Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A fascinating factory tour and a bizarre hotel

If there is one phrase likely to cause a seasoned traveller to grimace it is "factory tour". Many such tours are designed as nothing more than hard-sell visits to wholesale outlets from which it is almost impossible to escape unless you have opened your wallet and paid your penance for being so stupid. 

The exact opposite, and possibly the most fascinating factory tour I have undertaken, is a visit to the Riedel  glass-blowing operation in Austria. It is no exaggeration to say that the Riedel family has helped transform the way some of us drink wine. Many top restaurants use only glasses produced by Riedel and/or sister company Spiegelau

Now based in the picture-postcard village of Kufstein, Riedel was established in Bohemia in 1756 and has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 250 years. 

It is now run by 10th-generation crystal glassware producer Georg Riedel and his son Maximilian, who head a business that generates around $300 million a year – an expansion explosion based on the discovery by forebear Claus Riedel that wine glasses can be designed in different shapes to enhance the experience of drinking different wine styles.

A trip to watch the many Riedel glasses and decanters being hand-blown is de rigueur for wine lovers visiting the Tyrol.  



The Riedel glass-blowing centre welcomes visitors with free multi-lingual tours held daily and it is absolutely fascinating to watch the artisans blow glassware items that are all unique, but so close to each other that it is impossible for the naked eye to pick up the differences. 

And if you can’t make it to Austria, you can shop online at www.riedelglass.com.au.

If the Riedel operation, which also features a shop selling rare decanters and other memorabilia, is on your agenda, you must also visit the Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt - perhaps the most kitsch hotel in the world with staff are dressed as if they are off to audition for a remake of The Sound Of Music

Then there is the decor; every ski chalet cliché is covered from the many wooden beams and piles of firewood to the roaring log fire – in the height of summer.  

And there is the view from the lounge; which directly overlooks a dressage ring, where magnificent white Lipizzaner horses are being put through their paces to a soundtrack of saccharine Euro pop.

At night the house entertainer Hansi is dressed in lederhosen and plays a traditional wooden zither. There’s also DJ Otto playing “great dance music”.  The hotel’s website even goes so far as to say that staying here is “just like being in a fairytale”.



Throw in the “Oasis of Silence”: a mock cave with recliner chairs with views of an aquarium containing not one, but two black tip reef sharks, the nude spa and some leather-clad male staff and you might well think you were on the set of a porn movie.

Not so. In winter, the Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt is a giant ski resort; in summer it is a health spa nestled in the middle of a beautiful natural wilderness region with dramatic views of the Wilder Kaiser mountain range that can cause you to catch your breath. And it's a hotel much favoured by Austria’s rich and famous.      

The Stanglwirt is a family-run business that first opened in 1609 and has not closed for a single day in the past 250 years.

It operates on organic principles with rooms and suites created from natural materials, including wood, lots of wood, while carpets are made from pure wool, and the towels and bed linen are 100 % cotton or linen.

Meats and cheeses served in the restaurants come from the on-site farm, while water used is from the property’s own natural spring.  

The hotel also hosts a twice-yearly folk music festival and is just a short drive from Kufstein. The bizarrely-dressed hotel staff prove to be both helpful and multilingual; while the breakfast buffet is awe-inspiring in both its size and scope.  



There are eight outdoor tennis courts, and six indoors, a golf course and a fitness garden with high-tech gym equipment and in winter you can enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh-ride through the snow, or a dip in one of the heated thermal pools. Golf, tennis and riding lessons are all on offer.

Those in need of some therapy can enjoy a manicure, pedicure, massage, facial or Ayurvedic treatment, or sample one of the many thalasso therapy options, including the rock sauna, organic pine sauna, salt water grotto, natural stone sauna, the Wilder Kaiser sauna, the whirlpool area or the mountain crystal stream grotto. Of course there is also the Asia Bath section of the spa, with its Thai jungle decorations, the mere sight of which is likely to provoke a bout of tittering or guffawing.

But then there is option to ride one of the beautiful Lipizzaners, or take a hiking tour to the hotel’s mountainside cheese hut. Staying here is like taking a break in a parallel universe; but I found it strangely easy to become comfortable with this particular brand of luxury kitsch.

Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt, Kaiserweg 1, A-6353  Going/Tirol, Austria. +43 5358 2000. www.stanglwirt.com. 


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