It wasn’t my decision to go there. That is though not to say I went there kicking and screaming, far from it. This time though the choice of destination was purely down to my mother, whom I was escorting on her first foreign holiday in twenty years. An Obergurgl or Galtuer would’ve been too hardcore for her; a Fuschl too sedate. Therefore a happy medium had to be found. On balance, I think it was.
Basing ourselves at the Hotel St. Georg, we did so considering the high-regard it was at least then( in 2011) held. A curious hotel, where it was virtually impossible to give it an ‘overall’ rating out of five; instead one would have to give individual appraisals for the standard of the food, facilities, service and rooms. At this point, it is only right that I state that the food was outstanding. The best I have ever had, to this day, whilst visiting the Alps. The quality, quantity, choice and presentation were above and beyond the standard expected in a four star establishment, which the St. Georg purports to be. Except though for the exemplary service received from the restaurant and bar staff, these standards were not replicated elsewhere in the hotel.
We found the rooms to be disappointing. Admittedly spacious, they were though drab and uninspiring with furniture looking scuffed, but not in a shabby-chic style. The well-appointed bathroom though was excellent, affording travellers a particularly fine bath to kick back in. It should also be noted that the room was spotless, in keeping with the rest of the hotel. Admittedly, we were unfortunate to have rooms at the back of the hotel overlooking nothing in particular but mercifully, perhaps, we escaped any traffic-related noise that the rooms at the front would potentially be party to.
Beginning my appraisal of the facilities on offer at the St. Georg by mentioning the internet-connection highlights what I think is one of the most important requirements for a modern-day traveller, at least one of a certain age. Again, I found this to be disappointing. A wireless connection was only to be found in the lounge/bar area with a range of approximately ten feet. On request I was offered a modem for my room which looked to be a prototype from the Tim Berners-Lee era but only worked sporadically. On the positive side though I did get a lot of use out of it – for free. The Georg just seemed at odds with itself; on the one hand it was embracing modern-technology but on the flip-side it seemed stuck in an antediluvian time-warp. Perhaps the demographic they aspire to reach don’t place a reliable and modern internet-connection at the forefront of their requirements from an accommodation provider.
Similar to other hotels I have encountered in Austria, there seems to be a element of contradiction about the Georg. On the one hand the food, as previously stated, is astonishingly good, unsurpassed. On the other the guest rooms are tired and the fitness-area old-fashioned and unwelcoming. The pool is serviceable but perhaps you would expect something better from a four-star operation, albeit, again, spotless throughout. The Sauper family who obviously drill their staff exceptionally well, are unfailingly welcoming and polite. I would though suggest that they are spreading themselves too thinly, what with their large and undoubtedly demanding restaurant on the Grosslockner high alpine road taking up much of their time and finance. I can only assume that having this other string to their bow financially prevents them from modernising the Georg to a standard you might expect from a four-star.
So what of Zell am See? Lake Zell is a vast body of water that can be enjoyed at your leisure by an excellent and regular passenger-boat service, should you wish to view peaks distant and near from afar rather than indulge in some alpine-interaction. For a different perspective I prefer to walk around a body of water but unfortunately walking around Lake Zell, whilst having a path all the way around, at times involves traipsing next to a very busy road. The north side of Lake Bohinj this certainly isn’t. Nevertheless, there are some nice walks to an area popular with birdwatchers, somewhere Herr Sauper will take you to if getting up at six in the morning appeals to you and assuming such an hour exists whilst on holiday. Nearby Bruck is also accessible via the lake, a strange little town seemingly dominated by the Hotel Lukasmayr, a fine church and several Middle Eastern takeaways.
A trip to Zell would be incomplete without ascending(via cable-car) the Schmittenhoehe, 2000 metres above sea-level and offering the obligatory spectacular views and hiking possibilities. Whilst being a pleasing antidote to a lower-level resort that is not at the top of any alpine-walkers wishlist, I found the walking to be limited, unless one has time for a very long day tour or is backpacking ‘hut to hut’. I nevertheless did manage to get myself away from it all and absent myself from the holidaying hordes to an area approximately two hours walk from the Schmittenhoehe summit, where my reward was the lonely echoing call of a Cuckoo.
Should the mandatory coffee-shops and souvenir-purveyors in the main town not be for you, I can recommend a trip to Saalbach (and) Hinterglemm where the hiking-options are greater but all the while getting a distinct feeling that the Summer is definitely ‘out of season’. Nearby Maria Alm and Leogang again offer the walker a greater variety of options, should you prefer to use Zell strictly as a base. An excellent train-service from Zell can transport you to the likes of Kitzbuehel and Salzburg.
Should 2000 metre peaks be a little tame for you, a trip to neighbouring Kaprun and particularly the mighty Kitzsteinhorn will satiate your desire to gain some serious height. This really is a true high-level paradise for the alpinist, in much the same way as ‘The Big 3’ above Soelden and the Hintertux separate the mere holidaymaker from the bona fide mountaineer.
Returning to the vexed question of accommodation in Zell, it is sad to see that in the two and half years since my visit the St. Georg has obviously not been upgraded, if only taking into account the reviews on TripAdvisor and its subsequent fall down the rankings. The same must be said for the Grand Hotel perched on the lakeside, the location of which is obviously heavily traded upon by the owners when they set the tariffs travellers are expected to pay. Alas, the Grand seems to be very much less than the sum of it’s parts, not helped by the close proximity of the local train-line. As discussed in a previous blog post TripAdvisor can be misleading, particularly if travellers with an axe to grind only upload reviews; conversely one gets a distorted impression if satisfied patrons are the only ones to comment, not to mention rival hoteliers looking to put the boot in. Notwithstanding though the drawbacks of taking TripAdvisor too seriously, I would endorse from the published evidence from traveller reviews and from the pure aesthetics of the building the Hotel Tirolerhof – http://www.tirolerhof.co.at/en/impressions.html – it looks a class apart.