The minute you will meet Gertrud Schneider, the owner of the Hotel Kristiania in Lech you will understand quickly where this winter escape will take you.
This small luxury hotel in Lech has been built by her farther Othmar Schneider who was a gold medal winning Olympic star in 1953 to entertain his friends at the Arlberg.
Today Gertrud took the family’s heritage, a love for art and beautiful flowers throughout the hotel one step further. Besides a fine dining restaurant, a temporary art gallery in the hotel’s garage by Galerie Sturm & Schober and a flamboyant taste that upgrades the classic alpine style interior by mixing contemporary fabrics from La Maison Pierre Frey, wall paint by Farrow & Ball to 80s style interior objects that create a very home like ambiance as it is not dull in perfection. I meet Gertrud after a day skiing and I am curious to know her view on a contemporary way of leading a hotel in times like this.
IRMA: What was your initial thought and idea when you inherited the Hotel Kristiania, named after Norway, where you farther had won the gold medal in 1953. Did you have a concept in mind or did the hotel’s style developed over time?
GERTRUD SCHNEIDER: Firstly, I did not know that I would love the hospitality industry. Selling beds and meals sounded quite boring to me. I got to love the hospitality industry during my first internship at hotel school. It was at a five-star hotel and I found that I could do whatever I wanted to orchestrate experiences for my guests. I fell in love with this world. I read HIP Hotels (Highly Individual Places) by photographer Herbert Ypma, one of the very first books about boutique hotels. In this book, I discovered, for example, Costes Hotel – one of the first boutique hotels in Paris that opened around 1995. It’s still an iconic destination for expert travellers, and I knew immediately that Kristiania Lech needed to be a boutique-style hotel full of personality, contemporary art, artists or writers in residence, creating the feeling of sense of place, of staying at a friend’s eclectic home from the 1960s, but with much better, bespoke service.
IRMA: You are a very visual person, how important is it to create a visual language for the hotel besides fine food, excellent service and comfortable rooms?
GERTRUD SCHNEIDER: The Kristiania Lech was to be a private house to welcome my father’s friends from around the world to enjoy wonderful ski adventures in the Arlberg mountains and to host many private parties. His vision was a private chalet full of personality, a private club with a sense of place. He was not a hotelier. For me it is very important that my team’s tailor-made service and the Kristiania Lech in general has retained its intimate feel and makes international guests feel instantly at home in what feels more like staying at a relative’s eclectic residence from the sixties than a hotel.
It has to do with feeling at home – but also feeling that you’ve come to a place owned by people who care, who pay attention to details. More refined private residence than hotel but with excellent tailor made service and full of personality, individuality and privacy.
Each of the rooms/suites is a soothing, spotless realm of light. But there’s something else that’s more difficult to put into words. It’s to do with feeling at home as soon as you settle into an elegantly upholstered sofa, a vintage Hoffmann or Gio Ponti chair or a cosy fur covered deck chair on your private terrace with its ridiculously beautiful view. At Kristiania Lech, no two rooms are alike. All have a history of little improvements and adjustments, of careful, continuous curation inspired by a love for travel, contemporary art, antiques, design and history. Each one is the hotel in miniature, a little world of Austrian mountain simplicity, charm and elegance. It’s original, it’s fun and it’s about Austria.
IRMA: Where do you find new inspiration and always new ideas to keep the Kristiania unique?
GERTRUD SCHNEIDER: For me, new ideas and inspiration emerge while travelling. While Covid-19 is still with us and we are navigating new protocols and assessing the safest way to run a hotel and the safest opportunities for travel, I feel certain that how you travel will matters now more than ever.
These very extraordinary times without travelling and re-thinking the Kristiania Lech experience have made me think a lot about past travels, about the way we used to travel. A potent combination of access, ease, familiarity and habit had gradually accelerated the pace of travel, pushing us into a frenetic, consumptive frame of mind. London for a long weekend? Hamburg for a concert? St. Tropez for a party? Why not? The tickets weren’t too expensive, so we jumped on planes, with less fanfare or anticipation than my grandparents devoted to going out to dine in a restaurant. Looking back on that makes me wonder how – in the excessive casualness of the way we approached these incredible opportunities to cross borders and could be plunged into new cultures and communities in mere hours – we so often lost something. Back when it was harder to get places, you stayed longer, you looked deeper, you expected fewer habitual comforts and you brought less of your routine with you – instead you surrendered to the foreign.
I love the idea of looking at hotels as sacred spaces that bring residents and guests together to give and to receive and to honour something greater than the living. Therefore I created the ‘experience curators’ at Kristiania Lech. Travel, to me, has always been about communion, the exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, and reverence for beauty and the unknown that makes us all more human and aware of what connects or binds us. But the first step in that vision involves the traveller adopting a different, more considered and considerate attitude. That would certainly kill the consumptive approach at the core and replace it with compassion.
IRMA: Art plays an important role in your personal life and the hotel. At the moment you host a well-known gallery, Galerie Sturm & Schober for a temporary exhibition in your former garage which has been transformed into a gallery. Which role does art plays in combination to hospitality?
GERTRUD SCHNEIDER: People nowadays are really looking for experiences that matter – not just a hotel room, a spa treatment or a restaurant meal. They also need to trust you as a hotel and destination in these very challenging times, with a renewed focus on health and safety. I believe luxury is a question of space and privacy as well as a meaningful experience, and this experience is essential. It is about private luxury moments and definitely sustainability and considered travel.
A great example is our focus on contemporary art. We created a summer pop up to support art and culture, and our guests supported with their summer stay artists, dancers and musicians. They had the opportunity to mingle with the artists, interact with contemporary art, including performances in a mountain meadow and an art gallery pop-up in our garage with Sturm & Schober. The three salon dinners for 12 with a curator, a gallerist and an artist attracted like-minded locals and guests, who enjoyed discussing contemporary art and culture. A project close to my heart, my grandmother’s family have been art enthusiasts for generations, making the experience one which cannot be found anywhere else – that’s what makes an experience spectacular and unique.
My newest vision is to start an art week for galleries like Frieze London but hosted in Lech – much more intimate with an Alpine feel, but sophisticated and low-key including a symposium for curators and collectors. For this upcoming winter at the hotel, I am planning another gallery-pop-up, involving an outdoor art installation alongside installations in five of our guest rooms. As we will keep on limiting our inventory to be able to offer even more space and privacy, we are happy to offer these rooms to artists.
IRMA: Tell me something about the personal Book Butler you offer at the Kristiania.
GERTRUD SCHNEIDER: The way I judge a hotel is on what the experience is like before I get there and until I am back home. It just must be perfected all the way down the line – very bespoke, very tailor-made but also full of little surprises. And finally, this experience must matter to me and tell me something important that is good for the world. The only problem should be that I don’t want to leave.
This is why my team and I created the Book resp. Reading Butler. For me, there is nothing like reading a good book on vacation – some may even say it is a ritual. It was even reported that President Roosevelt planned on reading five books on his weeklong family summer vacation.
However, what if your crazed and don’t have time to stop by the bookstore or library and the airport newsstand doesn’t have your favourite author on hand? Also, who wants to pack heavy books in their already cramped luggage? The Book Butler doesn’t only secure your favourite “must read” but can find the most gripping reading materials in a variety of languages to satisfy even the most avid reader. Your personal selection of reading materials is delivered to your room upon arrival. Over and above, if you’re too tired after a long day on the slopes, the Reading Butler will read to the guest – an option the Kristiania Lech is happy to provide.