Schloss Elmau: G7, 9 restaurants, no air conditioning | DW Travel | DW

It’s time once again for the annual meeting of the G7, where heads of state and government of the world’s seven leading industrialized nations gather to talk about global affairs.

Each year, the location alternates between the participating countries: Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The last time it was held on German soil was in 2015 at Schloss Elmau. Now, once again, the G7 returns to the very same place. In fact, the hotel was designed to hold just such a prestigious event and there are many reasons why it works.

Firstly, thanks to its location in the very south of Germany close to the Austrian border, Schloss Elmau is both beautiful and remote. “There are few places in Germany that can be protected as well as Schloss Elmau, which is very secluded but also not too far from Munich,” owner and hotel director Dietmar Müller-Elmau told DW. Munich is just an hour-and-a-half drive north, so arrivals and departures by car or helicopter are quick.

As shown by the bare patch, guests like to take photos on the bench where then-US President Barack Obama sat in 2015

Long tradition of political exchange and secret meetings

The hotel, built between 1914 and 1916, could tell many stories if it were able to speak. It was shaped by its builder Johannes Müller and his worldview.

The philosopher, writer and theologian had an ambivalent relationship to the Nazi regime. On the one hand, he spoke out against antisemitism, and on the other hand, he saw Adolf Hitler as a “God-sent leader.” After World War II, Müller was convicted by the Allies in denazification proceedings because of his “glorification of Hitler in speech and writing,” and the castle was confiscated by the US army.

After successfully appealing against Müller’s conviction by the denazification court, Müller’s children became the owners in 1961. Today, the castle belongs to Dietmar Müller-Elmau, a grandson of Johannes Müller. He has always been committed to German-Jewish exchange and trans-Atlantic relations, so it’s not surprising that there have been many political meetings at the castle. Some of them have been kept secret until today.

Dietmar Müller-Elmau, the owner of the castle, said numerous secret meetings have taken place in the library

The hotel was heavily damaged in an August 2005 fire, and reconstruction took until mid-2007. The refurbished hotel won many accolades, and became known as one of the world’s finest accommodations. The hotel’s main building, The Hideaway, has 115 rooms and suites and is named as such because there are so many secluded areas in the common spaces where one can find privacy.

Müller-Elmau, however, had a further ambition — to create a hotel that would be perfect for a G7 summit. So he build another hotel just 100 meters (around 330 feet) away from The Hideaway, aptly naming it The Retreat. This hotel within a hotel, so to speak, is smaller, more intimate and has identical large suites so no head of state feels disadvantaged. It opened in 2015 and was inaugurated with the 2015 G7 summit — talk about a grand entrance into the world of hospitality.

The Retreat Hotel with numerous sun loungers and the idyllic Ferchenbach stream in front of it

The Retreat features numerous sun loungers and the idyllic Ferchenbach stream

To hide or to retreat

What makes the hotel perfect for hosting heads of state is its intimacy. “They eat together and swim together. They essentially live in a small hotel with 47 rooms. Everyone has five rooms, and then a few others for their use. The rest of their staff lives in the castle and that’s perfect that they have a house for the world leaders and a house for the staff,” said Müller-Elmau.

A living room with chairs and bookshelves along the wall.

The library lounge in The Retreat is one of the many common spaces guests can enjoy

Yet, the hotel’s amenities can be enjoyed equally by all guests — not only the rich and powerful. In fact, Schloss Elmau has several spa areas, half a dozen pools — both indoor, outdoor and on the rooftop. There’s also a large Oriental Hammam where guests can relax, chat and drink tea or get a massage. Bookworms can also spend the day reading in two libraries, or buy their own books in the hotel’s bookstore.

A tea table in an ornate room with two lounge chairs.

The spacious hammam also has a tea room. Cheers!

Foodies will also be in heaven, as there’s a wide variety of dishes to chose from in the hotel’s nine restaurants. The most lauded is Luce d’Oro, which has earned two Michelin stars. Eight-course menus start at €249 ($263). 

5-star hotel without air conditioning

In an unusual move for a luxury hotel, Schloss Elmau does not have air conditioning. Instead, The Retreat uses a pollution-free cooling unit, but it only creates only a minor temperature difference. In The Hideaway there is no air conditioning at all — apart from the fresh mountain air, of course.

The hotel is proud of its sustainability concept, and has incorporated it in many aspects of its operations. It’s the reason that plastic packaging is not used in the rooms, for example. “Cosmetic products are taken from 5-liter pump dispenser bottles, which we use to fill 300-milliliter porcelain bottles,” said Christian Scheler of the hotel’s management team. Snacks like candy or nuts are served in glass jars, which can be taken to organic stores around Germany and be recycled for a deposit. 

The top of the hydroelectric power plant surrounded by the forest.

Twenty percent of the hotel’s energy is generated on-site by a hydroelectric power plant

Around 20% of the electricity is supplied by the hydroelectric power plant on the stream that flows over the property; the rest is green electricity provided by a utility company. The hotel is also fueled by a combined heat and power plant that is largely heated by wood waste. A second will be added at the end of the year and at that point gas will no longer be used. If another G7 summit takes place at Schloss Elmau in seven years, it’s likely to be even greener.

This article originally appeared in German.

  • View of Elmau castle over a flowering meadow.

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    Location, location, location!

    This aspect is so important, as any real estate agent will tell you, it’s worth repeating. Schloss Elmau definitely fulfills these three criteria. The castle is located in Germany near the Austrian border — about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Munich in one of the most beautiful regions of the Alps. Its remote placement makes it perfect for those seeking peace and quiet — and heads of state.

  • View from a terrace of Elmau Castle on meadow and mountains in morning fog

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    Sunlight? Not important!

    Even when the sun isn’t shining, the landscape is radiant. Everywhere on the spacious grounds, guests can find sunbeds and umbrellas, where they can enjoy the landscape in peace. The main house is aptly named The Hideaway, for its retreat-like quality. But there are also plenty of hiding places on the grounds.

  • A lounge in the Hideaway building with armchairs, sofas and tables

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    No fear of overcrowding

    The name The Hideaway also fits well because, according to the hotel, only about 35% of the space can be rented, which is rare for such a large hotel. The majority of the space is public space, which is why Schloss Elmau never seems overcrowded. This lounge (pictured) is one of the public areas, and there is also a library, bookstore, clothing store and more.

  • The concert hall of Schloss Elmau with chairs lined up as if ready for a concert.

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    Play to stay

    Schloss Elmau also has a concert hall where musicians perform more than 200 concerts a year, which the hotel says makes it one of the largest concert organizers in Germany. One unique aspect is that the musicians who perform here do not receive payment, but can stay in the castle for free. This is what the hotel calls “play to stay.” Guests, then, can also enjoy the concerts for free.

  • Barack Obama is sitting on a wooden bench. Angela Merkel stands in front of him and gestures

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    A wooden bench with history

    This picture went viral during the last G7 summit at Schloss Elmau in 2015. It shows then-US President Barack Obama sitting on a bench while former German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be explaining the ways of the world to him — or perhaps showing him how big the bench is. These days, the bench in front of the hotel has become a popular photo spot.

  • A chair with elephant fabric and a pillow with elephant fabric on a sofa

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    Elephants everywhere

    One thing that’s not in short supply at Schloss Elmau is an elephant motif, which can be found on fabrics, coasters and more. Castle owner Dietmar Müller-Elmau discovered an Indian fabric with an elephant motif in the corner of a store and was enamored by it. Having lived in India, he knew the elephant was a symbol of good judgment and memory and set out to incorporate it into the hotel’s design.

  • The wood-paneled interior of restaurant Luce d'Oro, including tables chairs and smaller tables for handbags

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    What’s with the small tables?

    With a total of nine restaurants, Schloss Elmau has something for every taste. The crown jewel is the Michelin-starred Luce d’Oro with chef Christoph Rainer. It features meals of up to 12 courses, and every attention to detail is paid. Each table even has a smaller table nearby, just for handbags.

  • The main room of the hamam with a stone platform in the middle

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    Plenty of spa options

    Even if this domed room of the Oriental Hammam looks spartan, the entire spa area of the bathhouse is far from it. This is the main room of the 500-meter (5,400 sq ft) spa, with its four treatment rooms, three-domed rooms, two steam baths, an Oriental Tea Lounge and massage treatment options. After all, G7 conversations are sure to prompt a need for some world leaders to take a breather.

  • View of the Retreat building with a river in front and lounge chairs next to the river.

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    A hotel in a hotel ideal for the G7

    In 2015, Schloss Elmau launched its G7 optimized hotel within a hotel, called The Retreat. Located 100 meters (about 300 feet) away from The Hideaway, it’s approximately half its size with 47 suites, and offers the chance for world leaders to be among themselves. At the G7, each head of state and government gets a handful of rooms for themselves and their aides. The rest stay at The Hideaway.

  • A bedroom of the Summit Suite with a view of the bed and views out the windows on three sides of the room

    Fairy-tale castle: G7 convenes at Schloss Elmau

    With views like this, there’s no need for a TV

    With impressive views of the Wetterstein mountains and valley from windows on three sides of each bedroom in The Retreat, watching TV is hardly necessary — although the rooms still have one. Each of the Summit Suites also has a living room, a hallway with storage and a smaller room. Although the hotel has plenty of unique features, its location in nature is truly one of a kind.

    Author: Marco Müller