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.

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’.

Aro Hā

Translating to ‘in the presence of divine breath’, Aro Hā is a health and wellness retreat sure to inspire, invigorate and surprise.

Something has gone awry in our modern world. At a time when so much exists to make things easier, how is it that everyone seems so terribly busy? Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the art of taking a break, of disconnecting, of being in the moment. So when I discovered Aro Hā, a wellness retreat nestled in the sun-kissed mountains south of Glenorchy, I began to wonder – could this be the antidote to our increasingly frenetic lives?

Despite Aro Hā’s promise of quietude, I found myself hesitant to go. You see, I was a bit of a wellness sceptic. Perhaps most of us are, an unfortunate side effect of that aforementioned busyness. But, as with most things in life, if you give the unfamiliar a chance, it will repeatedly surprise you.

As it turns out, such nervousness was unwarranted for it’s remarkably easy to embrace the Aro Hā routine. Each morning I woke for yoga to the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl, while stars still filled the late-autumn sky. The view from the studio’s window – through which you can spy pre-dawn clouds hanging over Lake Wakatipu – may make poses wobbly but such faux pas are understandable. Readjusting for a better view of the sunrise is sure to complicate the downward dog of even the most experienced yogi.

Then I’d hike – uphill more often than not but wondrous nonetheless – before restoring my aching limbs in the Aro Hā spa. While this space may come with Nordic overtones when it comes to design, watching a trio of cows graze on a nearby hill while soaking in the outdoor plunge pool, you can’t doubt where in the world you are. Afternoons are filled with pilates, meditation, dynamic playground sessions (where you break a sweat moving to mighty fine tunes) and, the pièce de résistance, a daily massage. There are also classes in the kitchen, an open space where culinary questions are encouraged, flavours delight and edible flowers are grown in abundance.

Which brings me to the meals; colourful, nutrient-rich creations that demonstrate just how artful raw, vegan cuisine can be. Capable of keeping my penchant for cheese, caffeine and alcohol at bay, everything here tastes a little bolder and looks a little brighter with as many ingredients as possible grown on site.

Such repose and splendour wouldn’t be possible without a remarkable team. The friendly, knowledgeable staff – their skin aglow and their energy limitless – are a testament to the Aro Hā lifestyle; and the most glowing of all is Co-Founder Damian Chaparro, for whom Aro Hā is more than just a labour of love. He’s built a hideaway that showcases the environment (this luxury, eco-friendly complex simply couldn’t exist anywhere else) and remains on site to guide guests through their experience. He cares, smiles and informs, and acts as if every personal discovery is the first he’s been privy to.

Encouraged to abandon technology and lose track of time, I experienced periods of euphoria, followed by moments of exhaustion, somehow arriving at the end of my six day escape at a restful, more accepting place. For you see, odd things happen on retreats. You’ll probably cry and you might not know why. And if you do, the cause will seem far more conquerable come morning. And while the experience may lead to a physical change, what’s fascinating is how open you become, how much you’re willing to share. At Aro Hā you scale mountains, cross lakes, hike along icons (the Routeburn Track is as stunning as everyone says), dance blindfolded and embrace your inner child, leaving with a sense of calm you may have never thought possible. Scepticism be damned.

This piece appeared in the New Zealand issue of Lodestars Anthology – you can order a copy here.

Watergate Bay Hotel

Review by Renae Smith

We were surrounded by views of pebble paths disappearing into green hills eventually dropping off to the near-endless blue ocean, and as we reached another rise in the road our destination, the Watergate Bay Hotel was nestled nicely overlooking the surf beach of Watergate Bay. For the next few days, we would get to know the North West of Cornwall a little better.

Kids bounded out of doors in front of us as we arrived and checked-in. Barefoot and smiling ear to ear, parents slightly struggling to keep their pace, we watched as they made their way down to the beach, knowing we too would be heading down the same path for surf lessons at Extreme Academy.

After we were fitted with wetsuits, the friendly instructor went through the lesson with the group and, with my husband taking up the challenge while I photographed, I timidly dipped my toes in the water and was surprised to feel the warmth of the sea. With the sun dancing between the clouds, I watched as the group hit the waves, one by one eventually up on their boards riding all the way into shore.

After an afternoon in and out of the sea, hunger was at the forefront of both of our minds, so after a quick shower, we returned to the beach to enjoy a burger at the Beach Hut. Perched just up on the end of the beach we had a great view of the late afternoon surfers endeavouring to catch as many waves possible before the day’s end.

It could have been the slight wind coupled with the sounds of the ocean, or the fact that we had both wrestled with the waves earlier in the day, but that night we slept heavy, waking recharged and ready to explore. 

Having noticed a path directly opposite the entrance to the hotel, we thought it would be a great walk to tackle before breakfast. Behind us with every step, the hotel slowly disappeared from view and once at the top of the walk’s peak, we paused to take in the views of Watergate Bay with the town of Newquay in the distance. The route continued to wind around the cliffs and it wasn’t long before we had worked up an appetite and decided to head back for breakfast.

The array of fresh fruit, pastries and eggs on offer made my mouth water but my eyes locked on the waffle maker in the corner and I got busy deciding between the choices of sweet or savoury toppings.

After breakfast, we retreated to the main restaurant/bar, the Living Space, where we would spend the next few hours until my treatment in the spa. To what I thought was going to be a pedicure the therapist informed me she had a full body massage scheduled. On giving me the option of either one, I felt a slight pang of guilt as I thought of my husband who, having had his surf lesson the day before, was probably more in need of it than I. But how I could I say no to such an indulgence? An hour later any tension that I was holding within my body had melted away – indeed, it took me a few minutes to steady my legs. I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time.

With the surf beach below and plenty of activities on offer at the hotel, we felt spoilt for choice when it came to filling the days during our stay. However, more often than not we found ourselves opting for a more relaxed pace, reading on our balcony or having a drink in the Living Space before heading to Zacry’s for a more formal dinner. Whether it be to recharge, take up an activity or explore more of Cornwall, we’ll definitely be back.

Lausanne

Not all city breaks are created equal. Some come with that golden combination of sun, history, culture, wine, fondue and a lake sure to quicken your heartbeat. Switzerland’s Lausanne is a city with heart. Known as the Olympic Capital (for this is the event’s epicentre), it sits majestically upon Lake Geneva. And my word is it elegant – after all, this was the city Coco Chanel called home for a decade. Found across the water from the French town of Évian-les-Bains (the soon-to-be star of our France issue), this is where you venture to encounter the Europe of yesteryear.

My weekend escape began in Café de Grancy, a homely neighbourhood restaurant with a shabby-chic vibe, plenty of natural sunlight and a killer menu full of classic dishes done very, very well – my personal recommendation being the salmon carpaccio. My sweet tooth not quite sated by their generous dessert cheese plate alone, I wandered over to fair-trade friendly Chocolaterie Durig where, as part of an intimate workshop, I created a giant chocolate squirrel (displaying all the artistic prowess of a drunk five year old), sampling as many truffles as I could while still appearing civilised. Should you find yourself in the city, do not leave without devouring a Durig passionfruit caramel or their Mexican blend, made from spices, almonds and Madagascan vanilla. Though, as the Swiss did invent milk chocolate, perhaps you should tackle a block of that too. 

Lausanne is a city for foodies that’s conveniently surrounded by an abundance of local producers. So, whatever your culinary preference, you’re sure to find something delectable – be it served up from a food cart, as part of a festival or at a three-starred Michelin restaurant. That said, when it came to my evening meal I kept things traditional with a soul-lifting fondue from Café du Grülti, promenading locals providing all the entertainment needed. Should you have a fondness for waterfronts and exercise, factor in a Sunday brunch at Jetée de la Compagnie. While this trendy venue holds events throughout the week – and is where locals head for a post work summer drink – on Sundays fitness classes take over the surrounding boardwalk before participants feast of the their simple set menu. 

There is no shortage of luxurious hideaways perfect for the resting of weary heads, although I fell a little in love with the newly-refurbished Hôtel Royal-Savoy. Built in the chateaux style – with plenty of Art Nouveau overtones – it was once part of the European Grand Tour and is very much etched into the history of Lausanne. Now, thanks to the renovation, modern flourishes abound. There is a shisha-serving cigar lounge, outdoor terrace and rooftop bar – aptly named the Sky Lounge – gallery-esque lobby, sun-kissed swimming pool and a spa that is almost like a Russian doll for there is inviting treatment space upon inviting treatment space. And while the hotel rooms may be the epitome of modern decadence, original stonework and stained glass remain. 

An eight minute train ride from central Lausanne are the UNESCO Lavaux Vineyard Terraces – and while I must confess that I wasn’t aware of Switzerland’s wine lineage pre-visit, you can now count me a convert. The flavours are crisp and clean, more New World than you’d typically associate with this corner of Europe, and here the soil is so varied that should you sample wine produced 100 metres apart, the characteristics will be entirely different. Originally built by monks in the 12th century, the terrace design allows the grapes to be heated in three ways – from the light reflected off the water, the sun itself and the heat from the terrace walls – the process known as the triple sun effect. I admired the watery vista and cascading vines from the cellar door of the Domaine Croix-Duplex vineyard. For an equally spectacular vantage point, take to Lake Generva aboard CGN‘s gourmet cruise at sunset.

But Lausanne is not all history and tradition. The nightlife and bar scene doesn’t disappoint (for this head to Quartier du Flon, made up of converted warehouses) and the year is filled with festivals. Lausanne Estivale may be the best example of this – a 10 week extravaganza made up of 400 free events. While there is always something on throughout summer, many museums are free on the first Sunday of every month year round. Should such cultural institutions appeal, be sure to visit Musée de l’Elysée, dedicated entirely to photography, and the impressive Olympic Museum, a site that is more moving than you may expect. 

Or just act like a local at the markets that operate outside the Town Hall every Wednesday and Saturday. A hive of activity and filled with enticing produce (you can get treats throughout the week from Globus or La Ferme Vaudoise should your visit miss market day), it’s almost as buzzing as the Lake Geneva waterfront. 

Built on three hills – each of which bears a religious structure – architecturally Lausanne is a juxtaposition of styles. It began life as a fishing village, grew into a Roman settlement and then emerged as an agricultural centre. To get a sense of this history join a guided city tour (mine was with Hilary Bales), designed to reveal the beauty of the city and its most iconic structure – the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. One of the third largest cathedrals in Europe and found on the Camino de Santiago, here you’ll spy, among stained glass and the ravages of time, one of the world’s most impressive organs. Designed to look like an angel with outstretched wings, the 40 tonne instrument, which took ten years to build and install, is used for select services and the concerts held here every Friday. 

A city break can be a glorious thing – a chance to dine, dance and encounter some of the world’s most beguiling destinations. Should you desire such an escape, Lausanne will never disappoint.

lausanne-tourisme.ch

Lofoten

Words and photographs by Lise Ulrich

Driving around the archipelago of Lofoten in the Norwegian county of Nordland on a midsummer’s day is at once as wondrous and soul soothing an experience as it is near exhausting for the shutter-happy landscape photographer.

Jam-packed with jagged mountaintops, majestic fiords, quaint fishing villages and coloured wooden houses, Lofoten deserves every bit of the hype it’s generating as one of Norway’s most spectacular points of interest – and in a country known for its overall natural splendour, that is saying quite a lot.

In June, Lofoten bursts with every nuance of green, patches of yellow, white and blue flowers sprinkled in the fields. But watch out for those low-hanging clouds; volatile weather changes are common on the archipelago and a mild summer breeze can turn into a menacing gale in minutes, dramatically transforming the waters and colours of the fiords to the sounds of eagle cries above.

Despite being located a whopping 1,364 kilometres north of capital Oslo and well above the Arctic Circle (most visitors fly in from the city of Bodø), Lofoten’s largest town Svolvær, with a population of about 4,200, is bustling, with many young families and creatives moving to the area. Once you have experienced the archipelago for yourself, you will seriously consider joining them.

Taking to the waters of Trollfjorden is a must on Lofoten. Surrounded by steep mountainsides and rocky cliffs, the fiord is an ideal place for spotting eagles as well as absorbing some local history: A vicious battle was fought here in 1890 when the first industrial, steam-driven fishing ships and teams of traditional open-boat fishermen rowed over access to the fiord. One guess as to who came out victorious.

Although a tiny fishing village with only 500 residents, Henningsvær boasts an internationally renowned modern art museum, Kaviar Factory, as well as a surprisingly hip bohemian vibe thanks to a steady influx of rock climbers and surfers alike.

Explore Lofoten like the old settlers did: On horseback. Back in the day, seafaring Vikings actually imported the sturdy Icelandic horses from Lofoten to Iceland. Hovhestegard.no

In the village of Vikten, visitors can sample local glassware at Glasshytta Vikten.

The minute village of Nusfjord, population 37, is one of the oldest fishing villages in Norway, with houses dating back to the early 1800s.

The Blue Mountains

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell

There are certain holiday memories that stay firmly cemented in our psyches. Being the youngest child in our family, many of mine involve sitting in the back seat of the car on inordinately long road-trips, windows wound down to keep cool and usually being firmly wedged between my brother and sister, catching only fleeting glimpses of the changing landscape as it rushed past. Of course it never rushed too fast as these were the days when highways only had one lane and the family Holden Monaro definitely wasn’t turbo! It was a time when holiday money was treasured and spent wisely and motel breakfasts were a highlight, the individual cartons of cereal almost as exciting as the novelty of watching morning TV sitting on brown chenille bedspreads surrounded by orange flowered wallpaper. Yes, I was a child of the 70s.

Move on a couple of decades and decor has changed, kids watch TV on their phones and cereal is more often than not paleo, but some things have stayed the same; not only confirming the timelessness of certain holiday memories and destinations, but also the comfort that we feel in unvarying continuity. A holiday in the Blue Mountains today is reassuringly the same as it was when I was young. The endless sense of space and possibility of my childhood is still there, the bush walks remain strenuous yet exciting, picnic huts built of sandstone stand in the same parks they have for years and open fires on cool nights remain the perfect place to sip hot chocolate, to chat or to merely ponder. Here there is a sense of permanence in an ever-changing world. 

Less than a two hour drive from Sydney (and easily accessible now by a two lane highway…some things fortuitously do change), the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area encompasses over one million hectares of National Park and wilderness. Here is an area of breathtaking views, chiselled tablelands, spectacular escarpments and valley floors carpeted in dense and endless green eucalyptus forest. Plant life in these valleys and inaccessible gorges is rich, evolving over the millennia untouched by the ever-widening tendrils of modern development, even managing to hide one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees, the Wollemi Pine, until its discovery in 1994.

There is steadfastness in this ancient landscape. Despite the hints of cataclysmic change such as cracks in cliff-faces and massive boulders strewn along their bases, the gentle folds of the valley floor, the whispers of the wind through the trees, the cascading waterfalls and the gentle hues of the landscape, consistently exude a feeling of calm and timeless beauty.

Hike along any of the numerous walking trails in the region and you can’t help but be absorbed by this beauty. Bellbirds echo in the valley and creeks are lost from view in the dense vegetation, the sound of water gurgling over rocks and torrenting down distant waterfalls at times the only evidence of their existence. Sometimes covered by a sheath-like mist and  sometimes sweltering under a blazing sun, this magical area is always spectacular. And on those days when the sun has shone all day and you have the opportunity to watch it slowly set to the west, the sight of the precipitous escarpments turning orange, the vegetation pink and the sky indigo is truly magical.

Of course the slow march of progress can still be felt even here with popular lookouts a haven for tourist buses and the scenic cableway an alternative to descending a thousand hand carved sandstone steps to the valley floor, yet somehow the charm endures. Villages in the Blue Mountain are undeveloped with bakeries and local shops still meeting most needs yet offering numerous accommodation options from timber cottages to luxury hotels (where the orange of the 70s appears to have been replaced by beige and grey). Restaurants are uniformly good, delis offer delectable delights and local artisan stores remain the perfect place to spend a little of that treasured holiday money.

So my advice, don the walking shoes, find that fleecy jumper you haven’t worn for years, jump in the car and go and rediscover this wonderful part of Australia. May it always be that special place to inspire and enjoy.

If you’re looking for more Australiana why not pick up a copy of our Australia issue.