Those who like to solve crossword puzzles know that a “mountain pasture” with three letters often appears in them. It is called alm. In Austria, there are more than 12,000 of such cultivated alpine pastures on which cattle graze in the summer. In eastern Styria, there is the Almenland Nature Park – about 50 km north of Graz and 180 km southeast of Vienna – named after these pastures. It is one of the largest alpine regions, ideal for recharging your energy (not only) during a weekend.
We came here in mid-October. The trees have not yet had time to color properly in the bright colors of autumn, but in many places, fresh snowdrifts had already formed. The cattle had already retreated to the valley for the winter, we could only see a few of cows grazing on the meadows, like the ones we know from the packaging of Milka chocolate – light brown cows with white spots. As we climbed higher by car, the snowy areas grew bigger.
Our destination was the village of Brandlucken, which is also known as the eastern gateway to the Alm region, and the first Naturparkhotel in the region – Bauernhofer – at an altitude of 1,132 meters above sea level.
The hotel interior and the rooms are like a continuation of the natural scenery – natural colors predominate, especially green and brown, and there is a lot of wood from the local forests everywhere. Our room was spacious, with a large bathroom and a terrace overlooking the trees. A jug of spring water was already waiting for us on the table and a small fragrant bag with dried herbs from the local meadows and gardens was prepared on the bed so that we could have more beautiful dreams…
In addition, Stefanie from the reception also offered us a welcome drink and took us around the hotel. Since 1905, it has been in the hands of the 5th generation of the Bauernhofer family. We noticed a picture of a squirrel in the logo and as well as in some other places. To my question about why a squirrel Stefanie answered that it is a nice animal that symbolizes the forests that are all around here, but also the dexterity of the hotel staff 🙂 . Just a pity we didn’t meet a single squirrel outside in nature!
A large photo of a squirrel was on the wall in the hotel restaurant as well, but there were also two nice elves supervising whether we ate everything (no elves outside either).
I think that the elves in the restaurant have a very simple job because the prepared meals were excellent. In addition, they were made from local ingredients. The hotel belongs to the B78 Garantie group, which means that all products come from the regions within a radius of 78 km. So we tasted excellent veal from cattle grazing on the local alms, milk from the local cows, eggs from free-range hens, forest fruits from the surrounding forests or tea from herbs from nearby meadows.
At the breakfast buffet, I was most interested in the various types of honey flavored with sea buckthorn berries, chokeberries, cinnamon, blueberries or raspberries (that one was my favorite!).
The national park is mainly used for hiking and nature walks, so only some soups, salads and pastries are served at the hotel at lunch. On the other hand, the dinner will satisfy the taste buds of even the most demanding gourmets (the hotel also has a restaurant for non-hotel guests).
The hotel’s wellness area is dominated by natural tones and images from nature, too, which is enhanced by the view through large windows or from the outdoor terrace. That is why this part of the hotel is called Wald & Wiesn‘Spa (Forest and Meadow Spa). It consists of a sauna world, a swimming pool and a relaxation area. Various massages also use local products – oils from local plants, mainly mallow and limbo pine. The pool is small, it would certainly be nice if the hotel had an outdoor pool as well, but as they told us innovative plans are already being worked on.
For children, there is an outdoor playground, a children’s corner and a playroom. Near the hotel, just on the other side of the road, a more than 300-year-old farmhouse called Huab’n attracts visitors. In 2000, it was completely dismantled and transferred to this place.
This type of house with a built-in stable used to be very common at nearby pastures. Today, this building houses a restaurant, a small museum, a creative workshop, but also the Greißlerei – a shop full of handmade objects made of wood, beeswax, felt and other natural materials. There is also a whole army of ceramic angels.
However, I was especially attracted by the shelves with local specialties, such as homemade pasta, herb salts, but also herb sugar, oils, vinegar, fruit juices, liqueurs, teas, sauces, jams, honey… I was already familiar with some of these products from the breakfast buffet at the hotel, so it will certainly not be difficult for you to guess what I bought there… 🙂
But Huab´n has also another important function that you would not even expect in this mountain area. It serves as a theatrical backdrop! In 2000, not only a rebuilt wooden house was opened, but also an open-air theater with a capacity of 594 seats. In July and August (unless a dangerous virus is flying outside), 20 humorous theatrical plays will take place here, the interest is said to be huge and tickets will be sold out quickly.
Current information in German: www.huabn-theater.at
However, that’s not all. In order for visitors to enjoy the theater at other times of the year, the hotel’s cellar also houses a theater (85 seats), which plays every Wednesday in April, May, June, September, October and November.
More information: www.huabn-theater.at/mittwochtheater
Almenland Nature Park was founded in 2006, there are various natural attractions, energy sites, caves, gorges, ponds, peat bogs and waterfalls. In winter, cross-country skiers like to come here, but we also saw the ski lifts, which can no longer wait for the first skiers. In the summer months, but also in spring and autumn, the park is a paradise for cyclists and hikers.
Every morning, we found a hotel bulletin on our table in the restaurant with the weather forecast, menu and a tip for a trip or hike along one of the 23 hiking trails. Hotel guests also receive a special GenussCard with over 120 excursion destinations, museums, nature, sports and culinary experiences. Nordic sticks, a backpack and a drink bottle can be borrowed free of charge at the hotel, and you can pack a snack of your choice at the breakfast. When your feet get tired, there are benches in many places so that you can relax while enjoying the view of the hills and meadows. There is also a special taxi service in the region, which takes or returns you to the starting point of your tour.
We headed towards Teichalm-Sommeralm (1,400 m above sea level). Beautiful winter scenery opened up in front of us all the time.
We met only a few tourists and a family who had built their first snowman this year. When the figure was ready, the children threw themselves into the soft white duvet with the enthusiasm and joy that only children can show. Another snowman was guarded by a dog. The trees and fences were laden with thick snow and tiny yellow flowers protruded from the snow on the ground. We discovered also traces of a hare and a fox. Black clouds were thickening in the sky and it started to snow again.
We returned to the forest near the hotel. To our great surprise, we found many chanterelles and other wild mushrooms. We had to leave some of them there because they had been soaked with moisture from the snow that you felt like holding a wet sponge. But the ones we brought home were still healthy.
One of the perfect excursion destinations – whether in summer or winter – is Lake Teichalmsee at an altitude of 1,200 meters above sea level. It wasn’t frozen yet, instead of skating we could only walk around the water.
A big attraction is Almi – a 6 m high and 10 m long ox made of wood and covered with 22,400 wooden shingles – as a symbol of the Almo brand – fine beef, which is a specialty and the main product of this region. Everyone makes a stop at the huge ox, takes a picture or at least pulls the cord to ring the bell on its bulky neck. In summer, the surrounding pastures are full of grazing cattle, now only boards on wooden fences remind us of that, which warn visitors to keep their distance from cows, especially when walking a dog.
The 1 km long educational route along the peat bog is also very interesting. The age of the peat bog is estimated at 7.5 – 9,000 years, it is home to many plants and animals. The area around the wooden sidewalk (very slippery at this time!) was wet, soft and muddy, the shadows of trouts were flashing in a rivulet and we could still find some yellow flowers of marsh-marigold here. The robust spruces alternated with alders with gray, spotted trunks, their leaves were already rusting. The dark image was occasionally brightened by the deep red rowanberries. There were broken branches and old stumps overgrown with mushrooms and lichens.
Almenland Nature Park has its charm in every season and offers plenty of opportunities for active holidays in summer and winter, or at least on weekends. It is a place where the pace is not determined by the hands on the clock, but by the sun and clouds, snow, wind or rain. If you go here, the Naturhotel Bauernhofer will certainly not disappoint you with its excellent services.
Naturparkhotel Bauernhofer ****
Brandlucken im Almenland 78
How to get there:
From Vienna via Semmering (S6) or Wechsel (A2). The nearest train stations are in Weiz, Frohnleiten, Mixnitz and Bruck/Mur. The nearest airports are Graz and Vienna.
I would like to thank the Bauernhofer family for the invitation and the opportunity to spend a beautiful weekend at their Naturparkhotel.
Note: all opinions expressed in this article are my own.