A beautiful, country setting, spacious guestrooms and rambling, elegantly rustic, public rooms characterized this outstanding hotel hidden deep in the Bavarian Forest, not far from the Czech border.
It was the last Friday in April. The four of us had driven from the Czech Republic, crossing into Germany at Marchhäuser just northeast of Freyung, looking for an overnight and a good meal in the Bavarian Forest countryside; perhaps a place a little more gemütlich than the decent but commercial Hotel Zvon on Ceske Budejovice's main square where we'd stayed the night before.
Relying on the maps at the front of Michelin's Red Guide for Deutschland which highlight especially pleasant hotels and restaurants, we headed northwest toward the resort village of St. Englmar, 37 kilometers south of Cham, just off the main north/south road through the Bayerischerwald. There, the guide awards its coveted red roof-peak symbols to a pair of hotels, the Angerhof and the Maibrunn. But full-up parking lots and cold, contemporary architectural styles put us off both hotels. We decided to keep looking.
In the hamlet of Rettenbach, just five kilometers from St. Englmar, was the Hotel Gut Schmelmerhof, to which Michelin has assigned a red rocking chair symbol - "very quiet or quiet, secluded hotel."
This, at least from the outside, was more what we had in mind, a substantial, three-story structure set about 50 yards back from the lightly traveled road and built in the style of region's farm houses; weathered wood and white stucco with plenty of flower boxes affixed to terraces.
The interior was even more inviting: rambling, elegantly rustic public rooms and a series of connecting dining rooms that seemed to go on forever, with fireplaces, vaulted brick ceilings, and lots of wood trim. After a warm and cheery welcome we were quickly settled in a pair of extra-size double rooms with overstuffed chairs and couches and all the necessaries. For one night only the price of each room was 220 DM ($106).
In the early evening we soaked in the country atmosphere at an umbrella table on the terrace along the front of the hotel and sipped pre-dinner drinks brought to us by charming, white-coated young servers.
Had there been more time we might have availed ourselves of the hotels considerable health and beauty facilities including indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steambaths, exercise rooms and such arcane "cure" therapies as Fangopackung, Lymphdrainage, and Akupunktmassage.
At check-in, a large table in a quiet location in one of the dining rooms was reserved for us. We could show up at whatever time suited us. At about 8pm we settled down at our table with its pink cover and napkins in the blue and white check pattern of the Bavarian flag.
A visit to a just-average salad bar preceded a good but not great meal. This was Spargel (asparagus) season and either the fat white stalks or the more familiar, slenderer, green spears were part of each dish. Every aparagus rendition was excellent. Schweinfilet (33 DM/$16) came with splendid Bratkartoffeln and baked green asparagus. Wiener Schnitzel (34 DM/$16) that could have been thinner was served with several hefty stalks of white Spargel bathed in butter. The white variety also accompanied an incredibly bone-ridden, grilled trout (24 DM/$12) and an under-salted breast of chicken (35 DM/$17) in a morel mushroom sauce.
A bottle of the Spanish wine, Evo Guelbenzu, was 62 DM ($30), a bit less than in restaurants at home.
The simple desserts - Strudel with ice cream and hot raspberry sauce over ice cream were in the 10 DM ($5) range.
The meal for four persons was about $80 without beverages.
Even though the food was not stellar, the Gut Schmelmerhof has most of what we seek in a country, resort hotel: beautiful, quiet setting; spacious guest rooms, and friendly staff. We give it a strong recommendation.
For Americans, the bucolic Bayerischerwald is well off the beaten track. It will appeal to the traveler who can find fulfillment in the countryside. The nearest city of any size is Regensburg, just over 40 miles away, whose interesting old town escaped WWII unscathed. A little farther distant, but still within daytrip range, are Passau and Nürnberg.
The region is for the auto traveler; there is no rail service to St. Englmar or Rettenbach. To find these towns, you will need a good map with a scale of 1:200,000 or, even better, 1:150,000. From the Autobahn that connects Regensburg and Passau, take the Bogen exit (#107) and proceed northeast. However, you will need the proper map because between Rettenbach and the Autobahn is a maze of country lanes.
Daily Rates: Singles 88 to 165 DM ($42-$79), Doubles 190 to 290 DM ($91-$139)
Rating: Quality 16/20 Value 16/20