When Vail’s esteemed Sonnenalp Hotel celebrates its 40-year anniversary in December, don’t look for a chi-chi blowout party. Instead, management is planning to put together a special book made up of memories provided by guests and staff—like an enhanced family album. It follows. The hotel represents five generations of hands-on Faessler family ownership and management that began in 1919 with an inn located in the Bavarian Alps. This year, that property celebrates 100 years as today’s revered Sonnenalp Resort. Vail’s version mirrors its predecessor’s success and mode of operations. Both award-winning venues offer sumptuous amenities and accommodations, but Faessler family members continue to manage them with an emphasis on a welcoming “gemütlichkeit,” which translates from German as warmth for guests.
“Vail is only 57 years old and Sonnenalp is 40, so we’ve kind of grown up with the town,” says sales and marketing director Patricia McNamara. She talks about the German, Austrian and American heritage of Vail town founders, who developed its distinctive look and design with a combination of Bavarian inspiration and Colorado personality. “Sonnenalp is the perfect segue,” she says. “When you walk into the hotel, it is like walking into Germany. So it’s different.”
Sonnenalp, which translates as “sun on the mountain,” indeed has the charming look of a European inn. Five stories are made up of junior, one- and two-bedroom suites—all have fireplaces, oversized baths and an upscale-cozy environment. There are standard hotel rooms as well. Located in Vail’s Lionshead area, the inn has easy access to the town’s entertainment options, but guests could have all their needs and wants taken care of with hotel offerings alone. Three onsite restaurants serve menus that encompass European and American favorites, such as the international breakfast menu and buffet at Ludwig’s, the selection of fondues at Swiss Chalet and must-order truffle tots from Bully Ranch’s casual American-Southwestern offerings. There’s also dining at the hotel’s family-owned golf course west of Vail—just a hotel-shuttle ride away—and a bar menu at King’s Club, Sonnenalp’s onsite nightclub.
Guests also enjoy indoor and outdoor pools, a pretty patio area on Gore Creek (known as “weddings central” in summer), plus a lively open spa area with fitness room and massage services. During winter, Sonnenalp’s location near the base of the mountain and its helpful ski concierge ensure guests have easy access and complete convenience for a day of skiing. Hotel-run activities, such as professionally guided hikes and snowshoe adventures, are available and due to be expanded in 2020. No surprise, Sonnenalp’s version of Oktoberfest is not to be missed—so much fun that the hotel hosts its festive celebration three or four times a year. “Oktoberfest is a big thing,” McNamara says. “Something we do very, very well.”
Customer service is paramount. “We have the prettiest building, but it all comes down to customer service,” says McNamara. “You really have to care about the guests. You’ve got to know your guests. And it’s always the little extra steps, right? Give them always a little something extra.” She adds, “We’re known as a home away from home. Guests love coming here. It’s understated, it’s not a chain. They love seeing the owners around and the multigenerational aspect.”
Return business is exceptional, for both groups and leisure travelers. Couples married at the hotel come back for anniversaries and families make it a tradition to vacation regularly at the Sonnenalp—including a four-generation clan that returns every July. “That is a testament to what they love—this is really their home,” says McNamara. “That’s what I’m most proud of, and I know our owners are most proud. They love that our guests feel that they are truly a part of the Sonnenalp.”
.Harvey Simpson, 93, is an exceptional part of the Sonnenalp family, visiting since its first days. Four years ago he made the transition from frequent hotel guest and avid skier to permanent Sonnenalp resident (and, yes, he still skis). Retired from his construction-restoration business in New York (renovating the Statue of Liberty, enabling Wi-Fi in the subway system), he says, “What a place to be! As much as I knew how nice it would be, I had no idea it would be this nice. I live up on the third floor, get up every morning, sit out on the balcony, take a look at the mountain, see Riva Ridge on top, see what the snow looks like and can have breakfast up in my unit. It’s not just a room, more like a studio apartment. It has everything I need.
“I can’t say enough about the (Faessler) family,” he continues. “I can see where this all came from. If you visit the Sonnenalp in Bavaria you can see the way that hotel is run and then you can see how it’s rubbed off. And the way they treat me here—it’s just incredible. There’s no way you can be any happier. The amount of friends I have here is incredible. People come from all over the world and I meet so many people. And most of them come back every year. In addition to all that I have almost a job. I don’t get paid, but I love to sing with the entertainers at the King’s Club. It’s quite a life.”
The hotel’s awards and distinctions are numerous. Among them: Sonnenalp is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, received 2019 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice No. 2 luxury hotel in the United States and No. 10 U.S. hotel, plus Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Resort Hotels in the American West, and a recent Wine Spectator award for Swiss Chalet. Sonnenalp is also the first Colorado hotel to achieve Luxury Eco Certification Standard status. The recognition is nice, says McNamara. “But at the end of the day, it’s really the comment cards that come back to Mr. Faessler [owner Johannes Faessler] saying how much they like his hotel. We’re a very humble hotel.”
McNamara says, “The Faesslers not only have a thriving business, they are very well-regarded members of the community. They have a phenomenal Sonnenalp Foundation that does great things, especially for Sonnenalp Breast Center. Our tagline is ‘Timelessly Vail.’ Sonnenalp is Vail. Vail is Sonnenalp. We’re embedded. And now we’ve got the fifth generation on board (with vice president of development Sebastian Faessler). They’ll keep this thing going. This family cares. Johannes Faessler could build other hotels and manage other places. He won’t do it. He says: ‘I want this hotel to be the best.’”
20 Vail Rd.
Vail, CO 81657
Lisa Perry has been writing about Colorado for 25 years, loves Vail and long, long before this article she enjoyed being a Sonnenalp guest and a golfer at the hotel’s course.
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