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Saturday: Jagdhaus Waldidyll, Hartenstein

This day's drive took us through some of the most depressed areas of the former East Germany. Along the Czech border, inhabitants of towns such as Klingenthal are poorly dressed and seem undernourished. Though nearly all the main roads seem to have been resurfaced, most dwellings are shabby and many derelict buildings remain. In one village, we visited a sad little Christmas market where booths selling pajamas and bras hung them as decorations.

Our destination, however, was an upscale oasis in this desert of high unemployment. The Romantik Hotel Jagdhaus Waldidyll, in the countryside, near Hartenstein (about 20 miles southwest of Chemnitz) attracted us with its Michelin "Bib Gourmand" and "Red" (pleasant hotel) designations. Unfortunately, except for two suites at $159 each, it was fully booked. Nonetheless, we decided to live a little. After all, the $200 thing was only a guideline.

A former hunting lodge, the building was converted a few years ago-obviously at huge expense - into a 28-room hotel. The forest setting, steep, gabled roof, and stone façade lend Waldidyll a fairy-tale atmosphere. The impressive structure is approached via a long private driveway, putting one in mind of an exclusive country estate. But five-star it is not, so we carried our own luggage up the stone stairway to reception where we were welcomed pleasantly and efficiently but with little warmth. An elevator took us to the top floor and the rather small suite, Number 301. Regardless of size, these were the most opulent accommodations of the trip-fine, smooth bed linens, top-quality sofa and chairs, and a marble-tiled bathroom with gold swans spouting water into the huge tub.

When making our room reservation by phone we had inquired about dinner and the availability of a table. No problem. So promptly at 8pm we stepped through a door marked "Restaurant" into a wonderfully inviting space of richly-paneled walls and huge, gleaming carriage lanterns-but no empty tables. Our presence immediately attracted puzzled looks from the wait-staff. Something was amiss. Seconds later, a frazzled, embarrassed front desk functionary rushed through the door behind us and quickly directed us to a kind of overflow dining room. A meeting room, in fact. The menu prices were the same, however. Not a big deal, we came for the food.

For a time it seemed we might be in for a good, perhaps even memorable, dinner. Alas, what we were in for was little more than heavy, highly-salted beer hall fare eaten with expensive flatware on fine china and linens. The lone redeeming dish was Oma's Kartoffelsuppe ($3.5), a hearty, creamy, intense, smoky, marvel made remarkable by a liberal infusion of tiny, only-in-Germany, Bratwurst slices. The soup was preceded by an insufficiently tossed, multi-lettuce salad ($16 for two) heavy with pumpkin seed oil and oil-soaked croûtons. Between courses toast rounds were spread with salty, bacony Schmalz. We should have quit right there. By the time the main courses arrived, the needle on the rich-heavy-salty meter was well into the red zone. An attempt to revisit my extraordinary Zanderfilet experience of two nights ago was a mistake. The Waldidyll version ($17.50) was leaden, oily and, above all, salty. Erzgebirgische Rinderoulade in Schalottensosse ($13), stuffed with artichoke hearts (there were also artichoke hearts in the Zanderfilet dish, hmmm), had all the flair of Tuesday night pot roast. And did I mention salt? Accompanying Apfel Rotkohl was tasty enough but hardly imaginative. Like parakeets in a mine, hotels and restaurants transmit distinct signals when things aren't right. The salad, obviously done in a hurried, slap-dash manner, was an early warning, but the clincher came at end of the meal. You've seen those tiny, crisp, rolled-up waffles stuck into ice cream desserts? Waldidyll's were dead stale, almost doughy. Quality control is clearly a concept with which the kitchen is not familiar.

Without beverages, we paid $52. The suite ($159) brought the total for room, breakfast (in the main dining room, finally), and dinner to $286, well beyond the $200 goal.

I hesitate to heavily criticize Waldidyll based on a single overnight. Still, a lot of parakeets died: the cool reception, no help with luggage (the hotel does refer to itself as four-star), the table reservation mix-up ("yes, sir, we'd love to have you join us for dinner but the only seating available is in our XYZ room"), and, of course, the miserable dinner.

This is a gorgeous property, and perhaps we caught it on a bad day. However, those little waffle things indicate otherwise.

  • Contact: Romantik Hotel Jagdhaus Waldidyll Talstr. D-08118, Hartenstein, tel.+49/037605/84-0, fax 37605 84444, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Not convenient for rail travelers.
  • Daily Prices: Singles $80-92, doubles $112-132, suites $153-195
  • Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 14/20
  • Restaurant: Quality 7/20, Value 7/20