Life lessons: Interview with Gertrud Schenider
“When people are not at home, they are open to new ideas. A hotel is like a sacred space, where you bring locals and travellers together. It’s bigger than travel. It’s about living and experiencing.”
Gertrud Schneider is no ordinary hotel owner and manager. She is the visionary behind Kristiania Lech, a boutique hotel that is designed around Gertrud’s eclectic appetite or antiques, art and unusual ideas. The hotel was first built as a guest house by her father Othmar Schneider, Austria’s first alpine Olympic champion, but with her infectious passion, Gertrud encourages visitors to embrace so much more than just winter sports.
How do you bring to life the rich history of Kristiania Lech?
We are a little bit of an eccentric and eclectic hotel. How we started is quite different to other hotels. My father was Austria’s first male Olympic champion and Kristiania Lech was originally designed as a private house to welcome his friends for ski adventures and parties. It was – and still is – full of personality, like a private club with a sense of place. But he was not a hotelier. He married my mother, who came from a family of collectors. That’s why you can see a distinct and curated sense of style. Our 29 suites are individually decorated and full of antiques, original pieces of art and travel memories. What you see around you isn’t made up for guests, it’s what I grew up with.
What defines a luxury experience for you?
I compare big luxury hotels to brands like Gucci, Prada or Hermès. However, experiencing luxury at Kristiania Lech is like finding a boutique tailor on a side street of Milan, where you get custom-made suits. The kind of place you only find with an insider tip. This harks back to the beginning of the 20th century, when it was all about slow travel; people wanted to take time to immerse into a new culture. I feel like this has been lost, and we want to bring that back.
When I grew up, I didn’t really like the hotel business. Selling beds and food was not enough for me, but I was told that with small hotels you can do more than that. You can be eccentric. Staying at Kristiania Lech is like staying at a relative’s house but with impeccable service. We curate an effortless combination of all things traditional, contemporary, historical, local and familiar. There’s a real feeling of belonging.
How do you encourage people to explore their appetite for new experiences?
We are constantly developing new ideas. For example, next summer, we are creating a summer community, where people will apply for a room at a reduced rate in exchange for their skills. For example, we might invite a yogi to give back to the community by offering yoga two times a week. Or a wine specialist, sleep expert or a gardener, who can teach us about gardening and host a lecture. This encourages people, not only to learn, but to get more involved with our community and meet like minded people.
How does food play an integral part in how people travel?
Personally, I hate it when breakfast ends at 10am on holiday! You want to sleep in! Running to breakfast is a thing of the past at Kristiania Lech. We give people endless options and choices. You can have crêpes Suzette at 3.30pm in the afternoon, an Arabian raki in the great outdoors, or listen to one of our Reading Butlers narrate Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast as you sip champagne. It’s all about finding out what guests actually want.
And, of course, there must be endless opportunities to ski at Kristiania?
Everything that I’ve talked about goes beyond the skiing and mountain experience. But we are centred in Lech, Austria’s largest ski area with more than 300km of groomed slopes.There are around 88 ski lifts and all the chair lifts have heated seats. We also have an armada of ski guides, as well as ski touring, ice skating, paragliding – whatever you think about winter you’ll find it here in the Alberg mountains. And in the summer, there’s hiking around crystal-clear lakes and waterfalls.It really is like The Sound of Music. The landscape gives your heart a faster beat.
How do you think travel enriches people’s lives?
When people are not at home, they are open to new ideas. A hotel is like a sacred space, where you bring locals and travellers together. It’s bigger than travel. It’s about living and experiencing. Sometimes you have to leave your home to be open to a new place and a new rhythm. It broadens your outlook for the future.