Das Schiff hotel, Hittisau, Austria
In the hillside town of Hittisau in Austria's Bregenz region, in the country's westernmost state Vorarlberg, which borders Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Liechtenstein. The region is filled with small, picturesque villages with homes and inns built in a traditional style – multiple tiny windows and wooden shingle exteriors. The villages are surrounded by hills and mountains, making the region a popular spot for hiking in summer and skiing in winter.
Das Schiff is an elegant hotel that manages to seamlessly blend old-world charm with modern design. Originally a home and restaurant, the same family has owned the property since 1840, when they would give up their own beds to guests. Renovations began to create separate rooms and an extension – using locally sourced, sustainable timber – was completed in 2013.
The building now has five storeys and 33 rooms, with several large lounge areas and a bar on the ground floor as well as a spacious restaurant. The basement level is dedicated to the hotel's spa, where guests can enjoy a massage, beauty treatment or sauna.
The outdoor heated swimming pool features a clever design – you can enter and exit the pool from inside the spa area, meaning you don't have to freeze when you get out in the colder months. The hotel's name translates as The Ship despite being a long way from any coast. It was named by the building's original owner, Johann Jakob Mennel, who served in the Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy.
I check in to discover I've been upgraded to room 400 on the top floor, one of two luxury suites. I enter into a large living space with a three-to-four person L-shaped couch, generous wardrobe space and a balcony overlooking the valley and out to the mountains beyond. The television is small for a room this size, but given the views I don't bother switching it on.
The design is simple, clean and modern, but not spartan. Dark grey carpets contrast with white walls and the room is bright with natural light despite overcast weather. The bedroom is equally large and offers its own views across the valley.
I'm surprised to find that the bathroom offers only a bath and no shower, before realising the shower is in a second full-size bathroom. Toiletries are supplied by Metzler, a local producer of dairy products who makes cheese as well as a variety of beauty products and is a supplier to hotel restaurants.
The standard rooms offer the same decor and equally large storage space, though there's only one bathroom and no bath (shower only).
Aside from the scenery, this region has developed a strong reputation for its dining options, with local eateries sticking to local suppliers for cheese, milk, pork, lamb, beef and even fish from nearby Lake Constance on the Austrian-Swiss border. The hotel's two restaurants are no exception.
The modern Ernele is in the extended part of the building, with high ceilings and full-length windows. All food is sourced within 100 kilometres of the restaurant, with the vegetables and herbs coming from the property's own garden.
In the original building is Walderstube 1840, offering traditional local fare such as asparagus soup, roasted spatchcock, fried duck liver or aged pork. It's all hearty stuff, but perfect for a chilly night. Since both restaurants operate based on local produce, the menus can change by season.
Breakfast is served in Ernele, European buffet style with vast number of local cheeses to choose from.
Explore the nature of the countryside with a guided walk of the nearby Krumbach Moor, where you'll learn about the native flora along with the geology of the peat that underlies the moors. The walk takes you to the Moor House – a sleek wooden structure that overlooks the moor and catches the morning sun to warm you up.
You're encouraged from here to take off your shoes and wander the moor barefoot, feeling the water rise up from the ground with every footfall. It's supposed to be good for your health. Tours are organised by four local restaurants, so you can enjoy breakfast after the walk. See bregenzerwald.at/en/moor-restaurateurs-krumbach
The Bregenz region, little-known to Australian visitors, is like stepping back to a simpler time where the locals all know each other and source their goods from one another. Das Schiff manages to straddle tradition and modernity nicely, with all the modern comforts without losing any of its historical charm.
Rooms at Das Schiff start from €146.60 per person based on double occupancy, with lower rates for longer stays. See schiff-hittisau.com/en/
At a place where there are 21 different local cheeses available at breakfast, it's hard to go past the food.
The curtains in the bedroom are very thin, meaning the room gets bright as soon as the sun rises.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office.