Luxury in Lech – Hotel Almhof Schneider

Progress and gentrification can stampede over small town mores and traditions. We see it frequently: The dive bar now serves artisanal cocktails out of too-trendy mason jars, and the locally sourced beef costs ten times as much when served at the new, farm-to-fork eatery that requires ressies weeks in advance. Resort popularity soars as coffee shops, luxury boutiques, breweries, and more restaurants pop up. Rents skyrocket and more businesses and tourists flock to enjoy the charm. The growth alienates some residents even while others love the vibe. One thing is certain: change is difficult.

Architect and hotelier Gerold Schneider brings change and vision to Lech with careful consideration. Gerold’s family witnessed the development of Lech from a mountain farmers’ village to a top tourist destination. After centuries of hard mountain farming and poverty, his great grandfather left behind the world of farming for the sake of tourism. “lt was definitely not an easy decision but rather a question of survival.” As skiers, we have benefitted from this shift: Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech. Yet, somehow, it remains true to its origins.

After a stint away from Lech, Gerold returned to work and raise a family. “Lech has always remained home. It is the place I definitely feel most connected to.” He loves the region: “Our history has given us a place that we can shape, a place of ‘good living’. And, of course, the daily skiing.”

Skiing aside, Gerold feels strongly that the idea of home also carries duties. “There is a saying that ‘home is where you feel responsible.” Having a taste of city life he envisioned introducing aspects of urban culture to his hometown. He recognized that his preferences may not be shared and he treaded softly in presenting innovative concepts. “I had to be very careful to remember that my hope to bring something new to Lech needed to fall on fertile ground in order to grow.” Gerold ponders, “It’s just like anywhere else: I guess most people just don’t like change.”

Hotel Almhof Schneider LechAlthough he introduced art and ideas from afar, he expanded upon the region’s centuries-old practice: the commons. His wife, Katia, and he converted an old barn and launched a cultural initiative within a communal space. The “allmeinde commongrounds” is designed to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. Gerold hopes to spark intellectual inquiry, make cultural connections, and address community issues. “We want to explore the cultural essence and future of Lech by producing, distributing, and sharing knowledge in a multi-disciplinary way.” The Aspen lnstitute’s mission is not dissimilar. These forums offer places for communities to discuss issues. To engage people in the exchange of ideas and plans. From art to economics, the spaces invite meaningful cultural ideas and create a place for thoughtful.

Gerold readily admits that high­end culture and the art scene has been virtually non-existent thus far. Unlike U.S. resorts like Aspen, European ski towns are not well known for their art scenes. But that is changing in Lech. “Antony Gormley’s “Horizon Field” installation had a very positive influence on the notion of contemporary art here in Lech.” The recent commission to Walter Niedermayr led to an exhibition and their first publication, Appropriations of Space – Lech 2015/16. Appropriately, it looked at development and use of space and landscape in an artistic way.

While Gerold embraces the new, he also works hard to honor the history of Lech, recognizing that preservation isn’t about preventing change, but rather, it is about keeping old places alive, in active use, and relevant to the needs of communities. He does this well, learning from his family. “Thirty-five years ago, my mother had the vision to turn one of the few remaining old farm houses into the now carefully restored, and authentic, Restaurant Klosterle.” The restaurant remains a beloved Lech institution.

Today, Lech is known as an exclusive resort town. Creating lasting economic sustainability for the town, both environmental and social, has always been an important issue. Lech’s unique selling point is the charm of the family owned and run properties. Yet Gerold worries that Lech’s current business model is endangered. To be sustainable he knows that change is necessary even though marrying the old and new remains a constant juggling act. “From the time theAlmhofwas born in 1929, the hotel has constantly changed.” Yet it constantly retains something special. And Gerold wants to preserve the familiar character of his boutique hotel.

What makes it unique? Every generation has tried to contribute their share to make this place a little more special for guests. “The heritage of the hotel is courage, personality and a never-ceasing effort to create a place that feels comfortable, safe, meticulously maintained, and looked after with a personal touch in all details.” With three generations of family making guests feel welcome, it is little wonder that the Almhof Schneider is renowned for its hospitality. “My mother describes the Almhof as a ‘big household’. We look forward to when our guests return. We enjoy spending time with them when they are here and we keep up relationships throughout the year.” Clearly, guests are considered good friends.

Interests are shared and stories are told throughout the years. Gerold’s passion for wine led to the Almhof’s annual wine-and-ski program. Sharing passions (whether skiing or the joys of apres) provides the opportunity to meet interesting people. In Gerold’s case that includes wine-producers, sommeliers, and dedicated wine-lovers. “I have a passion for wine and because of that I made some very dear friends in the business. They have a passion for skiing. Voila.” Skiing and wine’? Sign me up! The Almhof’s own sommelier just won a prestigious award. Although very pleased that Josef Neulinger was awarded Gault Millau’s “Austrian Sommelier of the Year 2018”, Gerold adds that equally importantly, Josef is one of the best snowboarders in the region.

Hotel Almhof Schneider LechThe hotels’ recent projects have included redesigning the Almhof’s restaurants, wine cellar, cinema, creche, boot and ski rooms, bar, reception, garage and spa. Even with change, guests and their families return year after year. “The Almhof Schneider has a super loyal clientele who see it as their second home. It has to be a safe haven – something that is reliable in a world that changes so quickly.” The connection guests have to the place is emotional; as much about personal relationships as it is about the gorgeous surroundings they consider their home away from home. (Of course, this home comes complete with award-winning food and wine, luxurious spa treatments, an atmospheric, curio-filled Billiard room, and a private cinema to screen films. And of course, 305km of slopes are at the doorstep.)

Sometimes there is resistance to change: Re-designing the Tagesbar was tricky as for many it represented the old Almhof which was linked to a host of memories. “We had to find a way to completely redo it while keeping the same atmosphere.” Like all aspects of the hotel, there is a mixture of perseverance, coherence, and soul, resulting in a feeling that something holds it together in a very personal way. Rather than following trends, he tries to make his designs lasting and in harmony with the surroundings. The Almhof has had a gradual evolution into a contemporary, design rich haven. “At the Almhof we strive to create something that feels right for this moment in time and place. At the same time we wish this to be long-lasting, timeless if possible.”

MaintainingLech’s charm while adding diversification is a continual balancing act. “Skiing only- as much as I love it – doesn’t seem to be enough for the future,” says Gerold. Easing the dependencies on skiing tourism and creating more work opportunities for all year round life in the village is a necessary element for lasting economic stability. Gerold’s family has witnessed hardships, wars, economic ups and downs, the advent of skiing, and the morphing of the town into an exclusive resort. He envisions a future that respects its past and embraces the future.

Hotel Almhof Schneider LechLech has not lost its soul to big development bucks and rapid gentrification; it’s still blissfully unpretentious. This top resort marries the best of luxury- food, art, lodging- with the charm and character of old-fashioned warmth. All while at the doorstep of unbeatable slopes. The Hotel Almhof Schneider is a unique retreat with exquisite aesthetics, utter comfort, and unsurpassed hospitality that combines the best of traditional and contemporary. As Gerold might say, “welcome home.”