A STERN looking lady at customs asked me “how long are you staying in Verona for?”.
I told her I was heading to South Tyrol, she looked up and threw me a smile before stamping my passport.
There’s something about South Tyrol that triggers this reaction. Italy’s northern province, which borders Austria, is a highly regarded getaway for Italians who want to escape the city in exchange for some time in the mountains. The same goes for seasoned skiers from around the globe, many of which claim South Tyrol is the holy grail of slopes.
Like so many others, I was also there to escape. My journey began on a 3 hour drive, deep into the belly of the mountains.
The scenery quickly changed from traditional Italian roads to country roads and mountain views within an hour and a half out from Verona.
After cruising up a winding road for some time, the high altitude and dense forest suggested I was close to my first hotel destination of Forestis, a newly opened wellness boutique, based in Brixen.
A sign for the hotel peeked out of the trees, and I was met with the first scene of civilization after two hours of deserted views. At first glance, you might mistake Forestis for part of the scenery. The hotel’s dark wooden structure blends into the colour scheme of the surrounding trees and peaks. Even the three tall towers which hold the suites and penthouse rooms manage to mimic the extremities of the ragged Dolomites.
The lobby at Forestis
The first thing I noticed when entering the lobby area was the subtle interior style which boasted a soft theme of light wood and soft edges. A humble water feature quickly caught my attention, but my eyes quickly focused on the much larger picture behind; a view of the Dolomites from 1,800 meters above sea level.
Forestis is a place for mental and physical rehabilitation. It’s a place where someone like me, who was raised in a busy city, can unwind and bask in nature. Each room in the hotel faces the same mountain view and guests are treated to the gift of simplicity in their rooms. There is no unnecessary decoration in private spaces such as the bedroom and bathroom, it wipes the mind clear like a blank canvas. Even the three penthouse suites, which boast a rooftop pool manage to remain stripped back without sacrificing the luxury.
A tower suite
Sustainability is embraced throughout Forestis. Much of the wood used in the hotel is sourced from local trees which fell in the unfortunate windstorm in South Tyrol two years ago. Despite this natural tragedy, the hotel manages to fuse style with resourcefulness. To give back to their environment, they run a scheme to plant trees in exchange for guests who request to not have their bedding changed. In addition to that, all toiletry bottles are refilled to reduce waste.
The spa area
After unpacking and settling myself in, I slipped into my robe and took a stroll to the spa. Walking around in casuals is no issue at Forestis. There’s a mutual understanding that comfort is a top priority. Guests can be seen reading, napping and lounging on the three rows of recliners in the main spa area, between swim breaks in the hydropool and sauna sessions. My first wellness experience began in the medium-heat sauna where I stripped off and soaked in the dry heat. I faintly overheard a couple speaking in German, before tuning in to the sound of two Austrailians in another corner.
Forestis is far from a local secret, and it seems the most seasonal wellness seekers had scouted Forestis out for a stay. Mimicking the actions of the others, I left the comfort of the sauna for an icy dip in the plunge pool. Another way to enjoy the invigorating hot to cold contrast is in the pool, where swimmers can paddle from the warmth indoors into the crisp air through an automated gate.
Due to the hotel’s unique location, nature’s elements are readily available to enjoy in the form of spring water, aromatic pine and a mixture of mountain and sea air.
The building was built in 1912 and used as a sanatorium. It’s not hard to believe that these natural gifts have provided comfort for countless people.
From a general design perspective, one might mistake Forestis for leaning too far towards simplicity, however, this is not the case. I headed to the hotel bar for a quick aperitivo, and was pleased to experience the hotel’s more lively, social side. The dimly lit area is ideal for cocktail evenings with friends or a quick aperitivo or nightcap.
It has that exciting James Bond feeling, where you might be inclined to drink something exciting and new. During my stay, I was able to sample everything from South Tyrolean sparkling wine to local spirits.
Dinner is located at the main restaurant which is situated down a mysterious staircase on the lower ground level. It is by-far the most lavish space at Forestis. Tiers of stacked theatre-style seating gives diners a front-seat-view of the mountain matinee or moonlight show. Each table is designed like a private booth, and gives you a chance to enjoy their offering of fresh local produce in the form of modern cuisine.
The outdoor area and firepit
After an elongated 7-course meal I took myself outside, to enjoy a nightcap under the stars cozied up by the firepit.
Breakfast in the restaurant has a very different atmosphere. I woke up at 9am, and enjoyed a coffee and a freshly squeezed juice from their DIY juice bar. Unlike the night before, the restaurant was virtually empty. Many of the guests had already embarked on their morning activities such as the mindful Wyda yoga class, which practices movement theories used by the Celtic Druids, whilst others were simply enjoying a lazy morning.
With endless outdoor activities available from the doorstep of Forestis, it’s equally as fun to go out and explore or nest inside and enjoy the wellness. Superb spa facilities mean that treatments such as massages, facials and manicures are always a popular choice.
My meditative stay at Forestis drew to an end, so I enjoyed a final session of solo swimming and sauna time before leaving to the more populated area of Bolzano Bozen to enjoy down-to-earth South Tyrolean cuisine at Gasthaus Zum Hirschen. A menu of traditional homemade specialities allowed me to experience the beauty of honest mountain cooking. Warming dishes such as ravioli, soup and risotto made from ingredients sourced from their estate and small local farms in the surrounding area. Flavours such as larch were gently infused in the cuisine, linking the food to the environment in every bite.
The aromas of larch followed me all the way to my next destination of South Tyrol’s quirky family-run, Hotel Saltus.
A warm greeting from the hotel owners offered a charming insight into how Hotel Saltus approaches hosting. Hotel Saltus is famed for its modern approach to wellness, however, there’s still a strong essence of traditional hospitality which runs throughout the core of the establishment.
Hotel Saltus lobby
The open plan lobby area is cleverly designed to be a place that offers a calm space to relax mixed with a playground for the creative. The check-in desk slowly merges into the hotel bar, and comfortable sofas invite guests to pick up a book from the hotel shelves and flick through its pages whilst in the company of a stunning mountain view.
While I waited for my passport to be scanned, I found myself noticing small kooky details such as a small table bearing a watercolour palette, brushes and blank paper, and a table decorated with wooden puzzles. The open invitations to participate in small, intimate activities encourages you to scratch your curiosity.
Framed watercolour paintings replace traditional room numbers on doors. Each room comes with it’s own bespoke painted sign which is created by one of the daughters of the family who run the hotel.
As for the room itself, the walls and flooring offer neutral, stone-coloured tones which keep the focus on the leafy trees outside the window. I was lucky enough to be on the fourth floor which meant that I could step out onto my decked balcony and enjoy the canopy view of the forest.
The spa area
Similarly, guests can enjoy the privilege of experiencing the high life when using the sauna, pool and yoga deck, as they are all nestled amongst the trees that neighbour the perimeter of the hotel.
With a massage booked in the late afternoon, I familiarised myself with the wellness facilities which were spread across two floors before eventually heading in for my treatment. I opted for a full body massage, and was quickly greeted by a familiar smell which lulled me into a state of relaxation. It was the smell of larch. The spa uses products from a brand called Laricina, which is created by a local botanist who uses freshly extracted larch as her main ingredient. As someone who prefers the more natural approach to wellbeing, I was able to enjoy the natural anti inflammatory and antibacterial healing properties that larch had to offer.
Hotel Saltus encourages a holistic approach to wellbeing. They offer an interesting forest bathing experience which focuses on strengthening a non-verbal connection with nature by guiding guests barefoot through the forest to feel its healing powers. The hands on approach to nature healing is ideal for city dwellers like myself, as it immerses the five senses and strengthens the connection with nature.
When it comes to food, Hotel Saltus offers up a true taste of South Tyrol with traditional mountain foods like dumplings, speck and Schüttelbrot. If you’re after a meal out then the hotel is only a short drive away from In Viaggio, a small fine-dining establishment that offers an a la carte menu along with a 9-course tasting menu. I decided to dine at the hotel, and I found myself sitting amongst familiar faces from the sauna.
In true Italian fashion, I went to the bar for a digestif. I was surprised to find an impressive collection of craft spirits, and the woman serving at the bar offered me serving of homemade grappa. As a nightcap I enjoyed an impressive single malt whisky from a local South Tyrolean distillery called PUNI.
Loungers in the spa.
My last morning in South Tyrol was still and calm. I decided to join in with the morning yoga class run by a member of the family, before enjoying a lazy lunch at the spa. Unlike Forestis, Hotel Saltus has a more relaxed attitude to lounging. Guests can order food to their loungers, so I enjoyed a salad and Italian IPA whilst gazing out at the view in my robe one final time.
The growing wellness scene in South Tyrol attracts visitors to enjoy the perks of Italy’s culturally rich mountain region all in the shadow of Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you experience all it has to offer, you’ll find yourself coming back.
by Katrina Mirpuri
Click here for more information about the region of South Tyrol.