There are many elements of a hotel that make it a good one, and there are certainly plenty of good ones to be found in the Alps. It might be the gourmet restaurant, the superb wine selection, the panoramic view, etc… Whatever it is, combine a few of these elements in the same place and you’ve likely got yourself a great place to stay. Every so often in our travels we find a hotel that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. It has all the features to be expected, plus an extra something that makes it stand out as truly exceptional. This series is about highlighting those places.
Sometimes our favorite hotels are found by accident. Schwarzwaldalp is one of those places for us. When we first offered tours in 1999, the Bernese Oberland Traverse was one of our very first itineraries, albeit in reverse order and staying entirely in mountain inns. We didn’t pre-reserve inns back then, but made bookings only once a client had signed up for a tour. Mostly that was fine, but on our very first Bernese Oberland Traverse, the Rosenlaui inn did not have space for us. So we did the only thing left to do… ask the small inn up the road at Schwarzwaldalp, the one with only 6 rooms, if they had 3 rooms for us. They did! It was a happy twist, as the charm and hospitality of Luzius, his beautiful Bernese Oberland dog and his friendly crew were a highlight of that trip and have brought us back year after year.
Luzius has long since moved on, and for a few years we moved our tours to Meiringen. The next hosts were fine, but not necessarily special. Then in 2010, Melanie and Johann Zenger happily came onto the scene and brought that legacy of charm and hospitality back.
Johann is a local. He grew up in Innertkirchen, just down the road, and always knew he wanted to become a chef, and so he apprenticed and worked toward that goal from early on. Melanie grew up in Zurich, a city girl and a banker, but with a family vacation home in Hasliberg, also nearby. In Melanie’s words,
“So one day the mountain boy and the city girl met – and fell in love. On one of our first hikes together we visited Schwarzwaldalp, Johann talking about his dream to become independent as a host and chef. Johann already knew Schwarzwaldalp, but for me it was the first visit – and I also fell in love with the place! Right that day we dreamed about being the hosts of the place. Only 2 weeks later we read an ad in the local newspaper that Schwarzwald is searching for a new lessee! That was in May 2010. That summer I quit my job in Zurich, packed all my belongings and Johann and I moved to Schwarzwaldalp – opening “our” hotel in December 2010. It was the best decision ever! We love this place.”
We love Schwarzwaldalp too. Over the years, they’ve added extra rooms in a back building, but it is still very small and intimate. It sits in the middle of a gorgeous meadow surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, remote, but easily accessible by bus. On our Bernese Oberland tours, this is our first night, for many people their first night in Switzerland, and I love the way it allows us to dive right in to a true Swiss mountain experience. The beds are cozy, the food is fantastic, and the fresh mountain air is the best sleep aid imaginable. But it all comes together because of our incredible hosts, who are always a joy.
Melanie and Johann’s young son Gian, born in 2014, is growing up happily on the Alp. Melanie calls Schwarzwaldalp her Herzensort, the home of her heart, because “being a host at Schwarzwaldalp is not a job – it is our life!”
You know what? It shows, and it is one of the reasons we love it so much.
“We hopped on the bus and headed up. And I mean UP! I’ve never been on such windy roads, and this 45 minute bus ride was one of my favorite parts. The horn blaring out as the bus took the sharp corners, the views from the big windows, that feeling of anticipation not knowing what to expect when we arrived. There were cows on every hill, and as we climbed up the steep mountainside my stomach was jumping with excitement. As we pulled up the little inn seemed unreal- almost superimposed on the backdrop, the snowy peaks behind it and the greenest green we’d ever seen. We got off the bus and walked into the front and were immediately greeted by the sweetest innkeeper, Melanie. She got us set in up our room, and we couldn’t believe what a gorgeous view we had, right out our window!”
-Dani Hampton for Sometimes Sweet, 2016 Bernese Oberland tour