Think of ski accommodation and most people will picture chalets or grand palace hotels positioned in the bustling hearts of a ski resort. We were off to try something a little different on the outskirts of Saalfelden in Austria. Now Saalfelden is not a ski resort itself but rather a very well positioned town within a stone’s throw of several great ski resorts that I particularly like, so when we were invited to stay at the 4 Star Superior Ritzenhof hotel & Spa am see it did not take long to make the decision to go. The Hotel is positioned on the quiet outskirts of Saalfelden right on beautiful Lake Ritzen with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains of which there are many. The hotel was first opened in 1980 and is now in the hands of the second generation of the family Riedlsperger. Over time the hotel has evolved, expanded and been refurbished to its current state 60 well appointed contemporary Alpine style rooms and 12 Family rooms as well. Spacious and modern with traditional materials alongside modern design features such as the tall Swiss pine humidifiers to deal with the dry Alpine air, the rooms have been well thought out.
We had arrived in early January 2019 when snow storms had been battering Austria, so arriving at the hotel was spectacular with so much snow laden all around giving what was already a peaceful and quiet area an even greater atmosphere of solitude. With perfect timing we arrived just in time to afternoon tea and cake, of course we had to fatten up to make sure that we would keep warm in this weather. Several slices of cake later, once we had scrubbed up and were suited and booted it was time to experience dinner, Ritzenhof style. Chef Olivier van den Beek heads up the kitchen, his menu is defined by regional, seasonal produce with modern, creative twists on classic Austrian cuisine. Olivier likes to use the freshest of ingredients from farmers in the Saalfelden Leogang region, so the carbon footprint is very small. The Ritzenhof garden supplies the herbs, the meat comes from a local Organic farm, the fish from Leogang, even the honey comes from beekeepers in Saalfelden. The cheese and schnapps literally comes direct from next door! If it is not fresh from the field or lake then it has probably been cured in the hotel’s smoke-house. The Organic wine selection tends to be from Austrian vineyards too. Chef Olivier is also a dab hand at creating vegan menus for guests.
We settled into our seats in the contemporary yet very welcoming restaurant; no sooner had we sat down then there was a glass of Niki Windisch Blanc de Blancs in our hands. First up was Yellow paprika cream soup with hickory foam, the smokey flavour was delectable with hints of hot spicy Spanish paprika; wholesome and warming- perfect to counteract the storms outside. The next plate was Vitello Tonnato with capers and corn salad beetroot with apple tartare, horseradish and almonds served with a Nigl Grüner Veltliner wine, smooth and sweet next to the salty capers and delicate veal. For the main course we opted for one Sea Bass filet with ratatouille vegetables and white bean cream and one Tortellini filled with pumpkin pesto and nut butter; the Sea Bass had a spicy yet clean flavour to it whilst the tortellini was homely, natural and beautifully buttery in texture, these were served with a Blaufränkisch Ried Hochäcker. Dessert was a beautifully presented delicate Ganache balls with lemon ice cream and coco. Wholesome and natural is the theme here, the food is local and seasonal and somehow this comes through in the delicious flavours and textures.
The Rizenhof spa and wellness centre, is certainly worth experiencing too. With various saunas, steam room, infra-red rooms and relaxation area I was in my element. I love the extremes of cold and heat, so loved the idea that one can walk out of the sauna barefoot straight into the snow and stand around the log fire; from here one can then venture through the snow to the langlauf tracks and walk barefoot beside the frozen lake Rtizen, where one can apparently ice skate if there is not too much snow. In the summer, one can access the lake and private beach for some wild swimming too. Due to the Ritzenhof’s position, there are 140km of cross country trails directly accessible from the hotel ,other winter activities include various toboggan runs, horse-drawn sleigh rides and guided snowshoeing. For skiers like myself the hotel is only 7 minutes from Maria Alm/Hochkönig (Free Shuttle Bus), a 15 minute car journey from Zell am See and Leogang (Free Shuttle Bus) and 35 minutes from glacier skiing in Kaprun and a day in Salzburg is only 1 hour away. The Ritzenhof hotel und spa am see is a perfectly positioned hotel, away from the madness that can sometimes surround ski resorts, the panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains are spectacular, promoting a slower pace for the mind and body. The hotel has left such an impression on me that I would really love to go back and see the lake and surrounding valley in summer, which I am sure will be just as stunning.