Forsthofalm

Daydreaming upon a bed of cushions, I open my eyes. Rain is falling on the glass ceiling and walls as I watch as a group or goats wander over the neighbouring hill, oblivious to the late October chill. It is there, warm and content in a post yoga-and-sauna daze, that I release just how glorious Austria is – regardless of the season. Whether you venture to the mountains beyond Salzburg to ski, cycle (this hotel is found by one of Europe’s biggest mountain bike trails) or hike, you’ll surely be swept up in the Forsthofalm magic (and the setting of course). 

While it may be found near the town of Leogang, Forsthofalm feels very much like it’s in the middle of nowhere; beyond these walls there is nothing but forest and mountains that make the idea of returning for a winter jaunt remarkably tempting – ski-in ski-out doesn’t get much more convenient/scenic than this. With only 54 rooms spread across seven floors, this in a sports hotel (there is no need to leave the premises for anything other than an adrenaline hit) with a difference. It is family run, offers the finest and heartiest fare and has an eco-friendly heart.

I’d journeyed here to try my hand at the Forsthofalm Mountain Life Programme – a series of indoor and outdoor exercise sessions ranging from early morning yoga (the ideal way to wake up) to rather intense pilates classes (good intense, don’t worry), hikes, weights-based workouts and evening saunas (to name just a few of their offerings). Even as one without a particularly effective core or a sizeable amount of motivation I found myself hooked; the combination of endorphins, expert teaching and sense of fun making the entire experience all the more enticing. And of course, when you work out you become totally deserving of a spa treatment – and on this front Forsthofalm once again delivers. After winding down in a series of scented saunas, it’s time for a massage, which is catered to one of the five moods you may find yourself in. The oils and scents used are created on site from wild herbs collected in the garden and forest for a little added bliss. 

Should you be able to pick your suite I’d recommend asking for the ‘Secret Forest’, which comes complete with suspended wooden bed, fireplace, private sauna and panoramic view of the mountains. That said, each sizeable, beautifully designed room, boasts plenty of charm. The hotel is built almost entirely from wood. The walls are spruce, as are the nails, the sculpture-like furniture is larch and bed is made from pine. Situated as it is in the middle of nature, it made sense to construct the building from natural materials – an added incentive for those in awe of the wild to travel up the mountain. These rooms are also designed to grow more more beautiful with age – the patina of time adding to Forsthofalm‘s warmth.

Here it really is all about seasonality. In summer you’ll find a rooftop bar by the outdoor pool serving a mix of cocktails and ice cream (the ideal post-sauna/work out cool down) and during October I sipped autumnal cocktails by the roaring fire of the bar. The restaurant menu also shifts throughout the year. Food is at the heart of hotel – indeed, it began as a place for skiers to enjoy winter lunches back in 1972. Enhancing their hearty meals (the menu changes every night and the ingredients used are largely organic and sourced from local farmers) is a collection of 300 wines – 50 of which are natural, a relatively new trend in Austria.

After dinner there are a string of events on offer, from live music to cocktail tastings, all designed to bring people together and help foster the sense of community the hotel prides itself on. That said, don’t underestimate the deliciousness of returning to your cloud-like bread and drifting off with a good book, no doubt dreaming of your return journey – which, let’s face it, is inevitable.   

You can learn more about the hotel and make a booking here.

Island Life

Words and Photographs by Emma Lavelle

Earlier this year, my feet began to itch and I found myself desperate to explore somewhere a little off the beaten track. My previous summer’s adventures in Iceland were still fresh in my memory and I craved empty roads, isolated hot springs and dramatic landscapes. With the budget tight I spent days searching for European destinations that offered everything I needed – and then I saw a friend’s Instagram photo and knew instantly where I was heading: the Azores.

If you haven’t come across this island chain before, I’m not surprised. Situated smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic, over two hours by plane from Portugal, they’re pretty isolated. As hopping between individual islands isn’t exactly cheap (or easy) I concentrated on the largest isle, São MiguelThe perfect juxtaposition of the geothermal landscapes of Iceland and a tropical, Lost World paradise, São Miguel appears like a mirage in the grey Atlantic. Filled with cloud-covered peaks, hot springs, dense greenery and waterfalls, it’s like nowhere else in Europe.

Hiring a car, my boyfriend and I based ourselves in the capital, Ponta Delgada, and split the island into easily digestible chunks to be explored over four days. Our adventures began in the island’s west, driving up steep roads in search of the elusive views of the Sete Cidades Lakes. Elusive because of the relentless mist, not for the lack of places to pull over and admire the scene. The twin lakes lie in a gigantic volcanic crater and local legend says that they were formed from the tears of a blue-eyed princess and her green-eyed lover, shed when her father would not allow them to marry. On a clear day, the lakes do indeed appear to be different colours, despite actually being one body of water divided by a road. Also worth admiring is Vista do Rei, where the ruins of a brutalist concrete hotel greets you through the mist. Then there’s the utterly sublime Boca do Inferno viewpoint, where the view of the crater, lakes and coastline in the distance is nothing short of spectacular.

A short journey from the lakes takes you to one of the island’s most alluring hot springs, Ponta da Ferraria, which is the only São Miguel hot spring found in the sea. A pink path leads first to a modernist changing hut, then down to a black volcanic beach where a ladder descends into a rock pool. As waves crash into the pool, visitors can hold a rope to steady themselves, enjoying the change in temperature as cold water rushes in to meet the warm.

Looking for the perfect end to a day exploring the west of the island? Visit the small coastal town of Mosteiro to feast on the seafood that São Miguel is famed for. My top tip: always order the octopus.

We also make a stop at Furnas, a geothermal town situated inside a volcanic crater. There are two areas boasting hot springs here – Poça da Dona Beija offers a series of small, relaxing natural jacuzzis, but it’s Parque Terra Nostra that shouldn’t be missed. Situated inside these majestic tropical gardens is a huge yellow-hued geothermal lake perfect for swimming. Furnas also offers a collection of smouldering caldeiras and anyone interested in local cuisine should head to the lake to see how traditional stew is made by burying pots underground for several hours. The earth steams here and the smell of sulphur seems to rise up into the thick mist enveloping the mountains above.

The final hot springs of São Miguel are found at the protected Caldeira Velha, where you must venture along a harrowing road and wander through thick tropical forest to reach the pools. Climb the hill to find a couple of small wooden changing huts before plunging, admiring a small waterfall trickling down from the cliff above. 

Across the island lie a network of hiking trails; those that snake along the numerous crater lakes are perhaps the most dramatic but don’t underestimate how strenuous these routes can be. If you prefer to admire the scenery from the comfort of a car, the drive along the coastal road that winds along the east coast is unmissable. Perhaps the most perilous and slowest road to navigate on São Miguel, the views of the ocean and towering cliffs are as dramatic as they get.

How to end a trip to São Miguel? Whale watching was at the top of our agenda but, alas, high winds thwarted our plans. If you visit during calmer weather conditions don’t miss a chance to take to the sea as these Atlantic islands are one of the best places in the world to spot a wide array of cetacean species including sperm whales, blue whales and dolphins. Other highlights for landlubbers include visiting the tea and pineapple and plantations, the latter featuring on almost all of the island’s restaurant menus.

São Miguel is like nowhere else in Europe. Hot springs, luscious  forests, towering cliffs, crater lakes, tea plantations and cascading waterfalls all collide to create an otherworldly landscape. My advice? Take a punt on an island not yet on the tourist trail – for there’s something rather magical about having a hot spring in the forest all to yourself. 

Be sure to check out more of Emma’s work here

Hotel Santa Caterina

Words by Marina Malthouse

Arriving at the glorious Hotel Santa Caterina on the Amalfi Coast requires a slight adjustment. Leaving the U.K. in mid-October means shifting from autumn in the West Country to southern Italy’s take on the season. From muddy walks to hikes along sun-dried footpaths. From cool, damp air to the heart-warming touch of a gentle sun. From sweaters to swimwear. Arriving in this hotel you feel as if you have walked into an opulent dreamscape from yesteryear. It is almost impossible to fully take in all that you see, the sense of discovery lasting until the moment you reluctantly depart.

Standing majestically on a sheer rock-face overlooking the Tyrrenhian Sea, Hotel Santa Caterina is strategically positioned one kilometre from the town of Amalfi. The cream-coloured building is typical of its time and whilst there, I was immediately drawn to the plethora of beautiful objects that filled the space. In accordance with Plato, there was proportion, harmony and unity among their parts. 

Built by Giuseppe Gambardella in 1850, the hotel was opened by his son, Crescenzo, in 1904. It is still owned and run by the Gambardella family who continue to offer homely hospitality, much to the delight of visitors and staff. The number of returning guests is high and those who work there (many hailing from the surrounding villages) have done so for years. Chance encounters, whether with groundsmen, receptionists, or waiters, were reminders of what it is to be human – each would greet with a ‘buon giorno’ or ‘buona sera’ as if about to break into song, delighting in the opportunity to connect.

 

One of the greatest rewards comes from looking out from the hotel across the water, as it is here that you appreciate exactly where you are. The rocky coastline stretches away on either side and the sea tempts many metres below, giving you the impression that you’re looking out from the bridge of a ship. The hotel facilities and gardens occupy this vertical landscape between the main building and the sea, and connecting the two is a remarkable feat of engineering – a lift that has been cut into the rock-face. The view as you travel in this glass-fronted structure is sure to rob you of speech.

Descending to sea-level on foot is preferable if you want to explore the grounds. From the hotel entrance, passing the drinks terrace and dining area, a staircase leads down to the hotel spa, which offers massages and treatments, a sauna, steam room and ‘Scottish’ shower complete with essential oil vapours, hot showers and a cold rinse (the invigorating process doing wonders for your health). As lemons grow prolifically in Amalfi (this is the home of Limoncello), lemon oils are an integral part of their signature massage treatment.

Several sets of steps take you past bedrooms and garden suites to one of the hotel’s two restaurants and The Beach Club, with its bar and gym. The terraces lining each level brim with citrus trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables and, like all the hotel grounds, are immaculate – I’m rather envious of those who know how to make things flourish in the changeable Mediterranean environment.  

Whilst staying at the Hotel Santa Caterina, visitors can venture to the various postcard-perfect towns of the Amalfi Coast; coveted destinations like Positano, Sorrento, Ravello, Amalfi and Atranti, or the island of Capri. Despite the intense blue skies, the kind temperatures of mid-October inspired me to choose the exhilarating one-hour walk from the hotel down to Atranti and up innumerable steps to reach the stunning town of Ravello. Views of the coast, of rooftops, churches and men hand-picking olives were my companions as I walked. All invoked a deep respect for those who work and build upon this remarkable land. Once in Ravello, having wandered its shop-lined streets, I strongly recommend visiting the breathtaking British-designed gardens of Villas Cimbrone and Rufolo – trust me on this.

I cannot imagine that anyone who stays at the Hotel Santa Caterina would be disappointed. While the hotel prices are high, it will certainly give visitors a true sense of the maxim, ‘you get what you pay for’.

Meteora Wandering

Words and photographs by Angela Terrell. 

Travel reveals many wonders; it may be an unexpected destination, a spectacular meal, curious wildlife or scenery that far surpasses any postcard (from any era). But it can also reveal something far deeper – a sense of our place in time. 

Greece, renowned for the relics of its ancient civilisations, is the perfect place to really grasp the tiny role we play in the narrative of human history. Either walking over hillsides of olive groves that have seen the toil and sweat of countless generations or through the remains of amphitheatres and temples, you can’t help but be moved by the thought you’re walking in the footsteps of those who’ve come before you, who like us, were both an integral part of the big picture, and fleeting snapshots in time.

So many destinations here have withstood the eons, but it’s Meteora in central Greece where the whispers of history hold special significance, and spending time here you feel lucky to be part of its rich and varied story. Here, massive pillars of conglomerate rock rise almost vertically from the valley floor, their shapes alluring from a distance and magically morphing into elephants, monkeys and even old men with furrowed brows as you draw closer. Searching for solitude, hermits once lived in the hollows of the cliff-faces, but it was monks, centuries later, in their desire to further connect with the Divine, who built an estimated 24 Eastern Orthodox monasteries atop these spectacular rock formations. Marvels of ancient engineering, they’re the perfect unity of nature, culture and history, their stalwart walls merging seamlessly with the cliff faces that plummet to the valley below. Even today the tranquil isolation the monks once sought is still palpable and, despite the tourists, you can envision the sense of protection these towers offered all those centuries ago.

There are roads to the six monasteries that remain, but walking up to them from the valley is not only an exercise in stamina but the chance to really feel the peace the area affords. From Kastraki and Kalambaka, the nearest towns, we trekked to Megalo Meteoro, Varlaam and Agia Triada, and soon after leaving the villages with their hotchpotch of colour and delightful gardens we were climbing through a combination of cool forest and sparse, rocky vegetation baked by the sun. Constantly dwarfed by the soaring monoliths, their monasteries haloed by the sun’s rays, we felt part of history as we walked, our steps further polishing the stone path already smooth from the footsteps of the monks, pilgrims and travellers who had been here before. Once at the top and seeing todays inhabitants tend the sanctuaries and their gardens, we took comfort in the thought that with such care Meteora’s story should become history’s future narrative.

It was later in the evening, watching the sunset from the rocks above Roussanou monastery and admiring the magnificence of the silhouetted shapes against the coloured sky, that we sought words for how we felt. Awed, humbled, amazed? Maybe they all suited. One thing for sure though, in the future there will be many more sitting in the same place watching the sky turn crimson who will in turn be playing their own small part in its epic story.

 

 

Rambling in the Lake District

Words and photographs by Athena Mellor

“I wandered lonely as a cloud”, proclaimed Wordsworth on rambling in the Lake District. Yet how often do you see just one single cloud? While a lone cloud may grace the skies on a clear day, more often than not clouds wander lonely yet together, drifting steadily east or west, north or south. Normally I am that sole, brave cloud drifting along – alone yet never lonely. But this time I was joined by another on my ramble. Two stoic clouds running up hillsides in one of my favourite English locations, the Lake District, on a bitterly cold January morning.

The Lake District is a hill-walkers dream. I am quite certain that it would take more than a lifetime to ramble every trail it has to offer, to explore those that are yet to be discovered, and to admire every view. But I will try anyway. Indeed, there are certain places that, no matter how often I visit, never become boring. The very nature of nature is that no two days spent outside are the same – the changing winds and seasons, the different cloud formations and sunbeams. And then there is seeing somewhere you have seen multiple times through new eyes – the eyes of someone who is experiencing it all for the very first time. This happened when I took my younger sister to the Lake District and we spent two winter days in jumpers and walking boots, hiking to hilltops and running down mountains.

 

Winding roads of Cumbrian gold; fluffy white clouds dazzling the sky and fluffy white sheep gracing the fields. We were en-route to Blea Tarn; I was in the driver’s seat squealing every time a slightly more confident driver squeezed between us and the drystone wall on the other side – with less that an inch between both. We laced up our boots on arrival, added a couple of layers, swung cameras over our shoulders, and wandered down to the waterfront. Blea Tarn is a small body of water nestled beneath high peaks. If you’re lucky, you may see a clear reflection of the Langdale Pikes in the tarn. But on this particular day, the wind was sending ripples through the water and the reflection was non-existent – but the scene remained beautiful nonetheless. This place always seems peaceful – there is no phone service, few other walkers and nature is allowed to flourish. Protected by the National Trust, Blea Tarn will always be the place I tell people to go when they first visit the Lakes and the place I will constantly return to, until I’m 90 I hope – with tea and biscuits, a picnic blanket and a good book.

 

The next day, I had something more adventurous planned. From the village of Ambleside, we headed up and up and up through thick yellow grass and alongside crumbling drystone walls, past Low Pike then High Pike where the wind viciously whipped the bare skin on our cheeks and tugged exasperatedly at our hair tucked beneath woollen hats. We were walking and talking incessantly like only sisters can do, until I realised that we might possibly be quite lost… By this point the wind was relentless, and trying to manoeuvre a map to a readable position was impossibly difficult as the sky seemed determined to steal it away. Our hands were like icicles and with difficulty speaking I had to admit to my little sister, who had trusted me wholeheartedly with route-planning, “I have absolutely no idea where we are.” So together we traced the line we were supposed to walk and realised we had taken a completely different but parallel path. We made a plan to descend away from the wind as quickly as possible, and then hurtled down the hillside as the icicles in our hands defrosted and our spirits rose once again; greedily consuming the beauty of the surrounding landscapes before it was time to head south once more.

There is something I find so alluring about the Lake District. Perhaps it is in the combination of homely, welcoming landscapes that become unforgiving in a single gust of wind. Or it may be the way the air whispers soft tales of times gone by, or thoughts of the writers and poets who have sat on these banks and taken inspiration from these hills. When I am here, I want to close my eyes and absorb all that beauty and hope and the fragility of nature – but these landscapes cannot be taken away. And so all I can do is come back again and again until I am 90 – to sit on these grassy hilltops with tea and biscuits, a picnic blanket and a good book.

You can see more of Athena’s work here @athenamellor and here wildandwords.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the Larder

Källagården

For our new book with New Heroes & Pioneers (click here to find out more), Tom Bunning and Jen Harrison Bunning ventured to Skåne in Southern Sweden to meet the chefs and producers who are transforming the region into a gourmand’s dream. While their chapter in Lodestars Anthology: Pathways is a delight (please ignore our proud-parent bias), many of their wonderful images and words simply didn’t fit in the book – there are just never enough pages. So we thought we’d share some of their unpublished gems here below while we think of summer and Sweden’s foodie delights . . . 

. . . Hörte Brygga’s indoor kitchen is integrated into the dining spaces, the grilling shed with its up-cycled-rubbish-bin-smoker runs out to the terrace bar, which takes you on down to the sea, or back into the kitchen where the chefs and staff work amidst the guests, stopping every so often to change the record on the turntable. The menu is small and ever-changing, inspired by the best of whatever Martin can get from his producers, or pull from his generous store of pickled goods . . .

. . . Bookings can be made from March through to December for intimate suppers, tasting menu feasts and special evenings with guest chefs, but the rest of the time Hörte Brygga operates on an ‘open to all’ basis. By abandoning lunch reservations, encouraging people of all ages and from all walks of life to drop by for coffee, drinks, food, or a browse through the shelves of the farm shop in the newly-converted boat-house, Emma and Martin’s singular vision of a community-focused, produce-led, friendly place to eat has been more than just realised; it’s a triumph . . .

. . . Arriving at Villa Strandvägen is like stepping into a deliciously relaxed home from home. Designed in 1899 by acclaimed Danish-born architect Peter Boisen, this unassuming wood-panelled country home sits in a quiet corner of southern Sweden’s most southerly tip, amidst lush gardens and surrounding woodland . . .

With its seven cosy bedrooms, black and white photos from the owners’ personal collections lining the walls, and intimate drawing room-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room bedecked in New England-inspired florals and stripes, Villa Strandvägen delivers Swedish costal luxury with oodles of homely pleasure and a generous dash of romanticism . . .

. . . Nature-lover and hiking-enthusiast Helena is a modern farmer, conscious of her duty to handle the land and its offerings with a light touch, but also of her responsibility to keep her grandparents’ legacy alive. In addition to her core role as farmer and producer, she runs a bed and breakfast and local tours for visitors, sells meat and skins from her flock, and performs sheep-whispering on her apple-obsessed beasts . . .

. . . She is also savvy, for Källagården, together with some 90 other growers from relatively small farms in Skåne and its surrounding counties, is a member of the Äppelriket collective: an outfit that stores, sells and markets its members’ fruit as a single enterprise. By clubbing together, saving on storage space, packing costs, and labour, Äppelriket gives its members the power in numbers required to compete with bigger, more commercial farms on price and production, and the strength to protect themselves from grocers’ price wars. All in all, very simple, very effective, very fair, and very Swedish . . .

. . . The family-run Spirit of Hven distillery produces organic pot-distilled vodka, gin, rum, eau de vie and schnapps, much of it made from grain grown on the Island of Ven, but it is their single malt island whisky that they’re best-known for. Whisky enthusiasts can come here to stay in the 4* hotel, take a tour around the world-class distillery, or just to while away an evening in the Backafallsbyn bar with its some 500 different whiskies from the best distilleries around the world . . .

. . . Here at Spirit of Hven they’re practicing the art of precision spirit production. Mashing, fermenting, distilling, oak-cask ageing and bottling all takes place under one roof. The contents of bright copper stills bubble away in the distilling chamber, barrels are racked in neat rows in the adjoining cask room to age – some hooked-up to speakers for a dose of radio-wave maturation experimentation. Next door, bottle necks are hand-dipped in simmering wax to give them their distinctive seal, whilst upstairs in the laboratory, test-tubes spin and sampling machines blink continuously. This is the seriously scientific craft of spirit-making, and distillers from all over the world send samples to Hven’s laboratory to undergo their rigorous analysis process . . .

. . . Next stop, Malmö Saluhall: a bustling market hall that’s home to grocers, butchers, florists, fish-mongers, ice-cream parlours and food stalls in a formerly dilapidated 19th-century freight depot. At Papi’s open kitchen and bar we sampled spicy Fegatelli and damp cellar-hung mortadella procured from ham rock-star Massimo Spigaroli’s farm, soft strips of lardo and home-cured prosciutto, accompanied by hunks of chewy bread and a glass of very good red wine. Saluhall is busy but not overcrowded: it’s rather like our beloved Borough Market in miniature and without the hoards of tourists, and we could have stayed here all day, chatting wine and food with the guys over the bar and pottering around the stores. But next on the agenda was a not-to-be-missed date with the nation’s top pastry chef, so off we went to the old Rosengård district for our first ice-cream of the year with Joel Lindqvist . . . 

. . . We stepped off a busy main throughway into the serene Mat- & Chokladstudion world of grey-limed walls, birch shelves bearing assorted glass jars and beautiful books, with a vast oak tasting table at its centre. But this is no colourless land: this is Willy Wonka chocolatiering Skandi-style . . .

. . . There is no menu or wine list at Bloom in the Park. The menu is inspired by seasonal ingredients and changes each day according to what chef Titti Qvarnström can procure from her band of trusted producers, and from her own garden.

In the small patch of land around her home in one of Malmo’s sleepy suburbs, Titti has created a kitchen garden of dreams. With basket and scissors in-hand, we trail Titti around the garden as she gathers hyssop, goosefoot, wild strawberries, rose petals, elderflower and more, stopping here and there to smell or taste from our harvest, chattering all the way. One last stop to poach a few sprigs of mockorange over a neighbour’s wall and then we are on our way back to the city for lunch in a 60s shopping centre (us) and prep (Titti) . . .

. . . We left Bloom to wander back to our hotel, stopping for a nightcap in the buzzing Möllevången district. The Bloom card with its QR code to look up the menu and wine list for the evening sat on the table between us, but our phones stayed in our pockets and the menu remained unknown. For us, the magic of this particular meal could not be confined to a list of ingredients or a description of plating. Our evening at Bloom would remain the icing atop a perfect day, flavoured by the people we’d met, scented by our afternoon in our chef’s garden: its tastes, smells and textures committed firmly to memory . . .

Extracted from the full article, commissioned for Lodestars Anthology: Pathways.

 

 

Israel – Fahrenheit Fair Enough

Photographs and words by Cihan Bacak – @cihanbacak

I bought my new camera earlier this summer, just 48 hours before boarding a plane to Israel. The lens was as impressive as the Tel Aviv temperature and I was itching to document the light and life of a country I had read so much about. I had a week in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Bethlehem and Jericho, and although I lost a few kilos in my attempt to capture this series under the Middle Eastern sun, I cannot wait to go back.

Coming from Istanbul (a huge city with 17 millions inhabitants) Tel Aviv was like a breath of fresh air. I loved the fact that people de-layered right after work and walked straight to the beach. You don’t even need loud music or alcohol to party in the city; a late-night bike ride by the beach in Old Jaffa was heavenly enough. The fact that I hailed from Istanbul roused Israeli interest and I, in return, couldn’t help but feel jealous – everything just seemed so effortless, chic and laid-back here, in both modern Tel Aviv and the Old City. Perhaps that has something to do with the allure of foreign shores …

Later I spent time in the desert by the Jordan border and the light here was something else. Although I strive to see new places each time I travel, the urge to return to this place continues to grow. In that desert vastness I found a different kind of tranquility that shocked me. I never felt like an outsider in Israel, nor did it feel like my first or last time in the Holy Land. All I know is that there is much, much more to capture.