Our junior web designer, Tiffany Stewart, just got back from two weeks in the Bavarian Alps and London, but it was her five-day stay at Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat and Cultural Hideaway that she won’t soon forget. Just 60 miles south of Munich, this fairy tale resort is located on 370 pristine acres backdropped by the Wetterstein mountain range. Witness to two world wars and a devastating fire, the 92-room Schloss Elmau has been a vibrant artists’ retreat, a renowned center for chamber music and a meeting place for heads of state. One thing has remained a constant, though: In its 101-year history, it has always been more than a hotel.
Overall impressions: Having already visited Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne, I have a good idea of what city life is like in Germany. But this was my first trip to the Bavarian Alps, and it has won me over. I am now determined to move there, learn German, Italian and French and become my own fashionable version of Heidi. Everything was breathtaking!
Thing you can’t forget: Driving through the park on the way to the hotel. Surrounded by gigantic imposing trees, we rounded a corner and glimpsed the Schloss through a clearing. It’s hard not to gasp upon seeing it for the first time.
Good to know: Our junior suite was in the historic section of the property, so while there was no central air-conditioning, the open windows created an amazing cool cross breeze. The room was spacious and bright, with windows everywhere so we could soak in the view. We even had our own balcony off the bathroom.
Favorite moment: Driving through the Bavarian countryside and gazing upon the beautiful lakes filled with clear mountain water and reflecting the blue skies. I was sorely tempted to simply stop the car and jump in, but we were on our way to Neuschwanstein so we had to press on.
Favorite meal or meals: Upon arrival, the chef concierge, Kubilay Karaca, scheduled all of our evening meals, so we were able to eat at four of the seven restaurants on the property. By far my favorite was Fidelio, which dubs itself “high Thai cuisine.” For our prix fixe menu, we enjoyed glass noodles with chicken, beef satay, coconut soup with chicken and sea bass in banana leaf. Everything was delicious, spicy (as I prefer) and beautifully plated.
Favorite sightseeing: Our self-driving tour of three recommended sites: the Ettal Abbey, Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein castle. The drive was quite beautiful as we passed peaceful meadows, quaint towns and, one of my favorite lakes, the Plansee. Tickets for guided tours of the castle sell out quickly, so advance reservations are recommended. We didn’t have tickets but were happy to view the castle exterior only — along with plenty of other tourists. After parking at the ticket center in Hohenschwangau, we took a bus to the castle. However, there is the option to walk up the path 30 to 40 minutes or take a horse-drawn carriage.
Surprising tidbit: The New York Times has called the Schloss Elmau “the thinking person’s haven in the outdoors.” To that end, it has the biggest hotel bookshop in the world and myriad concerts and performances that guests can experience for free (there were 250 last year alone).
Day-trip suggestions: The Schloss is a popular hike and bike destination, and there are two mountain lakes behind the Schloss that are easily hiked to. The path will lead you to the Ferchensee and the Lautersee right outside Mittenwald, one of the most beautiful Alpine villages in Bavaria. The hike from the hotel to Mittenwald is about six and a half miles.
What to pack: The resort is quite relaxed, so I wore dark jeans and skirts and a light sweater or blazer for evening. (Colorful bathrobes are provided, and a good portion of the patrons spent their days lounging in them.) If you plan on being active, a solid pair of sneakers or hiking shoes are a must.
Insider’s Tip: Take advantage of the nature spa, on the Ferchenbach creek, open mid-June to mid-September, or the more traditional but exceptional Shantigiri Spa, with its open-air infinity pool and separate facilities for adults and women. They are all beautiful and well worth it.
Any regrets: While the Al Camino Piano Bar & Lounge looked warm and inviting, I never made it. I hope there’s a next time.