A place in the mountains appears to be like the garden Eden - full of longstanding traditions, mixed with open minds. Culinary highlights, beautiful architecture, and warm-hearted people make your stay unforgettable.
* We were kindly invited by Hotel Baeren in Mellau.
When I think back, it's been a long time since I've packed my weekender bag (okay, okay, it's my mother's, but anyway). Why am I telling you this? If your days are quite packed like mine, it sometimes doesn't feel nice to go on a vacation. Don't get me wrong, I love to travel. But, with the vacation, comes the cleaning, the packing, the washing, organizing, etc. You know what I am talking about. Therefore, sometimes feel quite stressed out before my vacation even starts. Everything has to be organized before we can actually leave. Something I perhaps realized from the moment I turned 30 or after my around the world trip (who knows?) is to appreciate small vacations not far away from home. Already at our last getaway for the weekend in Brand in March, or my stay in Gaschurn earlier...I can't explain how light I was feeling. Seriously, if you travel somewhere for around 4 nights, you need to think more about what you pack. That's even more so when you take the plane.
Now, let the destination be only about an hour away from home, maybe two or three, you get my point. And let's say you're just going for a night or two, you really don't need a lot. For this weekend trip to Mellau, Bregenzerwald, all we wanted to do was to enjoy food, go for a hike, and try out the sauna.
Our destination was: Hotel Bären (Baeren) in Mellau, Bregenzerwald.
As already mentioned, the drive to the hotel was quite short and what I need to tell you is that driving through the Bregenzerwald area is spectacular already. What's so special about this area? To give you an idea, the Bregenzerwald comprises of 22 villages with around 30,000 inhabitants. As the locals, we call them 'Wälder' (deriving from the Bregenzerwald) and they are a bit 'off' from the Rhine valley - they support each other (as it's probably always been). They buy local as much as possible and therefore have a well-marked sustainable economic interest. The Bregenzerwald locals, I'd say, look rather for high quality than quantity. As written on the Bregenzerwald website they ..."are confident, independent people, proud of their roots yet receptive to new things too."
The Bregenzerwald landscape is like a beautiful landscape painting. With the only difference - it's real! You are driving through it first and then you get to experience it on firsthand...by walking, biking, skiing...there are many possibilities. As already mentioned, it's a bit like garden Eden. It's so utterly beautiful, hard to describe, yet so easy to experience. Nature here is so gorgeous. Hills, rivers, valleys, mountain peaks to climb to, farmers to watch maintaining their fields, cows (of course!)...
If your heart and soul needs a break, this place will do its own to make them happy again and bring them into balance.
I have been to the Hotel Baeren once before for a (perfect!) cup of coffee after skiing and I enjoy the feeling you get as soon as you enter the front door. It's a perfect mix of feeling welcomed, and a feeling of freedom... not this freedom of running around in the hotel like a crazy person, although you're not staying there. What I mean is the freedom to walk around Café Deli as you like. It's because the staff is very relaxed and friendly and they have an easy-going attitude.
This becomes clearer after taking a look at their 'mananifesto' philosophy on their website. Here's the most important quote in my opinion:
"The Hotel Bären is the place for the pleasures that result from the small things in life:
have a cup of tea together, a long morning in the morning coat,
feel the wind in the hair, collect stones in the Bregenzerache river,
doodles, lying in the grass,carving, star gazing, climbing trees,
playing cards, walking barefoot through the snow,
leaning against the wall with a coffee,..."
Let's get to the important facts. The room! Our room (nr 303) was big and had a small kitchenette right at the entrance, which I found very useful when traveling for a longer time, or to prepare something small when you come home and you're starving. Or, let's say you have kids and you need to prepare something for them. From there, to the left side, is the bathroom (small, but offers everything you need). There are some shelves, which I found very useful for organizing your stuff when you unpack everything. The bed is big and comfy, and there were also some very convenient sitting possibilities. Although it was just the two of us, it felt great to lie down on the sofa, or sit in one of the chairs (either at the small coffee table or at the table with a view to the mountains.
The design of the room is very clean and basic, yet full of some small details and high-quality furniture and design elements. Like their philosophy, it's all about the basics and enjoying the simple life.
The colors are simple, the room is white and the wooden elements give the room a very nice look. Added are a few colors from a chair, one little carpet and some colored cushions on the sofa.
Because the hotel is environment friendly, you only find a big dispenser in the shower and a soap in the bathroom. There's a hairdryer hidden in a bag next to the sink.
If you need your body lotion or something for your hair, be prepared and bring it with you. Also, don't forget to bring your own flip-flops. Towels and bathrobes for your sauna visit are provided.
Visiting the sauna
To take full advantage of this beautiful place, we wanted to try out their sauna. It's quite a big Finnish sauna made from local lime wood. It has a terrace, which is nice to step out on and to watch the village life from, and later we went to the upper floor where a really cool relaxation room was waiting for us. I served ourselves some tea and we lay down and relaxed a bit. Oh, and don't miss the view while you're there!
Our evening was very relaxed. We went for dinner at a restaurant called Katrina in Bezau. The bio hotel Schwanen in Bizau was highly recommended, but we were there already in winter and wanted to try out something new. In hindsight, we should have probably gone to the Schwanen again. I'm always honest with you; I wouldn't go to Katrina again. At first, I thought it was a good sign that most locals were sitting inside. I had a vegetarian paella and Martin had spaghetti with prawns. The food wasn't bad at all, but it was very oily and it's not what we usually enjoy eating.
After our dinner, we decided not to go out anymore and take it easy in our hotel room instead. We walked from our parking lot to the hotel and enjoyed watching people going for walks and young people going out. Mellau, for sure, was a surprisingly vibrant town in the evening. We got back to our room and enjoyed all those seating possibilities. I lay on the sofa while working a bit on my phone and Martin used the comfy chair at the coffee table. Later, as we got more and more tired, I walked barefoot to the bed. The floor is wooden and it gives the whole room a feeling of being at home (where I walk barefoot a lot, too).
In bed, we turned off the lights and opened up the windows. I loved the fresh smell of the bed linen; the simple touch felt so comfortable like it was ironed for hours to lay there in such a perfect way. I cuddled myself under the sheets and kept saying repeatedly how unbelievably comfy this bed was. The bed, by the way, is a recycled product. The wood you see here was used from the old attic. It has a great look! I closed my eyes and listened to the gentle humming of the Bregenzerache river (which is basically right next to the hotel), as soothing as meditation music.
Breakfast at Café Deli
Okay, I keep on saying this but it's true. This is ANOTHER gem on my breakfast places highlights list. A MUST if you love food and comfy places where you can simply relax. If you're not staying at the hotel, you can make a reservation and enjoy all the good things too. There are so many options at the buffet that I couldn't even manage to try them all out (what a bummer!). The buffet is mostly vegetarian and vegan.
It's focused on regional kitchen and there's a variety of delicious, healthy food. Different kinds of fruits and veggies, and a few home-made spreads. My favorite was wild garlic hummus and beetroot spread. And I particularly fell in love with their carrot quiche. Yum, yum, yum! My favorite place to sit was right at the window where we watched everyone going for a hike, while we enjoyed our breakfast.
Hiking to Gopfberg
In my mind, nature and good food is something I associate immediately with the Bregenzerwald region. After a long and extensive breakfast at the café Deli, we changed our outfits, unpacked the hiking boots, filled up our backpack, and off we went. There's a blackboard with some hikes right at the reception desk and we want to say many thanks to the lovely Julia who helped us with a map and told us which hike would probably be the best for us. I was recovering from a surgery and therefore we decided to do something challenging, yet doable, as I haven't done any sports for two weeks. The Gopfberg was a great choice! It's a very easy-going walk first in the village of Mellau and with a map and the sign; it's easy to follow the path as it's going up towards the towards the summit cross.
It took us two hours to reach it and it's possible to either go back the same way or to get down another trail (which we decided to go for). I think in total it took us around 4 hours (including photo stops and a quick snack at the summit).
Do I need to mention we rewarded ourselves back at the hotel? Sure enough, once we came back, we treated ourselves with delicious homemade cakes and a cup of good, sustainable, and fair coffee?
This stylish, vibrant and hip place in Mellau is definitely THE place to stay if you're somehow interested in urban places, meet fascinating and cool people, are interested in design, and a relaxed lifestyle. What's important to me is sustainability, a good sleep, and good food. None of these points will be overlooked at your stay there.
Do you have any questions about the Bregenzerwald or about our stay? Are you planning to visit this beautiful place yourself? Shoot me your comments and I'd be happy to answer them!
* Thank you to the entire team of Hotel Baeren for our stay. I was invited to stay there, yet my opinion is as always my own.