My family enjoys travelling. But big trips take a lot out of everyone. The planning, the driving, and the inevitable walking – it wears on all of us. Sometimes rather than a European travel adventure, we’ve found what we really need is a chance to stop being tourists. Living overseas, it’s sometimes difficult to feel like you’re not a perpetual outsider. It’s nice to find a place where you can just relax, a place where you can just be. One of our favorite places to do that is at a Kinderhotel.
Kinderhotels are an umbrella chain of independent hotels that cater to travel for families with children. They are all-inclusive and offer up to 60 hours of free child care a week at the Kinderclub. This club provides activities for the children in a kindergarten environment, where they can also take their lunch and dinner. The stays are generally booked by the week and have a lovely retro feel to them. I can’t help but think of the resort from “Dirty Dancing” when we’re staying there. These are places for children and families to pursue simple outdoor leisure activities and spend time together. There aren’t a lot of high-tech distractions. It’s just an old-fashioned family get away.
The majority of the hotels are in Austria, but they have affiliates in Bavaria, Italy and Croatia as well. Most, if not all of the staff in the hotels we’ve stayed at speak at least some English, as they are accustomed to hosting guests from all over. During our stays, we’ve met people from Denmark, The Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. We’ve stayed at three different Kinderhotels in the four years we’ve lived in Germany, all of which were in Austria.
The kids love these hotels. There is no end to the things for them to do. Because our children speak German, they’ve had no problems participating in the children’s activities. It can be a bit difficult for non-German speaking children, but in our experience the staff was so friendly and willing to accommodate us that language wasn’t too much of a barrier. My kids have enjoyed spending time in the kids club and eating a few meals away from us at the children’s table.
The fact that they serve breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner on the premises is just heavenly. This eliminates one of the largest sources of stress on vacation for me, finding somewhere to eat that appeals to everyone. The food is generally plentiful and delicious. There is a regional touch to it and it is always well presented, fresh and flavorful. The Familienhotel Post even had its own vegetable garden.
We tend to venture out on our own while at the hotels, but there are organized activities for older kids and for the entire family. The places we’ve stayed also had a Spa and exercise room for the adults. The hotels are also wonderful about listing nearby events and sites to visit during your stay. Some of the hotels offer bikes, sleds, and other outdoor sporting equipment for free or for a small fee. During our ski holiday, the hotel sold discount lift tickets to a nearby ski area, and they made reservations at the ski school for our children.
While we’ve taken advantage of a few of the things the hotels offered, these vacations have really provided us with an opportunity to recharge. There is something completely different about staying in a vacation spot, rather than visiting a tourist attraction. The difference may seem like pure semantics, but visit any of Europe’s main tourist attractions during the busy season and you might think twice about travelling again. The Kinderhotels and chains like them are where European families vacation and somehow I always feel a bit less like an American tourist there.
Our first stay was at the Alphotel in Hirshegg, Austria. The children and I went for a long weekend while my husband was travelling. The child friendly atmosphere of the hotel was immediately apparent, when my then three-year-old son received his own key at check-in. Each meal offered fantastic adult and child-friendly food for the pickiest eaters, and the kids were thrilled that we were called to dinner each night by the owner ringing a cowbell.
During our short stay, we didn’t participate in any of the hotel’s activities. Instead we enjoyed the child-friendly facilities, both indoors and out. The basement floor was split between the Kinderclub and an enormous ball pit with a padded climbing gym, which was an instant favorite with the children. The outdoor playground was even more impressive. A huge assortment of ride-on toys filled the children’s area, the center piece of which was the Rapunzel tower and clubhouse with an escape route through the wishing well. When we weren’t playing on the indoor or outdoor playgrounds, the children splashed in the jungle book themed kiddie pool. With a python sprinkler, a crocodile slide, and a parrot that squirted water, it was difficult convince them to leave the pool.
After I put the children to bed in the evenings, I simply sat on the balcony, just breathing in the fresh mountain air and listening to the sounds of church bells and cowbells echoing through the valley. It was here that I really discovered the magic that was Austria. It is my opinion that the Austrian Alps are truly the most beautiful place on earth.
Our second visit to a Kinderhotel occurred just before we were due to PCS (Permanent Change of Station, aka move) I wanted a low stress family vacation for everyone. The kids and I had such a good time at our first Kinderhotel that I decided a full week there would be perfect. The Alphotel was closed for renovations, so we decided on the Kinderhotel Post in Unken, Austria. The kids were looking forward to it, but my husband was not so sure. He was less than enthusiastic about spending a week in a child’s fantasy land. It didn’t take long to win him over, when he saw that the hotel didn’t focus on the children at the exclusion of the parents – it simply provided a setting for our family to enjoy time together. It proved to be just what we needed, a relaxing, enjoyable vacation for the whole family.
Since we were staying the entire week, we took advantage of all of the children’s activities. The kids went to the Kinderclub every day, where they joined in nature walks, crafting, obstacle courses, pony rides and they were able to eat lunch and dinner with the other kids. My daughter took horseback riding lessons and both kids took swimming lessons. (There was a small additional charge for these lessons.) We practiced archery together, hiked on the nearby trails, visited the small animal petting zoo and swam in the outdoor lake.
One of the highlights in the building were the slides the children could take in lieu of the stairs. One lay right next to a staircase, and the other went from the main level down to the ball pit a full floor below. They also had several large trampolines, a bouncy house, and a fleet of ride-on vehicles. There was something for the children at every turn.
Our latest stay at a Kinderhotel was over spring break. We had the worst winter in this part of Germany – we had absolutely no snow. We really wanted an opportunity to go skiing before the snow was gone. This time we decided on the Familienhotel Post in Millstatt am See, Austria. We reserved our room fairly late, and the main hotel was booked. We were put up at their partner hotel, Hotel Postillion am See. The hotel is located on the bank of the Millstätter See, and the view from our room was spectacular. We had breakfast and an afternoon snack in our hotel, but lunch and dinner were at the main hotel, a short walk up the hill.
We were able to reserve and book our skiing activities at the Goldeck ski area right from the front desk of the main hotel. The whole family skied together for the first two days. For the remainder of the week, my husband and son hit the slopes, while my daughter took swimming lessons, and I explored the area. During our week there the hotel also offered a snowshoe trip, and an alpine sledding trip. The friendly staff and owners ensured that our family enjoyed themselves on and off the slopes. On the trip home, everyone agreed it was the “best vacation ever”.
While we have really enjoyed our visits to the Kinderhotels, these are generally interspersed with other types of travels. If it is your one and only European trip, this may not be the best option for you. If however you’ve “been there, done that” and are looking to avoid the crowds surrounding the must see sights in Europe, Kinderhotels offer a chance to just spend time somewhere beautiful with your family. For us, it’s a vacation where we lose our permanent tourist status for a little while and just enjoy life.
(The year after we stayed at the Alphotel, they underwent major renovations and they are now with Familotel, a similar chain.)