The Mental Detox Castle

The recipe for success at one of the best luxury spa hotels in the world at Elmau Castle is based on a special concept called “mental detox”:

Dietmar Müller-Elmau manages one of the best luxury spa hotels in the world. Against a Hollywood-ready backdrop directly facing the Wetterstein mountains, Elmau Castle offers discerning guests relaxation for body and mind. The recipe for success that the hotelier — who has spent nearly his entire life there — has perfected is based on a special concept called “mental detox”: alongside the usual wellness facilities, music and literature take center stage on the agenda at this cultural refuge. Müller-Elmau speaks to COMPANION about the modern demands of luxury travelers, the importance of a clear mind, and the history of an unusual residence that overlaps with his own.

COMPANION: Your grandfather built Elmau Castle as a refuge for refined visitors — and that during the First World War, no less. How did he come up with the idea?

Dietmar Müller-Elmau: My grandfather Johannes Müller was a philosopher, theologian, and writer. At Elmau Castle, he wanted to offer his guests and readers the ideal conditions for taking a vacation from the ego. His guests would find inner peace and tranquility in the company of like-minded cultured people in unspoiled natural surroundings alongside classical music, concerts, and evening dances, and in the stillness, they would become one with themselves, God, and the world.

You were born and raised here. Was it already clear to you as a child that you would run the hotel one day?

I never wanted to take over the running of Elmau Castle. Even as a child I hated the pressure of the business and all the dogmatics that went along with it. I wanted to maintain the freedom to be different and to think differently. I once switched off the electricity during a concert in protest. I wanted to study philosophy and become politically active, not stay in this castle.

After school you studied business, theology, and philosophy, then went abroad to study computer science. You founded the software company Fidelio, which became a world leader in hotel software along with Opera. Later you sold your company and dedicated yourself to Elmau Castle.

I wanted to keep Elmau Castle as a home for my parents and family. I completely refurbished the building and developed its musical program, the only one of its kind in the world, to include jazz, literature, and political debates, as well as a small spa.

In August 2005 there was a serious fire at Elmau Castle. How did you feel as you were forced to stand and watch while the building was almost completely destroyed?

The fire was — as crazy as it sounds — a gift from heaven. Luckily no one got hurt. Two thirds of the castle had to be torn down. I bought a majority stake in the property shares and rebuilt the new Elmau Castle as a more spacious five-star luxury spa, retreat, and cultural hideaway. I wanted to offer my guests on vacation the maximum in freedom, comfort, relaxation, and inspiration. Since then, Elmau Castle has often been honored as the best spa in the world.

Today, you are also setting standards in other areas. What appeals to your guests the most? 

At Elmau Castle, above all our guests cherish the natural friendliness of our team, the encounters with interesting guests and major artists from all over the world, the unique location, the spacious rooms, the variety of possibilities, and the feel and cosmopolitan aesthetic of the interior design. A good hotel should not only pamper its guests with discreet attentiveness and outstanding food within a sophisticated environment, but also inspire them intellectually with “food for thought” and move them emotionally with good music. Without music and literature, everything would be pointless. A hotel without culture is just as drab to me as a city without culture.

Is that why you have major artists playing in your hotel almost every day?

In my downtime and on trips, I want to relax but most importantly I want to clear my head, discover new worlds, and meet interesting people. So Elmau Castle not only offers our guests a variety of possibilities for recuperation, but for more than 100 years it has offered a one-of-a-kind musical/literary tradition with some of the great musicians, authors, and personalities of our time.

You once said: Artists are the most demanding guests. Why?

Most artists are spa aficionados, gourmets, and aesthetes. They inspire us with their constant striving towards perfection, detail orientation, and their sensitivity to everything that is beautiful, individual, and creative, down to the smallest detail. They expect the same from us. Elmau Castle is too small to pay them an appropriate fee. Instead we invite them to stay with us for free for a few days and offer them the perfect conditions for practicing, including several Steinway pianos and a fantastic concert hall that they can also use for making recordings. And lastly, we share their passion for and curiosity about good music and literature. 

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