Setting a standard for hospitality |

Setting a standard for hospitality

Carolyn Pope
Carolyn Pope/Vail DailyFun at House 8 - bottom (l to r) Judy Howard, Heidi Jouflas, Catharina Schlanger and Walter Gusner. Top: Nate Goldberg.

Not long ago, in a place far, far away, there was a beautiful valley, high in the mountains.

The people who lived there were a gentle group, who helped each other when times were difficult and celebrated together when times were good. Their cobblestone streets were bordered by charming homes with window boxes overflowing with flowers. Cows roamed the hills freely, each evening, lulling the children to sleep with the clang of cowbells around their necks.When visitors would come from far away places, the people of the town would open their homes and their hearts, greeting their guests with spatula and wiener schnitzel, apfelstrudel, pilsner and schnapps, and would open their finest wines to make them feel welcome. They would entertain their guests with beautiful songs played on guitar and a small accordion, called a harmonica.Once a friend, you would always be their friend, and once you visited you would come back as often as you could because a place in your heart would always remain there.This magical place does exist. It is Lech am Arlberg, the sister resort of Beaver Creek.

World-class hospitalityEach year, groups from the Vail Valley as well as around the country make the trek to visit this quaint town – some with trepidation, not knowing what to expect; some to return to this community that truly is a second home. Once you go to Lech, you’re bound to return.”Lech is special because they set the standard for hospitality and friendliness. You get a new appreciation for a world-class guest experience when you venture to Lech,” said Tony O’Rourke of Beaver Creek Resort Company. “What really separates them from other world-class destinations are the people. No one will ever leave Lech without being mesmerized by the kindness and sincerity of the individuals you meet and fall in love with in Lech,” O’Rourke said.

This week, a group of around 20 visitors from Lech are here for the Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek. They also come every Oktoberfest to entertain the visitors with their regional band.They probably come for the same reasons folks from Vail and Beaver Creek travel to their town – because they are greeted with open arms and sincere generosity.Lech, like all towns, has its share of tragedy. This past August, they were devastated by the record rainfall that hung over Switzerland and Austria. Their river ran over, flooding homes and businesses. Fortunately, no one died, but many lives were left in shambles.

Digging through mudNicole Walch and her husband, Clemens, who is a baker in Lech, had just finished completing their new hotel, Hotel Central Gotthard, the day before the banks of the river overflowed.The hotel had a wellness center and wine cellar. The spa they had planned and created – one of the nicest in the town – was destroyed along with Clemens’ bakery. The couple’s dream was filled with a meter of mud and rock.”When you watch TV, you can’t believe it is happening, and you think, ‘Those poor people.’ I now know exactly what it’s like,” Nicole said.

Their loss is around 4 million euros – about $5.3 million dollars. Insurance covers very little. But Nicole smiles, despite the sadness in her eyes.”I remember digging through the mud for my silver,” she said. “What helps? The community. They make you feel better.” The Hotel Aurora, where guests from Beaver Creek have stayed previously, also suffered extensive damage That meant Diana and Ludwig Muxel, the burgermeister of Lech, were unable to host the guests who came in September for the annual hiking trip. With only one week between the flood to arrival of the guests, the Muxels, Burger family, and Stefan and Ulli Jochum – families very involved with the exchange between Beaver Creek and Lech – scrambled to accommodate the group of 26 at the Hotel der Berghof.

The people of the town, like here in Vail, will do pretty much anything to give their neighbors and friends a hand. Beaver Creek’s European sister is close-knit like Vail was in early years. In Lech, however, most of the families have generational roots. In this valley, we’re only preschoolers compared to the centuries of history in their valley. Not typical travelThe exchange between the two communities began on mutual promotion, and has grown into something much more. Elaine Jensen and her family members, along with locals Alex and Bob Linn, went on the hiking trip to Lech in September.

“My expectation, before going to Lech, was that the experience would be something great,” she said. “It wasn’t a typical travel experience at all. I felt there was such an appreciation and warmth and importance that we were there. They’re incredibly welcoming. It was heart-warming.”The opportunities are there for anyone to experience that kind of hospitality. Whether your desire is to hike the Alps or ski in one of the most picture-perfect settings in the world, just head to Lech and tell them you’re from their sister resort. As for Jensen? “I’d go back in a heartbeat,” she said.

O’Rourke said it best.”There is a heaven and it is Lech, Austria.” Vail, Colorado

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