четверг, 17 октября 2013 г.

Family Holidays: Austria – Hotel Seitenalm (December 2012-January 2013.)

In anticipation of winter I'd like to tell you about one of my favourite kids' hotels in Austria, Seitenalm. We celebrated the 2013 New Year at this beautiful 4 star location.

To give you an overview of Austria, this is a beautiful country, and is especially good for holidays for families with children. In the summer there is ample opportunity to enjoy the mountains and the lakes, and in the winter the mountains become a skiing paradise. The only thing missing is the sea, otherwise Austria is, in my opinion at least, an ideal country :).

Although there is plenty to say about Austria, I'm going to focus on winter ski vacations for this review.

My criteria for selecting our hotel were:

- Proximity to Vienna, Austria (where we live): We drove from Vienna to Seitenalm in approximately 3 hours, which is manageable when you are travelling with kids. In contrast, going to the Tyrol, where most people like to go skiing, takes sometimes more than 5 hours, which could be pretty tiresome for small children and those travelling with them!

- Availability of a ski school for children of different ages and skill levels. More about this below.

- Children's entertainment at the hotel: is there a kids' club, a game room for older kids, etc. Again, more detail below.
Our friends recommended Hotel Seitenalm, and I wanted to celebrate the 2012 New Year here but it was fully booked, so it was only for 2013 that I was lucky enough to book early. Indeed, I had to book it in early spring to get a room in December. The reception staff at the hotel said that they have a lot of repeat visitors, hence the booking up early. I guess that's a good sign :).

We arrived safely at the hotel where there is free parking and plenty of space.

The hotel is a bit isolated from the town nearby, however, and is not all that close to the ski slopes, although there is a children's ski school for beginners at the hotel. I would, therefore, recommend having a car as it gives you more flexibility with regards to transportation. Otherwise you can use a local bus to get to the ski slopes, but having a car is much more convenient.
I won't write much about the adult skiing opportunities, just to mention that if you have a car you can quickly get to a number of excellent slopes nearby at the Ski Amade. This region hosts the world championships in mountain skiing, which should let you know how great it is for skiing... My husband was happy here as every day he went skiing on a different slope.

The ski school for children is located right at the hotel, with a small and safe slope and a small lift (Magic carpet) for kids. It is very convenient and you can even ride a sleigh here, free of charge as it's provided by hotel.

For older children, or those more used to skiing, there is a large children's ski school nearby. The reception at the hotel can arrange a ski course for your kids in
Forstau (five minutes away by car).

The kids are taken by a mini-bus right from the hotel to the ski school every morning. There they are divided into groups by skill level and age.

The kids can stay for lunch and then continue the course in the afternoon. After the course the children are brought by the mini-bus back to the hotel. Moreover, the parents can ask the entertainers from the kids' club to take the kids, while they enjoy a full day skiing. It's very convenient! For the little ones and beginners, the children don’t have to go anywhere as the school is directly at the hotel.

My daughter, who is 5 years old, liked the ski school. After she finished her courses she got a medal and a certificate demonstrating what she had learned at the school.
On the last day she even went skiing with her Dad to the big 'adult' slopes. She did really well and we were very proud parents :)!
Overall, the ski school left a positive impression on me, although I preferred our very first ski school (where we stayed the year before) - I'll write about this in an upcoming review.
Helpfully, you can rent skis and all the gear you need for skiing directly at the hotel, very practical! There is also a separate room where you can leave skis and boots, and there is even a ski boot dryer.

About the hotel.
Seitenhalm is one of the best kids' hotels we have ever been to. It is good for kids of all ages, from little ones to older children, and they have everything you might want for kids :).
Meal plan: The hotel offers an 'all inclusive' breakfast, lunch, and dinner plan and when we arrived we had a table already reserved for us and were served breakfast and dinner at this 'fixed' location.
They had even supplied coloring pencils and a painting book at our table to keep our daughter occupied while she was waiting for her food. Every morning we could choose our meals from the dinner list, while appetizers and salads were usually served at the buffet. Our table had a complementary hotel newspaper provided daily, with the weather forecast for that day and the next, as well as details of the day's programme for the kids.
For the children there is a separate buffet, with soft drinks available. For lunch, you simply find a free table as no tables are reserved at this time.
The hotel has only one restaurant, but it is more than adequate, providing high quality Austrian cuisine, delicious and with plenty of options to choose from. My daughter liked it too and was never left hungry :).
They even have a bar with a fireplace, which is a very cosy place to enjoy a cup of coffee...
On New Year's Eve there was a gala dinner with live entertainment for children and adults: a mini-disco and disco for adults. There were also New Year's fireworks, and balloons that you could make a wish with and then release. The hotel also took a family picture in an old-fashioned style from the previous century, with us dressed up in costumes, including hats and old-fashioned umbrellas – what a fun family photo!

Activities for kids:
The hotel offers a lot of entertainment for children from 0 (!) to 15 years. Of course, the children are divided by age into different groups. For teenagers there was a separate program and a relaxation room.

The entertainers were very professional and attentive to the kids. My daughter really enjoyed going to the mini-club. There is even a separate special play zone for babies, and a baby-lounge. 

This was the first time I've ever seen such a thing in a hotel! The baby-lounge is a separate (and very cosy) room with swinging cots for babies, where they could sleep while the adults are eating or sitting in the bar. I wouldn't have objected to taking a nap there for an hour or so myself but, unfortunately, the cribs were a little small for me...

For older children there is quite a large game room/play zone. It's safe to play here and, importantly, the children loved it.

The mini-club programme is very interesting and included: baking cookies, visiting the animal farm nearby where you can feed the animals, brush the ponies' hair and even ride a pony!

The hotel even has a small movie-theatre where the kids can watch movies and cartoons in the evening.

As I mentioned above, the hotel has a small farm with some animals: chickens, roosters, rabbits, cats and so on. The horses and ponies were an absolute delight for the kids, especially the mini pony. It was really tiny! You can get food for the animals from the hotel staff (a lot of fun for children and adults!).
 One big advantage of this hotel is its indoor swimming pool, something of a rarity at a skiing hotel. There is also a paddling pool for smaller children, and a hot tub/jacuzzi for adults.

There is a small but very cosy wellness area with a relaxation zone, as well as several types of sauna with different temperature levels. The hottest sauna is just a short walk outside and so you can roll in the snow afterwards – like the locals do :). They also have a Turkish steam room and infrared sauna.

All of the saunas are fairly new, as is the relaxation zone, where they serve little snacks (fruits and dried fruits) and refreshments and offer delicious local water (believe me, the plain water tastes completely different here!).

For moms there is a small spa with the usual services on offer. I indulged in a few things and was satisfied with the quality of service.

I don’t ski so I enjoyed training instead in the small hotel gym which has a beautiful panorama view from the window. I loved swimming in the pool, went to the spa, and enjoyed walking in the local hills and admiring the scenery. So I was happily occupied…

There was nothing particularly special about the rooms. We took a standard room with one double bed and an extra bed for our daughter. The room was quite spacious and newly renovated, with bathrobes and slippers provided for the whole family (kids too), and separate towels available for the pool.

The hotel is run by a large (!) Austrian family, with all family members busy and hardworking. You can often see the head of the family at the animal farm or serving in the restaurant, and his charming daughters work at the front desk. They are all very nice, friendly and attentive to guests' questions and requests.

Most of the guests during our stay were from either Austria or Germany, although there were some English-speaking visitors.

Overall, I would highly recommend this hotel for winter skiing with children! One small drawback, however, is the lack of ski lifts for adults within walking distance, but the hotel's advantages outweigh any such disadvantages!

In the summer I imagine that this hotel offers an equally enjoyable vacation experience with beautiful mountain hikes, mountain biking, fishing at a small pond nearby, golf, and easier cycling. I would probably only stay here in summer for a long weekend break, but maybe longer could work too, you never know...
There are stunning views from this hotel after all...

And, as a kids' hotel, it is just great!
We would love to go back there again...

Bon Voyage!
Looking forward to getting your feedback after you come back!

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