“ Address: Donath / 7433 Donat / Switzerland „
Frau Frankenhauser recognised me as soon as our car pulled into her car park. Despite the fact that it was almost fifteen years since I had last visited she threw her arms around me as if we had been parted for only a matter of weeks or months, eagerly enquiring about the health of my parents, whom she had last seem about ten years ago, but clearly she remembered them vividly. She looked older and a little more frail but the warmness of her character was exactly as I remembered.
Frau Frankenhauser and her husband, Michael have owned the only hotel, Ustreia Bavregn in the Swiss Alpine hamlet of Donat (often spelled Donath) for well over three decades. I came here in the November of 1993 on a business trip and since this time I have recommended this place to dozens of different people, including my parents, but until February 2008 I had not had the chance to return.
When my company was once again looking for a location in Switzerland to meet with our Swiss, Italian, German an Slovenian agents Ustreia Bavregn seemed like the only choice. I originally stayed here on the recommendation of the manager of our Swiss offices, which are in Chur, about 30 kilometres to the north east of Donat. They use this hotel frequently as a meeting place for conferences and also to "wine and dine" important potential clients.
To say that Ustreia Bavregn is in an idyllic setting would be an understatement. At 1,043 metres above sea level (3,422 feet) the hotel stands on the lower slopes of some of the highest mountains in Europe. Donat is the sort of place where time stands still and if you had arrived here blindfolded you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in the middle of nowhere but in fact the E43, one the main routes through the Alps, between Northern Italy and Zurich lies only about five kilometres away. That said, there is no sound of traffic and the only sounds here are of the cow bells from the cattle that walk down Donat's only street.
The exterior of the hotel looked exactly as I remembered it. Large and square with a dark timber roof and wooden shutters around each of its windows. The hotel's car park is directly opposite the hotel entrance but it is only small, with room for about a dozen cars. Since the hotel only has twelve rooms this does however usually tend to be sufficient in size.
As soon as I stepped into the entrance I could smell the delicious aroma of home cooked food, some kind of broth I think and Herr Frankenhauser appeared to greet us, offering to carry our luggage up to the rooms. The rooms are laid out on two different floors and there is no lift due to the age of the building but since he must now be in his eighties we declined his kind offer and carried our own luggage to our rooms.
After carrying our luggage up to the rooms we were invited into the bar, which is in the basement of the building, for a complimentary drink and to meet the other staff. Whilst Frau and Herr Frankenhester still undertake a very active role in the running of this hotel it is their daughter in law who is in charge of the kitchen. Other than this they employ just one further person, Henrietta a Danish girl who has worked for them for the past five years. Henrietta waits on the tables in the evenings, serves behind the bar and prepares all of the rooms for the new guests but such is the laid back nature of the place nothing ever seems rushed and nothing is ever too much trouble.
The restaurant and bar are both open to non residents during the evening. The restaurant seats about 50 people and is one of the few restaurants for miles away. It also has a reputation for being one of the best so booking in advance, especially on a Friday or Saturday night is essential. Hotel guests eat in the same restaurant for both breakfast and evening meal, but the evening meal is served between 6pm and 7.30pm and the hotel restaurant does not open to the general public until 8pm. It then stays open until the last people leave or the last hotel guest goes off to bed, which during my stay was around 1am.
The food is delicious but there is a strong emphasis on meat dishes so I suspect that vegetarians are not particularly well catered for. Since the owners son owns a farm in Donat and most of the seemingly stray cows are in fact his then there is every chance that it is one of these same adorable animals that end up on your plate in the restaurant . During my three night stay we had Duck the first night, Beef the next and Pork on the last night.
There were several courses to each meal beginning with a soup, followed by a salad, the main course, a dessert and then coffee. Whilst the main meat dish was served onto each individual plate the trimmings were all placed in dishes around the long tables and these were constantly refilled.
All of the food is homemade, including the bread rolls that are baked in the wood fuelled ovens the same day and the desserts are hand made in the kitchen too. The quality of the food is superb and each night the meat was cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth. As nothing here seems to be too much trouble I am sure that vegetarians would actually be catered for but I would suggest that this is mentioned in advance.
The twelve guest rooms occupy the upper two floors of the building, with the ground floor housing the kitchen and a large conference/meeting room and the basement containing the bar and restaurant. The building dates from 1608 so it is not particularly well set out for disabled visitors but its age does mean that it has a wealth of charm and character.
There are nine double bedrooms, two family units and one single room. All of the rooms have their own private balcony and stunning views of the snow capped mountains. All of the rooms are also en suite with a shower in all of them and a bath as well in some too. Each of the double rooms and the single room are heated from a radiator that is fuelled by wood burning central heating system and if you rise early enough in the morning then it is likely that you see Herr Frankenhauser out in the fields gathering wood. The two family rooms each have a large open fire.
The two family units are much larger than the average sized double rooms and contain a small kitchenette as well as two separate bedrooms and a small lounge. The double rooms are more basic but spotlessly clean. They have a TV with a freeview box, but don't expect to find any English channels and there is also a hospitality tray with a kettle, chocolates (Swiss, of course), biscuits, tea and coffee.
On our last night at Ustreia Bavregn we were told that there was something planned for our farewell but as the night dragged on nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then at around 10pm we were asked to go into the street outside. Despite the fact that it was February it was a beautifully clear night with thousands of stars were twinkling in the sky. When we stepped outside we were greeted by a group of around ten schoolchildren and their teacher who immediately burst into song for us. All of the children were dressed in their traditional costumes with big boots and braces and the little girls had their hair in plaits. The teacher explained to us that the children wanted to sing to us in their national language, Romansh, which is spoken in only a few remaining parts of the Alps. This language is unlike and unrelated to any of the other European languages and the local schools are now promoting it to preserve its existence. After a few songs several of the children also recited bits of poetry and then they all sang to us English, which was a traditional Romansh song that they had translated especially for us. As we stood outside under the perfect night sky we were all humbled to complete silence and it seemed like the wonderful end to a memorable stay.
Telephone - +41 (81) 61 11 67