The 250-year-old family-owned Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt in Austria effortlessly blends eco with luxury, and also happens to be among the dreamiest destinations for families, thanks to its insanely beautiful location, as well as the parents and kids (i.e., ready-made friends) it draws from all over.
It’s hard not to be thoughtful about the environment and what we eat, especially once we become parents, and particularly in the last 10 years. But at the Stanglwirt, it’s the way it’s been done forever: The hotel uses recycled wood scraps to fuel the heating system, grows its own produce, and makes its own cheese (you can even watch cheesemaker Sepp in action). With local pine furniture and marshmallow-plush organic-cotton duvets, the 150 generously sized rooms feel at once high-end and holistic. And everything is scrubbed clean without chemicals.
The Stanglwirt’s wholesomeness extends to its activities, too. At the hotel’s Children’s Farm, kids can take turns petting bunnies, zip-lining between tree houses, riding ponies, and jumping into piles of hay in the barn. Hang out at the farm with them, or leave the children to their (staff-supervised) glee while you take advantage of the other amenities: the spa, the indoor horseback-riding ring, the eight clay tennis courts. A few minutes’ drive away are the Wilder Kaiser Mountains, where you can head for a family hike or picnic. If you want to explore farther out, drive 50 miles to Salzburg, where The Sound of Music was filmed, or to the town of Zell am See, 45 miles away, to cruise around the idyllic lake in your own rented little wooden boat.
But it’s highly likely you won’t want to leave the hotel grounds at all. This place seems to breed an instantaneous camaraderie, with families making fast friends and then seeking one another out day after day. This is especially true at breakfast and dinner, for which everyone meets up in the sprawling main restaurant for a buffet of vegetables, cheeses, and locally made sausages. The buffet is a particular blessing for those parents who never know which foreign menu item their kid will actually go for, but six in-house à la carte restaurants also allow for more formal meals. There’s even a bar that overlooks the indoor riding arena, where you can ride their Lippizaner horses, or just watch them while you have a drink.
After dinner, you’ll often see packs of children racing through the dining room, with no one raising an eyebrow, while the grown-ups sip schnapps. Before you tuck in for the night, round up the gang and ask the manager to open up the wooden bowling alley. With the whole 75 year old two-lane alley to yourselves, you’ll feel as if you’re in a magical VIP room. It’s yet another little reminder that the old-fashioned way is just about perfect.
You can visit the Stanglwirt year-round, but the optimum season is summer, when families can take advantage of the farm, pool, and spectacular grounds. The hotel is a two-hour drive from the Munich airport (Lufthansa flies nonstop from several U.S. cities); rent a car, or have the hotel arrange for a car service. Nightly rates range from $627 for a Kaiserbogen junior suite, which is suitable for a family of four, to $1,558 for a three-bedroom Imperial suite, which can comfortably sleep up to six. Prices include breakfast, an afternoon snack, and dinner, plus entrance to the Children’s Farm, so you won’t really be spending much outside of the rate. (We met a family there who had it all figured out: they fed their four kids a late breakfast, so they ended up hungry for lunch by the time the afternoon snack rolled around, and they never went out of pocket for lunch their entire stay.)