It was a misty October afternoon in the Tyrolean Alps of western Austria.
Light rain was falling as we moved along the motorway that had carried us from Italy, headed for Hamburg in northern Germany.
Daylight had started to fade as we passed the city of Innsbruck and our good friend and trusty driver, Gert, was looking for somewhere to pull in for the night.
“Ah ha”, he said as we rounded a curve, crossed an arched bridge over a lake and stopped beneath a sight that could only have been described as extraordinary.
Peering at us through the mist and low cloud was a stunning castle that dominated the hillside like something from a fairytale.
“Our hotel” said Gert with a smile, as we gazed in amazement at the scene before us.
Fernstein Castle has guarded the road to Bavaria since at least 1288.
At the foot of the Fernpass, the castle rises from alpine forest overlooking two clear-water lakes only a few kilometers from the glaciers of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain.
The location is simply incredible – on a trade route that has been important since Roman times; ringed by knife-edged Alps; and leading to the Mieming Plateau, an area beloved by hikers.
We discovered later that Fernstein Castle is actually alongside the Claudia Augusta Road, an historic Roman route that was built in 15 BC and is still visible today.
Originally a military installation, many of the oldest parts of the castle are in ruins, but the site is now the Hotel Schloss Fernsteinsee – a grand step back in time with a combination of opulence, history, majesty and modern conveniences.
The hotel is the centre of a 280,000 square metre nature reserve, with modern alpine-style units scattered among the forest, running streams and emerald-green Fernsteinsee.
Our two-bedroom unit was in the Villa Lorea annex building and was bright, roomy and modern, with free wifi; a kitchenette; en-suite bathroom; minibar; and flat-screen TV.
Everything was accessible; we were able to drive right to the front door, there were minimal stairs; an easy-to-use door lock and level floors.
Breakfast was included in the room rate, giving us the opportunity of sampling one of the most stunning dining areas imaginable – with superb antique furnishings, lighting, fittings and awesome artworks on the walls.
The food was tasty and ranged from international delicacies to products from the castle’s own farm.
There were also plenty of homemade Austrian pastries and ice cream.
Although we didn’t use the facilities, the Hotel Schloss Fernsteinsee is apparently well known for its Wellness centre, that includes a Finnish sauna and massage service.
Steady rain prevented us from exploring much of the nature reserve, but we took a quick look at the Fernsteinsee and the stables which, at one stage, were apparently able to hold between 30 and 70 horses.
8/10: From our experience, the Hotel Schloss Fernsteinsee is suitable for guests of all ages. There was a short walk between the dining area and our annex. However, it was possible to drive almost to the door.
The hotel itself is located only metres from the motorway.
The Fernsteinsee is quite close to the hotel, but visibility appeared good along much of the shoreline.
The balcony in our unit was solid, with level flooring, high wooden rails and a secure lock on the door.
Austria has quite a few superb castles and we’ve been fortunate to see some awesome ones, including Schloss Schonbrunn; the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Hohensalzburg.
However, as impressive as each of those are, none have the striking forest and mountain location of the Fernstein Castle.
Hotel Schloss Fernsteinsee and its castle are at Nassereith in western Austria, in the Tyrolean Alps about 53 kilometres from Innsbruck.
It offers a truly remarkable experience