Other Germans often chide the Swabians for being mindlessly happy--so unlike the angst-ridden northerners or the boisterous, temperamental Bavarians. While stereotypes are often blatant mischaracterizations of people, a visit to the Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe in Swabia, in southwest Germany, can easily convince a disinterested observer that some Swabians have every right to feel all is well with the world.
The region is one of Europe's wealthiest, and Friedrichsruhe, an hour's drive north of Stuttgart, is one of its most privileged enclaves. The hilly woods and tilled valleys are still owned by the princely Hohenlohe family. In this century, their agrarian-based fortune has been surpassed by local commoners with flourishing businesses and industries. To accommodate these neighbors--as well as anybody else with taste and purchasing power--the Hohenlohes converted their ancestral castle almost three decades ago into an elegant, 45-room hotel with a one-star Michelin restaurant.
The rooms in the hunting lodge, one of four buildings that make up the hotel complex, are decorated with lush chintzes and patterned carpets in soothing tans or golden yellows. The marbled bathrooms are the size of some New York apartments. Most windows open on a tree-shaded garden. The temptation to sink back into a plush easy chair and read or contemplate is understandable--but worth resisting.
Guests at Wald & Schlosshotel Friedichsruhe have access to the adjoining Golf Club Heilbronn-Hohenlohe, which has a reputation for fast, well-defended greens that challenge experts. Nongolfers needn't feel deprived, however. They can meander through rolling meadows and romantic forests, or enjoy the hotel's outdoor and indoor swimming pools or Finnish sauna.
All this physical activity is intended to work up an appetite for master-chef Lothar Eiermann's cuisine at the hotel's gourmet restaurant--the primary purpose of a visit here. As Eiermann never tires of reminding guests: "This is a restaurant with guest rooms, rather than a hotel with a restaurant."
Diners should begin their repast with an appetizer such as mosaic of artichokes with sauteed saltwater shrimps. Anglerfish in anchovy-and-Champagne sauce with stuffed eggplant blossoms is a fine first course. For a main dish, there is roasted duck, served in two portions: the legs with goose liver and lentils, and the breast in a light elder-berry sauce that lends a nouvelle-cuisine touch to the traditional, heavy sauces favored in Swabia.
The nearby Hohenlohe woods are famous for their game, so it's tempting to opt for a saddle of venison roasted with thyme in a red-wine sauce, or a crepe of pigeon with celery and shallots.
The wine list is outstanding, and considerate enough to include some 40 half-bottles of excellent Burgundies and Bordeaux. Swabia has memorable reds and whites of its own, and those unfamiliar with the local vineyards shouldn't hesitate to ask the maître d' for advice.
Besides pampering the palate, a visit to the Wald & Schlosshotel should be treated as an opportunity to glimpse a bit of affluent, provincial German society. There is no guile in these patrons, whose body language is decipherable even by non-German speakers. At a nearby table, a round of toasts directed at a gentleman in his sixties, with humbly downcast eyes, is quite obviously a retirement party. At another table, the attention riveted on a middle-aged man's every phrase by the five other diners leaves no doubt about who will be paying the bill. A corner table is occupied by adoring honeymooners: the woman young, blonde and bejeweled; the man, a couple of decades older, with the bearing of a former athlete (the ex-striker of the Stuttgart soccer team, it turns out).
A sudden downpour sends a score of guests in the garden terrace scurrying for shelter. The anguish of a special occasion spoiled is written large on their faces--until they realize they are in the hands of a professional staff. Tables are quickly prepared in the main dining room, where space had been reserved for just such an eventuality. As soon as the displaced diners sit down, the dessert--filets of peach in Champagne-sabayon or baked cherries with ice cream--is served, restoring smiles and appetites. When the rain abates, the party drifts back to the terrace to enjoy Cognac and eau-de-vie, with cigars, in the dry, cool night air. --Jonathan Kandell
Jonathan Kandell, fromerly a European-based correspondent for The New York Times, is a freelance writer living in New York.
Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe
74639 Friedrichsruhe, Germany
Phone 49 (79-41) 60870; Fax 49 (79-41) 61468
Double from $155, including breakfast, service charge and taxes