Kinderhotels are the vacation secret your kids want you to know.

Let’s play a game. It’s a simple one, not difficult at all. It’s called “Spot the family who just got back from holiday.” I’ll give you a hint: Your typical family vacation survivors look like weary, shell-shocked veterans. Dishevelled couples lug piles of toys, athletic equipment and over flowing suitcases. Cranky, tired kids whine, ticking time bombs seconds away from a tantrum. Rather than being well rested, everyone longs to finally relax. If this sort of getaway seems all too familiar, don’t despair. Let me introduce you to the Kinderhotel way.

It’s a cold Sunday, and a large suitcase, my three-year-old daughter and I are waiting outside the train station at St. Johann im Pongau. I’d heard that Kinderhotels, the brainchild of Austrian hoteliers Gerhard Stroitz and Siggi Neuschitzer, are reinventing family holidays, and we were eager to put that to the test at their Alpina Family, Spa and Sporthotel.

Relax and Rewind

The courtesy bus drove us through the hills of central Salzburgerland, where the chocolate browns of mountain chalets pop against the snowy landscape.

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© Kinderhotels Europa / Stromberger PR

Arriving at the village St. Johann-Alpendorf, we pulled into the driveway of a sprawling, white compound with teal balustrades and purple hanging flowers projecting a fairy tale air. Inside, the gold light fittings, dark wood furnishings and wall-mounted hunting trophies gave an atmosphere of alpine opulence. After checking in, we bypassed the gym, the tennis courts and the hiking tour and headed straight to the spa.

“Is this your first spa?” the 20-something masseuse asked my daughter, leading us through doors covered with faux lilies and cherry blossoms into a softly lit treatment room. A true fashionista, after giggling her way through her bubble massage, my daughter had a mani-pedi and requested every color, encouraging her mommy to get multicolored nails too.

Beneath the spa is an adults-only world of saunas and sun lounges. As I walked in, two German parents greeted me. We shared a look that said, “We’re going to do absolutely nothing for the next several hours and we’re not going to feel guilty about it.” Savoring moments without parental responsibilities, we were propelled back to a time of lazy mornings and unhurried afternoons, re-entering the years BCE (Before Child Era). As the German dad put it, “The kids should be in the kids’ club.”

Alpine Playgrounds

Kids’ clubs are a supervised sanctuary for babies to teenagers. My daughter loved the activities, especially the dance party. While not technically invited, parents joined in, busting out long-forgotten (and kid appropriate) moves. If confronted, I will deny singing along to “Barbie Girl” and getting really into the “Macarena.”

At one point my daughter refused to leave. As I waited, I spoke to another mom whose child wanted to stay. “More time to enjoy ourselves,” she said with a wink. Knowing my daughter was having fun, I headed to the pool.

From the blue balcony of our taupe-colored room, we had 180-degree views of the surrounding mountains. They called us to explore (and maybe sing about some of our favorite things), and soon enough we were floating up the Gernkogel in the Alpendorf Gondola cable car. Dangling from a wire far above the ground in a glass box, my extreme fear of heights may have had something to do with the singing too.

We arrived safely at Snow Space Salzburg, a 120 km network of connected slopes. Here, fearless tots snake downhill behind ski instructors and glide across the snow. Once a week, budding Olympians race for prizes as parents cheer. As we explored, we found the Teufelsroute (Devil’s Route) where statues of witches and other things that go bump in the night watch as families barrel down. As kids hurled snowballs at parents, and shrieked with joy, I swear I heard a devil statue laugh with them.

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© Alpendorf Bergbahnen AG

Family Holiday fix

Exhausted but elated, we returned to Alpina for dinner. That night the dining room was full, and my daughter was done with her kids’ buffet meal before all five courses of the adults’ à la carte dinner arrived. Thankfully, I’d packed my iPhone, and my daughter received a stash of drawing supplies to pass the time. Alpina’s sleek furnishings contain a secret: Behind unobtrusive doors, pool toys, prams, cots, even car seats wait to be used. But you have to know to look. As my daughter transformed a crisp white tablecloth into a Pollock-inspired canvas (mixed media with ketchup and crayons), I noticed several well-dressed couples enjoying their meals alone. While some Kinderhotels are for families only, Alpina welcomes everyone. Especially popular in winter, skiers embrace the slower pace, easier ski runs and more restful nightlife in St. Johann-Alpendorf, where piste is where you ski, not how you end up every night.

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© Kinderhotels Europa / Stromberger PR

Now let’s play a new game: “Spot the family returning from a Kinderhotel.” You can tell them by their relaxed posture, smiles and minimal luggage. My only regret, as we settled onto the train back to Vienna, is that I had to go home and cook dinner.


Sights & Attractions

Kinderhotels Europa

Kinderhotels Europa operates 48 venues across five countries. They’re rated on a smiley (think star) system, from a family friendly three smilies to a luxurious five.

Alpina Family, Spa and Sporthotel A four-smiley Kinderhotel in St. Johann-Alpendorf, Alpina caters to families, couples and even gray-haired nomads. During winter, the ski school picks up kids from the kids’ club. Guests receive discounts for local ski lessons and ski hire.

St. Johann-Alpendorf

A cluster of hotels, restaurants and ski rentals at the base of the Gernkogel. There is also a well-equipped adventure playground (closed in winter).

Snow Space Salzburg

Combining the slopes of Flachau, Wagrain and Alpendorf, Snow Space Salzburg offers 120 km of connected slopes. While advanced skiers can conquer black diamond runs like the Trio Infernale, beginners and families can enjoy easier slopes and family friendly areas.

Skischule Alpendorf

A ski school offering lessons for adults and kids from three years old. Lessons are available in English.

Alpendorf Gondola

Operating throughout the year, in winter the Alpendorf Gondola is the gateway to Snow Space Salzburg, leaving from village St. Johann-Alpendorf.