He’d always dreamed of being a chef
Some people spend a lifetime chasing their true calling. Not so for Michael Kolm, who grew up in the 1970s in Arbesbach, a small town in the Waldviertel region just on the Upper Austrian border. Michael was always certain that he would eventually be taking over the inn from his parents. "I've been working at the bar and in the kitchen ever since I was a wee lad, and I must say I've always loved working in a family establishment and feeling that sense of togetherness." And his delightful experiences as a child paved the way for his later career. He trained as an apprentice in Vienna working for chef Markus Mraz in the gourmet restaurant "Mraz & Sohn". There he soon rose to the position of sous chef and, bursting with energy and full of new ideas, returned to his parents' business in 2005 to become the fifth generation to 'wield the wooden spoon'.
“If you like, in the winter you can join me for a bit of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. I go out almost every day, and I can tell you it keeps me grounded.“
An inn becomes a daytrip destination
While Michael was completing his apprenticeship, his father invited a fellow who was literally 'bear-strong' to live in the wood behind the inn. In cooperation with the Vier Pfoten animal protection association, he founded the Bear Forest project in 1998. It provides a sanctuary for bears in need which have come from zoos and private care or circuses to live here in a more natural habitat. 14,000 square metres are currently dedicated to the brown bears Brumca, Tom and Erich. You can admire the magnificent animals in their near-natural habitat, and the bears can lead a dignified life free from anxiety. And since watching the bear feeding has been known to give you an appetite, KOLM provides day-trippers with a sunny spot in the outer area of the 'bear forest' with a lovely restaurant garden and self-service area, as well as a food stand offering Waldviertel specialities to take back home. On the other hand, if you want to spend a little more time enjoying a good meal and the Waldviertel region, you can reserve a table as well as a Roo'n Lodge at KOLM.
"In the past, our guests expected good food, but insisted on big servings. Nowadays, there's been a shift to having a wide choice of smaller, finer specialties. Peopl like to taste their way through the menu from top to bottom."
A charming setting for fine meals
This goes hand in hand with the restaurant's new look: heavy oak tables with nary a tablecloth add to the charm of a pub that aims to be modern without taking it too far. The elegant walk-in wine cabinet with white and dessert wines kept at the ideal temperature houses the Who's Who of the Lower Austrian wine scene. But his view also looks across the border: The Austrian regions of Styria and Burgenland are represented as well as Italy, Germany and France. The centre of the room is lorded over by a massive hearth – in winter and in rainy weather in the Waldviertel, a crackling fire is always burning here. "Just like the old days, when people sat around the fireplace to eat." In short, he's created a place where people truly feel at home.
From table to bed-roo’n!
Those who want to savour these delicacies for a bit longer without having to think about driving home can check into one of the three "Roo'n Lodges" after dinner. "The name ‘Roo'n’ is a pun on the word for the traditional rest (German: ruhen) you take after eating a meal. The lodges are kept quite simple and are located right in the middle of the meadow in front of our restaurant. If you sleep here, in the morning you can look through the panorama windows right out over the Waldviertel's snowy winter wonderland."
Snowshoeing with the innkeeper
For the ski-minded guests, the Waldviertel region doesn't have much in the way of action in the winter. But it does have plenty of nature and tranquillity, offering a range of more leisurely winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. "Anyone who joins me on snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore the winter countryside will soon notice the way these sorts of outings can be grounding for the spirit. Just standing still for a few minutes in the middle of nature and not hearing anything at all in the quietness just lifts off an enormous amount of weight." Though he'll soon be constructing three more lodges, Michael Kolm remains devoted to low-impact tourism in the Waldviertel. "After all, that's why people come here. It's probably the greatest asset we have as a region: Out here, the clocks still tick a little differently. When they come, most of my guests just switch their smartphones on silent – that's how they get some real peace and quiet."