“When I’m up on the mountain and see my sheep climbing the very highest peaks, running around in their buffet of the best grass, enjoying their summer holiday, I like to sit, look out, and just appreciate what a good life we have.”
Sigi Grüner was raised on a small sheep farm and remains deeply committed to preserving the traditions of Austria’s mountain farmers. He is a member of the Tyrolean Sheep Breeders’ Association that meets monthly, and hosts an annual festival with a market, a sheep contest, and upwards of five hundred guests. “This is a seventy-year-old tradition we continue, bringing hotels and farmers together to promote our modest, traditional farms,” says Grüner. “It comes from the heart, not the wallet.”
Grüner’s favorite sheep, Kelly, who his daughters nursed as a baby, is the star of the hotel’s well-loved promotional video, which finds Grüner chasing the runaway sheep through Bergland Hotel, providing a glimpse of the suites and many amenities. With a bit of macabre humor, the chef and his cleaver become involved in the high jinx, but in the end clever Kelly prevails. This delightful video is among the achievements honored by the Innovation Prize awarded to the hotel this year by the Tyrolean Sheep Breeders’ Association.
“The award acknowledges the inventive way we incorporate local sheep history and products—the wool, meat, and farming lifestyle—into our hotel’s ambiance. For example, my sheep roam wild in the mountains from May through October before I bring them down for the winter. Once a week in this season I host a hiking tour for our guests where we walk 2,500 meters up and find the sheep and feed them salt—their favorite food—so they do not become too wild!”
The hotel uses cozy sheepskin on the rest areas of the wellness spa, and much of the hotel’s furniture is covered in a traditional cloth of sheep wool known as Loden. The “room of silence,” Grüner’s favorite spot in the hotel, is filled with fragrant hay cut in summer, and slippers for guests made of felted wool. “It is like a room from one hundred years ago,” says Grüner, “but with a completely new interpretation.”
Grüner’s mountain lambs, fed on his alpine herb-laced hay, are served in the hotel’s restaurants, as are locally produced sheep’s milk and cheese. These farm-fresh elements are complemented by Austrian interior designers köck+bachler’s use of local materials such as Larchwood and natural stone, as well as the placement of a traditional rocking chair in each suite.
“There is only one rocking chair each room and the guests sometimes fight over it,” laughs Grüner. Still, for Sigi Grüner, no chair can match a perfect mountain perch. “When I’m up on the mountain and see my sheep climbing the very highest peaks, running around in their buffet of the best grass, enjoying their summer holiday, I like to sit, look out, and just appreciate what a good life we have.”