AVELENGO IN THE ALPS

Driving from Milan International Airport to the San Luis Hotel takes a few hours and the stretch of highway to get there is mostly surrounded by apple farms and the occasional stone castle or fort. As our Peugeot car approaches the Alps, the road trip turns into a dramatic venture... The winding mountain road ascends with not much more than shrubbery and jagged rocks as barrier from the cliff's edge. The air was thick with lingering fog and condensation, or dare I say, actual clouds. My ears slightly popped. We are driving through the Alps, one of the highest mountain range in the world.

After what seemed like ages of biting my nails at every unexpedted twist and sharp turn, the road opens up to a stretch of field with apple orchards and vegetation. The birds chirping and cowbells ringing in the distance was quite welcoming and soothing.

Blink and you’d miss the entrance to San Luis Hotel. There is little signage, but those who know what they’re looking will see the gates for the hotel property. As we approach, they open and you have finally arrived to your Alpine retreat.

"Fall asleep suspended in the branches of a larch, by the breeze and the moonlight, breathing the delicate scent of resin and grass, it's not a dream."

  — San Luis Hotel

The resort is dotted with tree houses — yes, actual tree houses! — and chalets. The main cabin, dubbed as the clubhouse, houses a massive lobby, a restaurant, the spa and sauna, several lounge areas, and pool. The two-story clubhouse just happens to be crafted around a small lake that is brimming with koi fish.

Inside the clubhouse, it’s easy to give into the temptation to sink into the overstuffed couches. The area is filled with candles and fresh flowers, fine touches to a minimal decor. The massive fire crackles as you are greeted with a beverage of choice (Prosecco please!) and handmade cheese and charcuterie. It’s a comforting and relaxing environment for checking into the hotel.

At first glance, you’ll immediately notice the natural elements, like wood and clay, that are on display. From the grand exposed beams that support the structure to the smooth slate floors. The simplicity is complemented by muted colors and the evergreen from the surrounding forest. The wood is handled in accordance to the Mondholz — moon wood — which takes the lunar cycles into consideration. By doing so, the timber not only maintains its resilience, but energy. The craftsmanship is most evident when you walk into your holiday residence...

Our treehouse is perched right on the edge of the forest, anchored bly the Mondholz. Upon entry, the kitchenette is the only room with doors — this is where housekeeping will deliver your requested breakfast every morning. Every morning there is a selection of fresh pastries and jam, meats and cheeses, hand squeezed juices, and eggs to prepare to your liking. Enjoy your breakfast sitting in the corner nook, glancing over the local Avelengo newspaper. In fact we never closed the doors during the day, we had a lovely view from every room.

There are similar themes in every chalet and treehouse: wood lined floors, natural colored textiles, and floor to ceiling paneled windows that offer panoramic views of the Swiss and Austrian Alps from the bed as well as the oversized sunken tub. The tub... The accommodations are minimal, yet substantial.

The concept of time is nonexistent here. This is a shared concept embraced by staff, as there are no working clocks when you enter the lobby. This allows for the day to stretch out before you, like the Alps stretching out towards Switzerland and Austria.

Perhaps you'd want to take a long soak in the sunken bathtub... Or relax on the wraparound deck outside and breathe in the crisp mountainous air. Despite it being just 40 degrees F, I couldn't help but sit in the lounge chair outside and watch the clouds move through the peaks. There was a perpetual chill in the air, but one that makes you feel alive and invigorated. The first night in our treehouse, I left the door open just an inch.

The fresh air is certainly intoxicating.

There is a particular focus on wellbeing here. An enticing spa and sauna awaits awaits you with an extensive menu to help you unwind; a few treatments catered to long distance travelers. It was not a rare sight to see guests working out first thing in the morning. If you don't want to bust a sweat in the gym, the sauna is adjacent. Where I spent most of my time is the pool, towards the back of the clubhouse, inside the impressive loft-style lounge room. Despite the glass and stone, the room is quite cozy, due to the overstuffed arm chairs and roaring fireplace.

I could't imagine a better place to get my toes wet than in front of a fire, sipping rich hot chocolate or bubbly prosecco. Feeling adventurous in the pool, I float towards the lake outside. With a wave of my hand, the pool house’s glass doors slide open and invite you to wade outside. It’s a mystic feeling; the heat from the pool lingering above the water.

If you dare get out of the warm pool, a jacuzzi awaits at the end of a short pier. It's worth the move — relaxing light therapy and massaging jets will transcend a regular soak into a state of complete zen.

After a long day of relaxing, it’s surprising how tired you become. Every night, however, I made it to the dinner table on time.

But first, libations...

Christian, the barman, was jovial and had a lot of facts about gin (and apples — did you know most of the world's apples come from South Tyrol area?) I truly wasn't prepared for the popularity of gin in Italy. Let's just say the night  began with an impromptu gin flight — regional and imported, for comparison. Luckily, there is a four to five course meal served every night for dinner that can absorb these fine cocktails.

Being in Italy, pasta is expected — by the way, the penne and cavatelli are delicious — however, being in a unique northern corner of the country offers unexpected menu offerings. Since the hotel is surrounded by harvesting grounds, there is no other option besides farm-to-table here.

Influences from Eastern Europe like braised cabbage and speck (fatty pork) stuffed with apple and plum were delectable surprises on the menu. I personally loved the beef tartare with shaved truffles. And for dessert? Every night I cleaned my palate with apple sorbet and shortbread cookie. I was always reminded of the number of apple orchards in the vicinity. In fact, every morning we got a delivery of freshly picked apples sent to our treehouse. Breakfast was served in the comfort of our suite. A spread of everything we selected: croissants, raspberry jam, fruit salad, mortadella, speck, cheeses, eggs, espresso, freshly squeezed juices... I would have to remind myself that lunch buffet and à la carte was in a few hours. Relax, theres no way I could go hungry here.

After my last croissant with raspberry jam, I dipped into the pool one more time, determined to focus on ultimate relaxation. The place was almost dead silent. But not in an eerie way, the way that allows your thoughts to circulate your brain, meaningful or not. Besides meal times, it was rare you ran into another guest. I gleefully floated around the pool and jacuzzi, as if it were my very own clubhouse. To top it all off, as I moved closer to where the pool meets lake, I had the privilege of a colorful and playful greeting by a mini school of koi fish.

On the way back to Milan, driving through the miles of mountainous roads, I couldn’t help but to think how simple, but beautifully rich life must be in this alpine oasis.

San Luis Hotel

Vöranerstraße, 5, 39010 Avelengo Bozen, Italy

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