One of the most memorable stories I ever had out of Austria when I worked as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph was the discovery that Mickey Mouse had appeared in a 700-year-old fresco on a church wall in Carinthia.
I remember the story well because it was so unbelievable – but sure enough when I went to the church in question the newly uncovered medieval fresco featured a rodent with an uncanny resemblance to Mickey Mouse.
I remember the story because it was one of those quirky stories that went all round the world – and I had to interview a chap named Siggi Neuschitzer to get the inside story, he was fielding questions on behalf of the local council about the discovery.
But the news spotlight moves on and I have not given much thought about the story until this week when I returned to the area with my family for a break at the rather long-winded named “Europe’s 1st Baby + Children’s Hotel“. When I arrived I discovered that the manager and owner was the one and the same man that I had dealt with over the now infamous Mickey Mouse Disney copyright row.
Had the brush with the children’s cartoon character inspired him to go into setting up a hotel business for children? At the time it had even been suggested that the resemblance was so striking that the copyright for Mickey Mouse should actually belong to Carinthia. Disney never said what they thought – I know because I asked them.
Either way nothing ever came of it, it seems, as the children’s hotel at Babydorf Trebesing now run by Mr Neuschitzer has no sign of Mickey Mouse – or the other Disney characters – what there is however is a large cartoon kangaroo – and a good two dozen real miniature kangaroos that form part of a zoo at the rear of the hotel.
In fact the whole hotel has the feel about it of a giant nursery – when you walk through the door the place is stuffed with prams and toys – child safety doors on the stairs – plastic protections on any sharp corners – miniature furniture for the younger guests – and every type of cartoon character painted on the wall – minus of course Mickey Mouse.
At first it is a bit daunting – the hotel really is unique and after 40 years of being used to hotels that cater for adults it is a bit strange to enter a place not unlike a nursery where a much smaller statue of guest without doubt calls the shots.
But once parents like us have settled into the rooms it is actually great to realise how much effort has gone into making it safe for children. In fact what Siggi has created is really a paradise for children. And as we found – when the children are happy – everything goes well for the parents as well. The whole running of the hotel in fact is geared to taking good care of the kids so that the parents can relax and unwind as well – even if it is just a byproduct.
Siggi insists he was not inspired to do the hotel because of the imminent fame as the birthplace of Mickey Mouse. In fact the kinder hotel he now runs was once a family owned enterprise that was definitely not a flourishing business. He decided to open Europe’s first children’s and baby hotel on the site after inheriting the struggling now 65 room four star hotel from his parents.
And it is now the foundation stone of a chain of children’s hotels – you will not be able to use this review as a guide to what to expect anywhere else as all of them have their own priorities and all are unique – some have mini-grand prix courses or pirate themes, while others have kangaroos – but all have the same basic formula. But they are all part of the Kinderhotels franchise and Siggi insists that all meet the same standards of basic care for child guests.
The rooms have everything for the children that you always forget to take – from potties, nappy-changing tables with wipes, steps allowing the height-challenged to reach the wash basin, a microwave and so-called baby-listening system – effectively mobile phones that double as baby alarms. The rooms are rented as anything between one and three children rooms.
The restaurant serves only organic produce, first served to the children with parents looking on – after which the kids are bundled off to the fun room – a converted squash court that owner and founder Siggi admits was one of the few ideas at the hotel that had not really fitted.
That leaves parents to tuck into a gourmet five-course dinner each evening, with a special menu for nursing mothers.
Europe’s 1st Baby + Children’s Hotel includes a zoo – mostly full of kangaroos but also with sheep – goats, fish and ponies.
The swimming pool inside and out has plenty of slides and water wings and floats – and there is a non-stop supply of drinks from fruit juices through to soft drinks.
In fact all food and drinks are included in the price, except alcoholic drinks. Childcare – the only really vital ingredient for a relaxing parental break – is also included in the price.
Everything about the place seems to reflect the energy and enthusiasm of a man who has managed to set up a countrywide chain of children’s hotels.
I noticed he does not confine himself to this – he is also one of the directors at the state-run television station – and he is a man with so much influence now that the local council even moved the motorway so that guests at his hotel could have peace and quiet. Really – read all about it here. They moved the entire road underground by covering it with a concrete tunnel and putting a meadow on the top – making it the world’s most expensive cow pasture.
That means young visitors can cross the motorway without even knowing its there – and take a tractor ride to the fairy tale fantasy walk at the baby village – another marketing gag that Siggi dreamed up.
In the winter the gentle slopes of the hotel have a mini ski life perfect for the kids for the more adventurous there is a free shuttle to Goldeck ski area (15-20 minutes) with its 25 kilometres(km) of runs, and Innerkrems (46km) and Katschberg (60km), both 25-30 minutes.
The shuttle bus includes Kinder stewardess’ for little ones. In summer there is a car racing track, viewable from the room terraces, theatre, cinema, archery, beach volleyball, and the huge adventure playground for the after dinner revellers.
One thing that stuck in my mind is it did not seem like about six meal times a day. Not having to run round after the children and consuming so much excellent food is not something likely to leave you coming away thinner – even though there are exercise opportunities at the hotel.
In reality the swimming lessons, tennis courses and in winter the ski school only ever seemed to be packed with children.
The adults seem to prefer the beauty and spa area with saunas, quiet room with waterbeds, king-sized bath, aroma grotto, massage, aerobics, yoga, aquacise.
The diehard workaholics only dragged away by the feeling of guilt that they need to spend time with the children even have a business centre at the hotel.
Whatever critics might say along the lines of children should be seen and not heard perhaps – that formula does not work here but it does work it seems for both adults and children.
At least 50 per cent of guests are guests that have come back again and my independent reviewer in the form of my five-year-old son would certainly agree. Being informed that we were going on holiday again this summer the question was “Are we going to the kinderhotel?”