How does a ship get to the mountains in Austria? The answer is simple. In the past, houses were given names to commemorate an event. In the case of the Metzler family, it was their ancestor Johann Jakob Mennel, who served in the Imperial and Royal Navy. Navy and was stationed on the Adriatic Sea in Trieste. In 1840 he resigned from his service and opened an inn in Hittisau, which was then called Schiff in the village. To this day, the house is centrally located and guests can enjoy the unobstructed view over the garden to the mountains from all rooms and suites.
Today, Antonia and Hans-Georg Metzler run the four-star establishment with a gourmet kitchen, while the sixth generation is still in training. Mother Erna Metzler is still active behind the stove together with her daughter Elisabeth. Erna Metzler has won awards over many years as a chef and self-taught chef and thus established the reputation of the house for one of the best gourmet addresses in the Bregenzerwald. In the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff with rooms such as the beautiful old-time farmhouse parlor and modern architecture in the latest addition, guests can feel the special atmosphere that this family business exudes.
Supporter of sprouting self-sufficiency
In June 2017, Bernd Reimer, a native of Bregenzerwald, took over the position of chef de cuisine at the Wälderstube gourmet restaurant in the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff. Reimer attaches great importance to combining regional and international cuisine. The restaurant therefore offers a regional menu and a gourmet menu. Marinated tuna prepared sous-vide with a local veal fillet, capers and tuna mayonnaise, a porcini mushroom essence with venison ragout in wan tan pockets or a ravishing cucumber sorbet with Granny Smith and champagne are successful examples of the marriage of regional and international in the Wälderstube.
Since 2013, there has been a second restaurant in the house, s’Ernerle. Here comes together under one roof, what the region has to offer in terms of delights. It is the regional specialties from the Bregenzerwald and Vorarlberg. These are found not only on the menu, but also on the high shelves that surround the room on three sides. The local products are intended as souvenirs, as guests can “re-taste” the vacation at home.
Breakfast at Ernerle is a very special treat. Daylight floods through the high-ceilinged space with modern architecture and lots of warm wood. In the in-house cheese cellar, select top cheeses from the Bregenzerwald and Vorarlberg mature. Hans Georg Metzler is a founding member of the Bregenzerwald Cheese Route. So it is the hosts in the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff a special concern to convey the cheese culture of the region to their guests and to enrich culinary.
Tasting sessions are offered in the cheese cellar. Also excursion and hiking tips to the small mountain dairies and alpine dairies of the producers are passed on. The specialties from the Bregenzerwald Cheese Route are generously presented on huge wooden boards in the Ernerle. Regina explains the different types of cheese to me. She has been on board for 36 years. Mostly works in the kitchen, alongside Erna Metzler. But since she also likes to deal with guests, she takes over the breakfast service. As a guest, you can feel that there are several good souls on board who create a special spirit.
Come to the table! Food at Ernerle
Felix Groß has been the chef at Ernerle since 2015. He comes from the Allgäu, so geographically speaking from next door. He previously worked in Tyrol, for Johann Lafer at Stromburg Castle, cooked in England and for Relais & Chateaux in France. Stops in Spain and on the MS Europa – also a ship – were also included before Felix Groß developed the concept for the Ernerle with the Metzler family in 2015. For Groß, the regional economy that he and his kitchen team operate here is also an enlightenment economy, and he appreciates and takes advantage of the special closeness to the guest that the open kitchen allows him.
Many restaurants offer their guests open show kitchens, but at Ernerle there is more than just visual contact. Felix Groß comes to the table and not alone, often with serving trolley and stainless steel container. Before the guest has chosen from the menu, he is also shown the raw ingredients. Felix Groß introduces the dishes of the day and can thus make dishes “tasty” that would otherwise not have much chance of being ordered from the pure wording. “Braised veal neck, I have to show that beforehand, otherwise it won’t get ordered,” Groß says. “I know what I have in the drawer and can be quite flexible to the guests and their wishes. Of course, this also allows him to encourage them to try something new.
The menu in harmony with the seasons
The menu is based on the seasons. After the alpine drive in autumn, when the animals come back to the village, it is also time for the slaughter platters. Then the slaughtering party is opened in the Ernerle and there is blood and liver sausage, pork belly and roast pork, always with finesse and according to some self-imposed basic principles. Thus, all the basic products come from the region within a radius of 100 kilometers. The meat comes from small farms and is “nose to tail”, so from the animals everything is processed from nose to tail.
In addition to the menu, there is also an oral daily recommendation – while supplies last. Many herbs and vegetables come from the own Demeter vegetable garden just behind the house.
In a designated cheese region like Vorarlberg, you should definitely indulge in a serving of Käsespätzle. This one is prepared by the chef of the gourmet restaurant Bernd Reimer for a larger party. The spaetzle dough consists of eggs, water, flour and salt, is rubbed through the spaetzle sieve, a “Knöpfler” into boiling salted water. Boil once, strain and sprinkle with fried onions and mountain cheese – delicious!
A ship with 33 rooms
All rooms in the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff are south-facing and have a wonderful view of the 1,870-meter-high Winterstaude and, to the left, the local mountain, the Hittiberg, which, with only 500 meters of altitude, nevertheless gets quite into your legs.
Even inside the house, you can cover some meters. Cleverly, the buildings of the family business from different decades are connected by a corridor located in the basement. “We honor the old and praise the new” is a motto the Metzlers take to heart.
Thus, it has been possible to harmoniously combine the parlor from 1840, the extension from the 1970s and the two buildings from 2009 and 2016. For guests’ well-being, the ship also features a spa area with a bio sauna, infrared cabin, brine steam bath, herbal steam bath and garden sauna. The outdoor pool also offers a view of the mountains.
In the new construction in 2016, the principle of regionality was extended in a special way. Each suite was left to a different local carpentry firm for the interior design. This resulted in very individual rooms, with different creative approaches. The consistent design feature here is the material wood – naturally also from the local forests.
In the tea room, cakes and a selection of Vorarlberg cheeses as well as a large tea selection await the house guests from early afternoon. The ship even has its own cheese cellar. After all, Hittisau is located on the Bregenzerwald Cheese Route and host Hans-Georg Metzler is a co-founder of the joint marketing idea Bregenzer Cheese Route. In the wine cellar right next door, many wines are also stored from the region around Lake Constance.
Welcome to cheese country
Vorarlberg is also called the cheese country. Over 60 percent of the milk here is processed into cheese specialties. The alpine dairy in Hittisau is a good example of the small structures and direct marketing channels in the milk and cheese industry in the Bregenzerwald. There are about 70 farmers who supply the alpine dairy with daily fresh hay milk.
In addition to the much-awarded Vorarlberg mountain cheese, butter and cheese specialties from other small producers are also available in the small store, which is only a few minutes’ walk from the ship. The Hittisau alpine dairy is located just a few hundred meters from the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff.
Just three people work in production. We meet master cheesemaker Mathias Greber shortly before he finishes his day’s work. The production of the cheese loaves begins early in the morning. The freshly delivered raw milk is put into the large copper kettle, the finisher, heated to 32 degrees and mixed with the lactic acid bacteria from the previous day. Here the milk is “thickened”.
Then it’s off to the pressing vat. The cheese is brought into shape. Over 20 hours in a salt bath with a salt content of 20, the mass slowly cools down from 51 degrees to 30 degrees. After that, the cheeses move one floor down into the salt bath in the cellar. Here it smells intensely spicy, like pure cheese rind. 9 x 5 cheeses are immersed in the salt bath.
Finally, a look into the treasure chamber of the Hittisau alpine dairy. Here the mountain cheeses are stored for up to 12 months. There is high humidity and an intense smell of ammonia.
Mathias Greiner tells us that in the past, a lot of Emmentaler was produced in this region as a mass product for foreign countries. When Austria joined the EU in 1995, a support program was launched to promote a return to regional specialties. For this purpose, ripening cellars had to be expanded, because a good mountain cheese requires a much longer storage time than a mass-market Emmentaler, which is already on the supermarket shelf after 3 – 4 months.
Summer cheese is smoother, softer and has more carotene. Fresh cheese is called green by the cheesemaker. The green cheese in the robot aisles is turned 3 – 4 times a week. This is to create a protective rind. The loaves lie in the robot aisles for up to 5 months. Here they are regularly handled and brushed. Then they go to the ripening cellar. There they are stored again for up to a year.
The healing water of milk – the whey does it!
In Käseland Bregenzerwald, creative products are also made from the whey of goat’s and cow’s milk. Even Hypocrates called whey the healing water of milk. If you process one liter of milk, you can obtain about 10 percent cheese from it. The remaining 90 percent remains as whey. This whey, a yellowish-green liquid, contains up to 400 ingredients, including a large number of minerals, trace elements and vitamins. The Metzler family from Egg – no relation to the hosts at the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff – have made their life’s farm a tangible experience for visitors.
If the cow barn and the goat house with visitors’ gallery are more exciting for children, adults can enjoy the farm’s high-tech cooling and heating technology or the induction-guided and navigation-controlled pallet high rack, built from local woods. The farm store sells cheese from the farm’s own production and high-quality care products for skin and hair, all of which contain the nourishing ingredient whey.
Ingo Metzler, entrepreneur and farmer with a long family tradition was given a pregnant goat for his 10th birthday – quickly he had three goats – and far too much cheese for his own needs – that’s how it all started. Metzler has become a real goat connoisseur, studying the social behavior of the animals. Ranking battles take place among goats every day. And in addition to the buck in the pen, there is always a female lead animal. In order to bring some peace into this “catfight”, there are raised boxes for 10 percent of the animals in the Metzlers’ spacious barn.
Of the already mentioned 400 ingredients of whey, especially the lactic acid has a positive effect on the protective acid mantle of the skin. In their wide range of skin care products, the Metzlers combine local medicinal plants with whey. As a guest at the Romantikhotel Das Schiff, you can not only relax, enjoy nature and excellent cuisine, but also care for yourself with Metzler’s whey products.
Stimulation and relaxation at Romantik Hotel Das Schiff
Guests of the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff in Hittisau are thus offered a lot to relax for several days or to further their education. For excursions, the rates of public transport as well as cable cars are included in the spa card. By the way, you don’t have to buy mineral water in the ship, because here the best bubbles out of every tap.
Excursion tip to the BUS:Stop bus shelters in Krumbach. They are an architectural attraction
The cost of half board was not charged by the hotel