inside and out.

Jagdhof Buffet

The hotel’s restaurant serves an outstanding buffet breakfast and a buffet lunch with sweet treats.In the evening there is a six course dinner menu with an appetizer buffet and a dessert and cheese buffet that  is included in the room rate. There is a nice bar area where you can enjoy cocktails, wine and beer and there is evening entertainment.

We were sorry that we didn’t get to explore the Bavarian Forest because of the rain during our time in the region but you can’t do anything about the weather when you travel. The sun finally broke through the clouds after leaving Germany. Glorious sunshine appeared just as we neared the Wachau Valley on our drive to Vienna.

The entire region, with terraced vineyards and apricot orchards that slope down to the Danube River, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its beautiful scenery, picturesque villages and medieval castle ruins.  The 22 mile stretch of the Danube from Melk to Krems is considered one of the most scenic areas in this part of Lower Austria.

Danube River

We stopped briefly in Melk, a small town along the banks of the Danube. It’s famous for its 18th century Benedictine abbey which is the largest Baroque structure in Austria where monks have lived and worked for 900 years.

We stopped in the small town of Spitz for lunch at the Gasthaus Prankl. On a rocky ridge high above the restaurant is the ruins of the Hinterhaus Castle. The guesthouse offers a choice of dining on the outside stone terrace or inside the restaurant. At either spot, you can enjoy a glass of wine or beer and have a traditional  meal made from local ingredients.

After lunch, we continued our drive, passing through sweet little villages like Weissenkirchen and Durnstein. On a hill high above Durnstein there are the ruins of a castle where King Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner by an Austrian Duke until a ransom was paid for his release.

Durnstein With Castle Ruins High Above The Danube

The town of Krems makes a good start for a Danube river cruise of the area. While in the valley, you can also do a wine connoisseur’s tour of Wachau vineyards for tastings of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling that are famous in Austria.

Terraced Vineyards In Along The Danube

Perhaps you might even want to take one of the very popular guided bike tours of the area stopping at some of the small growers for a wine tasting.  After leaving Krems, it was  just a short hour’s drive into Vienna, our next stop on our holiday.

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As many times as my husband and I have visited both Germany and Austria, this year’s trip took us to new areas. The Bavarian Forest is popular with Germans but almost unknown to foreign tourists. The Wachau Valley, on the other hand, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular with tourists from around the world. With lots of quaint towns along this area of Danube, the Wachau Valley is a very popular day trip from Vienna.

Would I return to visit the Bavarian Forest or spend time along the Danube River in the Wachau Valley again, absolutely…perhaps next year.

 

 

 

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Prague, A Hot Travel Destination

Just hours away from Berlin and Vienna, Prague has become a hot travel destination in Central Europe. Ask most travelers that haven’t been to Prague already and they will say that it is on their bucket list. This beautiful city is filled with Baroque architecture, soaring church spires, cobblestone streets, interesting  neighborhoods filled with art galleries and museums, and has delicious food and great beer and wine, what more could a traveler ask for.

A stroll across the famous Charles Bridge is one of the first things that every visitor who goes to Prague wants to do but that is just the beginning of what this fascinating city has to offer. I would say, put Prague on your bucket list of places to visit and let me show you why.

Click on any photo in the story to enlarge and see a slide show. 

Charles Bridge is perhaps the most photographed sight in the city. The famous  stone bridge, with Gothic towers at both ends and lined with 30 statues of saints, spans the Vltava river which divides the town into two parts. Old Town is on one side of the river and Lesser Town, with its castle high on the hill, lies on the river’s other bank. The views from the pedestrian only bridge are wonderful but be warned, it is swarming  with tourists unless you visit at dawn’s first light.

Old Town Square with the Jan Hus Memorial at its center is home to many of the major sites. The two Gothic towers of Tyn Church can be seen as you enter the square from almost any of the narrow cobblestone streets that radiate off the square. Just before the hour, large crowds gather at the Astronomical Clock which is part of old town hall,  to watch it come to action for 45 seconds. (The clock tower is under restoration until the summer of 2018 but the clock is still visible.)

Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle complex in the world with its many courtyards, palaces, gardens and sweeping views of the town, has been used by kings and emperors and is the official home of the President of the Czech Republic.

The most dominant feature of Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. It is the final resting place for not only Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors but important saints as well. Perhaps the most well known tomb being that of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic and  who so many of us associate with the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”.

Another feature at the castle is a tiny lane next to the ramparts called the Golden Lane. The lane has very small, almost fairytale size houses where servants, guards and goldsmiths among others once lived. Later they were homes to writers such as Franz Kafka who once lived at number twenty-two.

If the weather is nice, be sure to visit the castle’s many beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, the day of our visit, it was rainy and cold.

John Lennon Wall, a graffiti filled landmark is one of the many unusual public art displays in the city. On your walks throughout the city go in search of some of the works of Czech artist David Cerny, Czech sculptor Jaroslav Rona, and others.

There is a debate on where you should stay in Prague. During this visit, we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental which is in Lesser Town where the castle is located. Proponents call this the quiet side and I would have to agree. While the hotel was very nice, my husband and I would probably stay in Old Town next time as it is very convenient to most attractions whereas we had to take a taxi to many of the places we wanted to visit.

When it comes to restaurants that we thought were very good and would return to, I can recommend three.

U Modré Kachničky (“The Little Blue Duck” in Czech), serves traditional everyday Czech food that has been recreated into sophisticated Bohemian cuisine. It has two locations, one in Old Town and the original one right next to our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, in Lesser Town. It’s a cozy little restaurant that specializes in duck and wild game. We had a delicious meal there on our first night in Prague.

Divinis, owned by Czech celebrity chef Zdeněk Pohlreich prepares refined Italian cuisine with the finest of Italian products. The restaurant has an excellent all Italian wine list. From beginning to end, the food we had was outstanding.

Aromi, considered one of the top restaurants in Prague. It’s a very nice, modern Italian restaurant where the emphasis is on incredibly fresh fish and seafood simply prepared so the fresh ingredients really shine. Our waiter brought out a huge tray of fresh fish and described each one and how the chef suggested they should each be served. We decided on a whole halibut cooked with a light lemon sauce that was absolutely delicious.

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Whether you want to sit and have a drink at a sidewalk café on the square after exploring Old Town, spend a day visiting Prague castle and its gardens, take a stroll over Charles Bridge to have dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants or go in search of Bohemian crystal to take home as a souvenir, Prague is bound to charm even the most jaded of travelers.

Yes, after my visit to this interesting city, I can see why Prague is a hot destination in Central Europe and I would definitely recommend that you put it on your travel bucket list.

 

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Restaurant Heimlich Treu, A Berlin Hidden Gem

Restaurant Heimlich Treu, a Berlin hidden gem, is definitely worth seeking out. The restaurant’s name, which translates to something like “remain faithful to us but don’t tell anybody” is definitely a delicious secret. With basically no advertising, learning about the restaurant is strictly by word of mouth from those in the know.

With no sign out front on a nondescript street in Berlin-Mitte, unless someone gives you explicit directions, you would never dream that a trendy restaurant lies a short walk ahead. Luckily, we were told by the concierge at the Adlon Kempinski hotel that you have to walk through two courtyards to get to the hidden restaurant. If it wasn’t for the small brass letters spelling Heimlich Treu beside the open door, you might think you were walking into someone’s home.

The restaurant is a large, open room with white washed brick walls accented with  warm earth tones, exposed beams, dark wood floors and modern lighting. Leather sofas, metal chairs, wooden tables and bold art all combine to give it a cozy, casual atmosphere. At the back of the restaurant, there is also a lovely garden in a third courtyard for drinks and dining in nice weather.

The front of the restaurant features the bar where bartenders prepare cocktails that are inventive twists on classics. And what delicious cocktails they are. Arnd Heissen, head bartender at the Ritz Carlton and one of the top mixologists in Germany, created some of the restaurant’s cocktails. He believes that about sixty percent of what you taste comes from what you smell and he’s known for his unusual syrups, infusions and blends he uses when creating a drink.

The Tempting Mule Cocktail

After being greeted by the welcoming staff, we were shown to our table and given menus. While looking over the dinner menu, I ordered “The Tempting Mule”, a cocktail made with sandalwood infused syrup, Cointreau, lime and Grey Goose vodka. It was very good and reminded me of the sweet spicy aromas of Christmas back in New England. My husband had the “Fern Tree” cocktail made with mint, cedar infused syrup, lemon and Bombay Sapphire East, equally good.

The menu, written in German on one side and English on the other, features tapas size appetizers and main courses that are all meant for sharing. The dishes are modern twists on German food as well as some of the newest food trends. The menu only lists the main ingredients (popular in many restaurants now) but that was not a problem as our waiter explained how each of the items we were interested in was prepared.

We ordered four appetizers…scallops, octopus, pork belly and beets. We also ordered the Ibérico pork main as well as sides of rice fries and spicy cold cucumbers. We enjoyed a tasting of four lemon deserts to finish our meal. Each dish was very good but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the octopus (pulpo), perfectly cooked with an emulsion of chorizo and black garlic. It appears that others agree as it is the one dish that stays on the menu, the other dishes regularly change.

Mike Krause, the very personable owner of Heimlich Treu, joined us at our table after dinner. We talked about his restaurant, his creative cuisine and about Berlin in general. He told us about growing up in East Berlin before the wall came down and how different it is today. During our five weeks of travel in Europe, I would say that spending time with Mike and dining in his restaurant was one of the most enjoyable evenings of our trip.

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When thinking back on our experience at Heimlich Treu, it was a very pleasurable experience. With handcrafted cocktails and very tasty dishes that any foodie would  enjoy, what more could one ask for. If an American foodie like myself found out about the Heimlich Treu, I don’t think the restaurant will remain a secret too long. Yes, I’ll “remain faithful” to the restaurant and return if I am in Berlin again. I’m having a little problem with “not telling anyone” so it will just be our little delicious  secret.

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