Schloss Elmau is a Bavarian retreat that is all about nature, classical music and gourmet food 

Schloss Elmau was chosen as the venue for the G7 summit of world leaders in 2015. It’s not hard to see why.

The schloss is miles from anywhere, a thousand metres up in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and protected by a landscape of snow-capped crags and dark pine forests.

This didn’t stop relays of U.S. Secret Service teams turning up months in advance of President Obama’s arrival to check every staff member’s biography against a mobile database.

Oasis of calm: The imposing Schloss Elmau, which was built during World War I by a renowned Protestant theologian and philosopher called Dr Johannes Mueller

Meanwhile, the Austrian Army fanned out to seal off the mountain border with Germany in case anyone thought of hiding out for months with tinned rations and a high-powered sniper rifle.

Today, life has returned to normal, except that Schloss (castle) Elmau is anything but normal.

It was built during World War I by a renowned Protestant theologian and philosopher called Dr Johannes Mueller as an oasis of calm, a place where silence was a virtue and performances of classical music were one of the few activities permitted to interrupt it.

To this day, Schloss Elmau has seven grand pianos and stages around 200 classical recitals a year, many of them featuring world-class musicians who come here just before performing at London’s Wigmore or Cadogan Halls.

And this is really why I’ve brought my daughter Sasha, 20. She’s musical, I’m not. I used to get my hands rapped at primary school for playing wrong notes on the piano so I never bothered with a note after that. Sasha, however, has soldiered on to Grade 7.

Over the course of three nights we get to hear some truly enchanting performances by the pianist Aaron Pilsan and an accompanying cellist, including pieces by Beethoven, Szymanowski and Liszt. Later, I ask Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, the proprietor and grandson of Dr Mueller, if celebrated Chinese pianist Lang Lang has ever played here. ‘No’, he chuckles, ‘but he has stayed the night. I’d rather he pays me than I have to pay him.’

Dietmar took over the schloss in 1997 and, like his forebear, is quite into his philosophy. So much so that when I gently try to edge him off the subject and on to nature he continues unabated. ‘Oh’, he apologises, ‘I thought you were asking me about Nietzsche.’

Dietmar talks of rebelling against Germany’s focus on the freedom of the collective people over the individual, its idolisation of the ‘we’ over the ‘I’. This seems to strike a chord with Sasha, who warms to Dr Mueller’s concept of ‘taking time off for the ego rather than from it’.

Inside Schloss Elmau. It has seven grand pianos and stages around 200 classical recitals a year, many of them featuring world-class musicians

Inside Schloss Elmau. It has seven grand pianos and stages around 200 classical recitals a year, many of them featuring world-class musicians

One afternoon we pile into a golf buggy and Dietmar takes us through the forest to a nearby turquoise blue lake, bracketed by pine-clad mountains.

‘Your Prime Minister David Cameron jogged through the woods to come swimming here,’ he says, ‘but please don’t ask me what brand his swimming trunks were. Everyone asks that.’ He points back towards the way we came. ‘And back there is the iconic wooden bench where President Obama sat down with Angela Merkel to discuss climate change.’

His hotel calls itself ‘The Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat and Cultural Hideaway’. A bit of a mouthful, but it’s probably an accurate description.

There is the wonderfully self-indulgent spa with its heated infinity pool looking out across the valley, a yoga programme and classes in Tai chi, the latter not exactly relevant for me in my wheelchair.

Schloss Elmau is surrounded by stunning scenery. It has 40 electric E-bikes available for guest to hire to explore the forest trails that are criss-crossed by streams fed by icy mountain meltwater

Schloss Elmau is surrounded by stunning scenery. It has 40 electric E-bikes available for guest to hire to explore the forest trails that are criss-crossed by streams fed by icy mountain meltwater

Meanwhile Sasha is delighted to discover a women-only ‘Lady Spa’, which she has all to herself.

She emerges amazed at how quickly thoughts of university coursework and deadlines can drop away in such an environment. It’s certainly about as close to nature as you can get — a Carpathian bear wandered by a few years ago.

So I’m curious. ‘Any wolves?’ Dietmar throws me an enigmatic look. ‘Not yet, but they are coming, for sure. They have already crossed into Germany from Eastern Europe.’

The schloss has 40 electric E-bikes available for guest to hire to explore the forest trails that are criss-crossed by streams fed by icy mountain meltwater. Tricky for me but I’m restless to go exploring so I attach a mountain bike wheel to the front of my wheelchair, turning it into a sturdy trike.

The hotel staff, ever helpful, seem reluctant to let me go alone and in the end I have to be quite insistent.

As I set off down the forest trails, bouncing along a rutted track, the pine-scented air is almost intoxicating. And there are just so many flowers and so many birds. I’m in heaven.

Apart from scenery, the other thing the Schloss Elmau does take very seriously is its food.

No stodgy dumplings or undercooked bratwurst here. More a case of white asparagus cream soup, Norwegian lobster and the Michelin-starred chef Christoph Rainer’s signature dish: Brittany sole simmered in algae butter and edamame beans. It literally melts in the mouth.

Frank took his daughter Sasha on the trip to Schloss Elmau. Over the course of three nights they got to hear some truly enchanting performances by the pianist Aaron Pilsan and an accompanying cellist

Frank took his daughter Sasha on the trip to Schloss Elmau. Over the course of three nights they got to hear some truly enchanting performances by the pianist Aaron Pilsan and an accompanying cellist

There are four restaurants spread across two buildings —the Schloss and the adjacent Retreat — as well as a cellar stocked with 15,000 bottles, personally selected by Marie-Helen Krebs, one of Germany’s most experienced sommeliers.

On the last night we stroll back the short distance from the concert hall to our suite, savouring the aftertaste of a 2012 bottle of Hohenmorgen.

Above us, the moon is rising amid a vast panoply of stars, untroubled by any light pollution. Our breath is frosting in the still, Alpine air and we can hear the gentle burble of a nearby brook.

An owl calls from somewhere deep in the forest and I wonder idly when those wild wolves will be making their first appearance.

  • Frank Gardner’s latest thriller ‘Ultimatum’ was published in paperback in May. Corgi £8.99. 

TRAVEL FACTS 

Frank travelled with Schloss Elmau which has packages from £197 a night for adults, including admission to cultural events. See schloss-elmau.de/en/offers. 

BA has flights from London to Munich from £97 return (ba.com). Transfer to Schloss Elmau takes approximately 90 minutes by car. 

 

 

 


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