How does one accurately gauge the popularity(or lack of it) of a hotel? Trip Advisor? The frequency that it pops up in an annual Lakes and Mountains brochure? The hotel’s own website? Let me explain.
The Fernau, on the edge of the Tyrolean town of Neustift and very much en route to the Stubai Glacier – it gets it’s name from a lift that services said glacier – when first approached is a visually-arresting sight, as you can see below:
Therefore, so far so good. On entering the foyer and reception, one finds a panoply of information for the serious hiker and casual walker, with a pleasing bar-area, comfy-seats and hot and cold running Wi-Fi. Check-in was cursory but pleasant – the omens looked promising. Notwithstanding nearly going fundament over chest on the stairs that glistened thanks to the cleaning lady – there is also a lift – I found the public-areas around the bedrooms to be clean and without any negative issues. My room, ah my room; well, I travelled as a single, I crossed my fingers and legs hoping for a bath but…Anyway, I got a small single with a balcony on the front of the building which was fine. No supplement was paid for my shoebox but then, to mount a familiar hobby-horse of mine, why should a supplement be paid for an afterthought of a room?
So, as this was a four-star, what could I expect for my £600 plus pounds? The food was very good but not excellent, as nowhere could be when compared to the St. Georg in Zell am See(another story for a future rainy day). I recall only that the food was hard to recall but I, as a vegetarian had no complaints and never went hungry, even at their ‘outdoor’ barbecue which was bizarrely held in the pouring rain. It went something like this: grab your big-plate in true Alan Partridge-style; go outside; point to the chef what you want; look intrigued and impressed; get back inside the restaurant and eat your now cold food. If Wednesday was BBQ night, it was BBQ night. The weather proved to be incidental. But at least they tried.
The fitness-area was impressive with modern-machines adaptable to an individuals-fitness and desired resistance. The ski-room doubled-up as a drying-area for the clothes and boots of patrons who, like myself, get a drenching to conjure with. Martin Hofer, the visible member of the family who owned the Fernau kindly helped me regain my composure and dignity after arriving one afternoon in his pristine establishment dripping-wet through. The stories are legion of Herr Hofer getting drunk in the bar and whilst he looked stressed and tired, he never let professional-standards slip. Here is a man who grafts for Austria. The outdoor ‘pool afforded some majestic-vistas of the alpine kind, rather than any fraulein fuchs. As Harfenwirt Herbert would though attest, I am sure they scrub up better in the ski season. The only troubling aspect of the alfresco ‘pool was the constant harassment by wasps. As it was though September, it was to be expected.
Kaffee und Kuchen were taken in the bar every afternoon with the various gateau’s being gratis. Even though this is now a common-practice in Austrian hotels I still find it a nice touch; it is obviously worth its while for the hoteliers. It also gives opportunities to engage in small-talk with your fellow guests, something that is harder in the dining-room where formality and generously-spaced tables all but rule it out.
So, the Fernau. It isn’t bad, it isn’t excellent or even in between; I would therefore conclude 3.5-4 out of 5 as a satisfactory overview of what it offers, with some aspects higher, others a scintilla lower.
But, reverting to my original question: how do you truly know what awaits you at a hotel you’ve never previously visited? The truth is that you don’t. The Fernau has very few entries on Trip Advisor, despite being long-established and a staple in the Inghams Lakes and Mountains brochure. Are there only a few appraisals because people tend to only review a hotel if they have had a bad experience, therefore the fewer reviews the better the establishment? Conversely, do travellers review accommodation only when their expectations have been met or exceeded? From this you can draw your own conclusions that the fewer reviews the more disappointed the guests have been. Trip Advisor is great, an excellent research-tool but it only tells half the story, especially if the demographic staying, for example at the Fernau, are more your retired, less computer-reliant and savvy type than younger generations. There are no definitely conclusions to be reached but should the death-knell have sounded for a hotel I doubt it would keep resurfacing in a holiday brochure as respected as Inghams’; at least I hope it wouldn’t. No hotel-website is going to publish the pejorative views of disgruntled guests, in effect saying ‘we’re sh1t and we know we are’, so that can be ruled out.
I was though left with a strange, underwhelming feeling after my stay at the Fernau. Did I really go; does it exist? Undoubtedly, yes and yes but despite nothing jaw-droppingly wrong with my stay, I cannot see this particular week of my life making it into the final draft of my memoirs.