As arrivals go, it’s a picturesque one. Serpentine roads wind higher through the mountains and Alpine valleys of the Italian South Tyrol, passing myriad Instagram-worthy farmhouses, flower-filled pastures and majestic, jagged peaks along the way. Yet there is no grand entrance to San Luis, near the small hamlet of Avelengo, just some simple, but impenetrable, electric gates at the end of a lane.
Continue up a driveway strewn with wildflowers and you are soon enveloped by a James Bond-esque underground car park – nothing as unsightly as a car is going to spoil the views here. Emerge, finally, above ground at the hotel’s reception area and you are greeted by soaring ceilings, a huge fireplace, parquet floors and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over a lake, pine trees and those mountains.
The Meister Family has run sister hotel, the Irma, in the neighbouring spa town of Merano for over a century and the fourth generation of the family is now in charge at this latest venture, which opened just over a year ago. Alpine chic reimagined for a new audience, it’s all done with the utmost, understated, good taste.
Bedrooms are spread across a scattering of chalets and treehouses around a small, glacier mint-clear lake. The showstopper is the double-height spa area in the main clubhouse with its blazing fires, black linen loungers to sink into, huge windows gazing out over the treetops and an inside/outside swimming pool – swim out, race down the pontoon and jump into the hot tub (or, in summer, plunge into the chilly waters of the lake).
This is where to come to get away from it all, breathe deeply and just immerse yourself in the tranquility, interrupted only by birdsong and cow bells chiming out through the surrounding valleys.
On arrival, apple juice and slices of local cured ham called speck set the tone. The buzzy, ground floor dining room looks out over the lake and purrs with efficiency. The menu comes in two guises; a traditional one, which draws on the region’s Austro/Italian gastro-heritage, and a more modern, Mediterranean-inspired alternative dreamt up by executive chef, Arturo Spicocchi (five courses, but you can pick and choose how much you want to eat and half portions are available).
A huge table in front of the dining room’s hearth groans under countless plates of Italian-style antipasti – much of the produce comes from the four-hectare market garden that supplies the hotel kitchen. Must-tries include Weiner schnitzel with cucumber and potato salad, and Tuesday’s grill night, when cuts of veal, ribs and beef are cooked on the open hearth and served with baked potatoes. Lunchtime means soup, salad and cheese, and teatime heralds cakes as well as home-made ice cream.
The Alto Adige is one of Italy’s smallest wine producing regions but its sun-drenched slopes foster over 20 different grape varieties – look out for native grapes like Lagrein, Vernatsch and Gewürztraminer. Before the vines arrived those slopes were all about apples – local producer Kohl takes apple juice to another level with its single variety gourmet juices.
The hotel’s 22 chalet rooms, made from local moonwood, teeter on the edge of the lake in a clearing, while 16 treehouse rooms poke up through the branches of the surrounding forest – for a real feeling of seclusion book one of these. The look is refined yet rustic with billowing neutral fabrics, dark stone, lots of wood, open fires and expansive windows. Many of the rooms have their own hot tubs and saunas and all of them have small kitchens and dining areas.
A breakfast of your choice is delivered to your chalet every morning; fresh juice, a selection of cold cuts, cheese, yoghurt, pastries, breads and eggs to cook yourself.
The thermal spa town of Merano, 20 minutes’ drive away, is well worth further exploration – its baths were designed by Italian starchitect Matteo Thun. Visit the Merano Market on Saturday and stock up at Pur Süd Tyrol, a grocery store and restaurant in the heart of town with a hyper-local perspective (cheeses, meats, jams, honey, wines and chocolate are sourced direct from neighbouring producers).
Work up an appetite by hitting the countless trails that wend through the spectacular Alpine landscape – hiking is the order of day here with lunch stops at one of the numerous farmhouse inns called “stuben” that dot the valleys and peaks. It’s obligatory to fortify yourself with local specialties like “kaiserschmarren”, a sweet chopped pancake dusted with cinnamon. Many local wine producers, including the Nals Margried winery in nearby Nalles, offer tours.
HOW TO DO IT
Doubles rooms start at €325 per person, per night, half-board (sanluis-hotel.com). Return flights from various UK airports to Verona start from around £60 with British Airways, Ryanair or EasyJet.
More info: suedtirol.info
Words by Aoife O’Riordain
Images by San Luis Hotel and Stefano Scatà
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