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Dining With The Cows, An Old, New Trend

AUSTRIA -- When it was first converted in the 1970’s, Stanglwirt’s Rustic Inn restaurant was not very popular. The idea of eating in an old barn was far from appealing at a time when mid-century modern and art deco ruled the aesthetic world. Today however, in this ecofriendly age, getting a reservation on a Friday night in Austria’s Biohotel Stanglwirt’s cow barn requires booking many months in advance.  The desire to eat and drink locally and sustainably has become an ever-growing trend, but long before the world was “going green” the Biohotel Stanglwirt was already embracing what they call a “biological philosophy”.  Managing director Richard Hauser made sure that when the small inn was extended into the five-star resort it is today, that the land first and foremost “remained a farm, including its dairy cows, horses, dairy and butchery - coexisting alongside a modern tourism infrastructure”.

It is the pursuit for an olden-day way of living, eating, and socializing that draws guests down the unassuming corridor of this grand chalet, toward the original Rustic Inn. Tucked away in one dark wing of the massive resort is a simple old wooden door that encourages guests to leave the present behind and enter a world of Austrian folk music, crackling fire, and cows. Yes, one small room of this 280-year-old barn-turned-restaurant offers guests a chance to dine with the cows. Original cutouts in the side of the barn have been transformed into windows that allow diners to peek into the comfy winter home of Stanglwirt’s 28 resident dairy cows. (see Photos: 1, 2, 3)  The happy bovines munch on hand-cut grass from the hotel grounds as diners partake of regional fare like buttery Tyrol spinach ravioli (See photo 4), tender locally-hunted venison (see Photos 5, 6), and one-of-a-kind raw milk cheeses made right from you know who (see Photos 7, 8). The chefs of the Rustic Inn are motivated by the challenge to serve as much local produce, meats, and dairy products as possible, whilst satisfying the hotel’s five-star, international clientele. “Fresh, natural, pure” emphasizes Stanglwirt’s director of food and beverage, Dietmar Zöscher, explaining that all of their produce comes direct from Austria and Italy; “We would never buy tomatoes from say, Holland.”  Unique to Stanglwirt is also the opportunity for guests to actually hunt their own dinner. With a guide, who also happens to be the in-house butcher, adventurous guests can set out into the hotel’s 600-hectare hunting ground in search of deer, ibex, sheep, or duck.  

Not all aspects of Stanglwirt’s organic philosophy are quite as primitive as eating with the livestock, however. Boasting an award-winning spa, the resort also works to showcase the decadence of sustainability with an emphasis on water, from the salt steam bath to the dining table. It may seem odd at first, servers dramatically pouring water from large luxurious Riedel wine carafes, but the water at Stanglwirt is no ordinary tap water (see Photos 9, 10, 11). Stanglwirt has become famous for serving water from their very own mountain spring. Water from the Kaiserquelle spring has been certified as one of the purest waters in the region and Stanglwirt’s very own in-house water sommelier will attest to it. Legend has it that due to an absence of atomic particles normally found in water of the area since WWII, it is believed that the underground Kaiserquelle spring has been untarnished by the outside world since at least 1945. Due to the exceptionality of their water, Stanglwirt ensures that it is always served at exactly 4 degrees and drunk from elegant stemmed glassware. It may also seem odd though, that Stanglwirt charges for their naturally occurring water: 1.50 euros for a 1.5-liter carafe.  Rest assured, this is not a ploy to make money off the sustainability trend, but a way of enhancing it; a “symbolic contribution” as they call it.  Fifty cents from each carafe goes toward the Menschen fur Menschen foundation, which helps build wells in Ethiopia. 

For a truly unique, green dining experience, take a seat with the cows in Stanglwirt’s old Rustic Inn. Sip on a local, preservative-free Garbarinza wine, nibble on house-made alm-kase alpine cheeses, and cleanse your pallet with the freshest, most earth-friendly beverage available. The Biohotel Stanglwirt offers guests a masterful example of the art of combining authentic old-world aesthetic with modern environmental trends and luxurious Austrian culture (as seen in Photos 12, 13, 14).

Photos courtesy of  Jessica L. Reid