Over the past 90 years, the economic fabric of the village of Lech has changed beyond recognition. A mountain idyll once inhabited by dairy farmers and all but cut off from the outside world, it has grown to become one of Europe’s premier destinations for a well-heeled winter-sports enthusiast.
Barns that once housed cattle now offer après-skiers golden slabs of wiener schnitzel; houses, home to generations of farmers, have become boutique guesthouses. At the heart of this change is the family Schneider and their hotel Almhof Schneider.
Converted in 1929 from, yes, a dairy farm by current owner Gerold Schneider’s great-grandfathers, four generations of the family have made the hotel a cornerstone of Lech’s elite tourism industry – and generations of guests have also come along for the ride. As many as 90 per cent of today’s clients, says Gerold, are repeat visitors. “People come back for Christmas and everybody knows each other,” he says.
One guest has been a regular visitor for 50 years – and long-term staff members make an incalculable contribution to the atmosphere. “You can create beautiful hotels,” says Gerold. “But those relationships are intangible. Removing formality without losing the highest level of service is very hard to achieve.”
Klaudia Dürr Head of housekeeping (married to Christian, Gerold’s eldest brother). “What do all her housekeepers say? She is the most severe and demanding person but also the one with the biggest heart.”
Anja Meier Chief receptionist. “Thank you Anja for joining the team. We have been waiting for you!”
Hannelore Schneider The grande dame (mother of Christian, Andreas, Angelika and Gerold). “The house has grown with her since 1959. She has passed on the reins but is still full of energy.”
Luis Schneider Mystery guest (son of Gerold and Katia, brother of Ida Schneider). Prefers to be in the hotel from December to April.
Aegidius Ebner Head barman (aka Gidi). “A legend. Started in 1971. Now 49 seasons later he is still skiing every morning and coming back with a smile on his face. Always interpret his stories by using the famous formula: ‘Gidi divided by two’.”
Josef Neulinger Head Sommelier. “Started here when he was not even allowed to drink alcohol. He won the best Austrian sommelier award in 2018. If you are wondering why he’s not tasting the wine, it’s because he’s preparing for The White Rush, the toughest race in the area, which he has already won several times.”
Marco Rabensteiner. Head chef. “So well-organised that he allows his crew to go skiing in the mornings. Never a bad word is said in his kitchen. Make sure you get to taste his famous wiener schnitzel.”
Johannes Schönangerer Maître d’Hôtel. “He makes the guests very, very happy...”
Johannes Rassi. f&b and human resources manager. “The quiet man backstage. He would go and listen to more operas if he didn’t have to look so hard for the perfect staff.”
With a background in philosophy and architecture, Gerold makes an unlikely hotelier. These areas of expertise are, however, among his greatest assets. Alongside his architect wife, Katia, Gerold has refurbished the hotel according to elegant and contemporary aesthetic principles. His background in philosophy, meanwhile, has grown to encompass hospitality. He makes easy reference to Theodore Adorno as he says, “I prefer the word heritage to tradition; tradition for me is something that’s unquestioned or unquestioning. Heritage is a task, in a way. You take something and you try to bring it on to the next step, to the next level.”
Almhof Schneider combines ski-lodge charm with clever design, from a renovated library with killer views to a carpark inspired by the moon.
To some guests’ chagrin, the hotel replaced its rustic panelling with untreated spruce. Resistance soon crumbled as everyone came around to its elegant charm.
The Schnieders have redesigned an old barn to be a living and gallery space. Downstairs the library’s picture window has a fantastic view of the slopes.
This extraordinary space was born out of necessity: the Schneiders were tired of clogging up Lech with their guests’ vehicles, which they were placing in the municipal carpark. They employed Japanese designer Shinichiro Ogata to create a space that is inspired by the forest and moon. There’s even a temperature-control system, which ensures that cars rest easy.
Beyond thoughtful design, impeccable hospitality lies at the heart of the Almhof Schnieder’s success. With staff and guests returning every season, there’s an easy familiarity between the two. Even families with their own chalets never miss a week in this luxurious home away from home.