The Six Senses resort in Mittersill, Austria, is considered one of the most controversial real estate projects in recent years. Critics speak of a “doomsday village” for the super-rich, while conservationists see the construction project as a disaster. The initiators are indignant.

In the middle of Austria, residents, conservationists and entrepreneurs are arguing about a luxury resort that is to be built at Pass Thurn in Mittersill. “Six Senses Kitzbühel Alps” is the name of the project that started in 2019 and is described on the project website as “self-sufficient Noah’s Ark, which focuses on independence and security”.

If you want to buy one of the 50 planned residential units, you have to answer twelve questions, some of which have more or less to do with finances. The first is: “Where would you rather live? In Kitzbühel or in a nature reserve?” Just two clicks later, the Six Senses initiators inquire about the applicant’s budget.

The fact that you can’t tick less than three million euros probably has something to do with the house and apartment prices, which are in the seven-digit range. Interested parties should not only fit into the Six Senses concept financially, but also ideologically.

At least that’s what the “Challenges of Life” block that appears further down the homepage suggests. “Our environment is changing at a breathtaking pace,” it says. Six photos can be seen: they show children sitting on their cell phones, a person with a face mask and power lines.

Keywords such as “social isolation”, “environmental pollution”, “blackout”, “virus” are emblazoned underneath. “Pictures like from a doomsday film”, journalists of the “Standard” recently commented on the website, they called the article “Villas for the end of the world”. And it’s true: Whoever looks at the haunting recordings must get the impression that the world as we know it will soon no longer exist.

Michael Staininger, project developer and co-owner at Pass Thurn, is bothered by such formulations. “There is no talk of the end of the world – but there are topics and things that concern us all and that we have to deal with,” he says in an interview with FOCUS Online. Then the entrepreneur, himself a father of three children, talks about the future of younger generations.

“We shouldn’t look the other way when it comes to climate change, air pollution, plastic waste in the oceans, genetically modified food and the complete hijacking of our children by social media,” he says.

With Six Senses Kitzbühel Alps, Staininger wants to create a living space that “respectfully connects people and nature, away from the mainstream and the challenges of our time”. The luxury resort should be self-sufficient thanks to its own energy and water supply. In addition to the residential units, a hotel with a 3000 square meter wellness area is also planned.

But the living space that Staininger dreams of is not only expensive. Its construction has repeatedly caused resentment in the past – among residents and conservationists. Wolfgang Viertler, Mayor of Mittersill, says in an interview with FOCUS Online: “Construction work was started and immediately stopped again. In addition, there was no clear project communication – neither with the community nor with the media.”

He remembers several irritating PR campaigns, for example the announcement in 2019 that all Six Senses buyers would receive an E-Porsche model Taycan (from 105,000 euros) as a gift when they moved in.

Wilfried Haslauer (ÖVP), Salzburg’s governor, called the action “provocative”, “insensitive” and “too showy”. He told the “Salzburger Nachrichten”: “I was very uncomfortable with that. For those who work hard to earn a living, it seems like everything is free for the rich.”

It wasn’t the only negative headline, major Austrian newspapers like the “Kurier” also criticized the move. So it came as it had to: Six Senses and Porsche ended their collaboration by mutual agreement.

The fact that the locals reject the project has been reported in various media reports in the past. The “meinbezirk” portal, for example, quotes citizens as saying “This parochial thinking is unbelievable” and “We have to put the brakes on corrupt people”.

However, if you ask Mayor Viertler, you will get rather vague answers. With a construction project of this magnitude, there are always proponents and opponents, he says. “The project, including the development plan, was discussed a total of ten times in public municipal council meetings.”

Claudia Wolf, chairwoman of the Austrian Alpine Association in Salzburg, reacted much less diplomatically. “Almost all villages agree that they do not want the project,” she says in an interview with FOCUS Online. For the nature conservationist, the Six Senses Kitzbühel Alps is tantamount to a catastrophe. Because the luxury resort borders on the Wasenmoos high moor area.

“More are the best natural climate protector and must be preserved. There is a risk of the moor being drained by the construction work,” warns Wolf. One thing is clear to them: the sensitive fauna and flora of the moor cannot tolerate 500 visitors per day.

Because a lot has already been destroyed by the construction work, she feels that the sustainability label, with which Six Senses Kitzbühel Alps presents itself, is “a sheer mockery”. And there is another point that makes Wolf angry. “Initially it was said that a water protection area should be built with the existing springs,” she says. Local farmers would have hoped for a fire-fighting pond to put out possible fires and moisten their dry meadows.

“But now they had to learn that their precious water was being used to create water features for a luxury-spoilt, well-heeled clientele. Some farmers, who also had to give up their centuries-old grazing rights for the project, now feel cheated.”

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Of course, project developer Staininger sees things very differently. He speaks of a project “with the highest quality standards that does not pollute the environment” and of a symbiosis of tourism and natural habitat. He wants to continue the Six Senses project despite the headwind. This isn’t bad news for everyone.

Because Mittersill, like many other regions in Austria, is heavily dependent on tourism. “A hotel project like this at Pass Thurn means a significant improvement in quality for our community,” says Mayor Viertler. “Both with regard to the further development of tourism in the entire region and with regard to an expanded range of jobs in tourism.”

The controversial Six Senses project is also a kind of elixir of life for the 5,500-inhabitant town. “Especially in the 5-star hotel industry, high-quality jobs are being created that can offer a decisive improvement in the often precarious working conditions in tourism,” explains the mayor.

However, it will be a while before the Six Senses Kitzbühel Alps with its 13 villas, 37 apartments and the wellness hotel is finished. The project website says “December 2024/ 12 o’clock”, there is even a countdown. The renowned Lindner Group, once responsible for the interior design of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, will implement the vision.

Staininger looks forward to this day. “We’re on the right track and I’m very curious to see how many of these doubters and begrudging ones will remain when we open up – I’m guessing maybe one,” he says.


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