I always thought you had to be into skiing, hiking or some other form of extreme sports to enjoy any kind of mountain scenery. But lately, we've discovered the sublime pleasures of sitting in an outdoor hot-tub in sub-zero temperatures surrounded by majestic snow-capped peaks. Mountain spa-ing has become something of an addiction -- not a cheap one I can mind -- but it does comes with positive health-enhancing benefits. And you can enjoy it in all weathers.
The Alder Dolomiti is a traditional Alpine resort hotel in the pretty town of Ortisei in the Val Gardena region of the Italian Dolomites, with an added twist. The South Tyrol’s biggest ‘wellness centre’, it comes complete with pools, panoramic thermal facilities and treatments from Avurveda to medi-spa.
Tell us about the spa
The spa is so huge you need a map to get around. You might also need some Tyrolean courage with regards to nude spa-ing (it’s a European thing) and more than a few days to try out everything on offer.
The indoor-outdoor infinity pool is dramatic and rather lovely. Enter the pool inside and swim through sliding doors right into the mountains with spruce-clad slopes either side and extraordinary pale, jagged peaks ahead. Feel the fresh air snaking through the warming mists of the pool, a baroque pink Ortisei church spire punctuating the blue sky. You can swim hearty, virtuous laps or take a break on the bubble-jet beds to one side and watch the cable cars transporting skiers and hikers up to Europe’s largest mountain plateau, the Alpe di Siusi. Just above the swimming pool is a hotter, salty lagoon pool with more jets and swan pipes to massage your limbs. Head to the pools in the morning when it’s less busy and watch the sun pour over the Dolomite peaks -- the perfect start to the day.
Beyond the pools there is an adult-only spa ‘grotto’ area, which coils down to a blue spa pool, and a hay sauna cabin; 3D rocks on the wall lead to a kitsch castle relief at the top. Signs outside each thermal room insist that swimming costumes must be removed but, if you are feeling unsure, there is a gorgeous Ladies Only rose relaxation area -- a decadent Moorish tent with billowing silks and chandeliers -- leading to a pretty steam room with tiles hand-painted by a local artist. Start here to test your nudism comfort zone, and don’t forget to wash your seat with the little hose taps provided, for obvious reasons.
At the top of the spa is a fabulous relaxation area with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the mountains, with recliners, waterbeds and a circular open fire in the centre. Head outside to the panoramic sauna where you can disrobe and grab a sauna towel (small sheet which just about covers the necessary areas). The mountain views are useful focal points if, like us, you had to share the space with a pair of stark-naked chaps. After, you can take a cold shower, or simply jump outside in the cold snow for a proper Tyrolean sauna experience.
Just outside the sauna is a whirlpool with the most stunning mountain view which you can enjoy fully clad in your swimsuit. All the pools are non-nudist.
You can also book in for time in the salt grotto: float in salt waters with underwater music before snoozing in the blissfully warm salt sauna with its amber salt rock walls.
A retreat with hotel comforts
If you’re looking for a more holistic health experience, head over the road (or via an underground tunnel) to the Adler Balance. The Sanoner family, who own the resort, have embraced the latest concepts in holistic health and beautifully packaged them in this newer, elegantly serene 31-bedroom health and wellness retreat.
Balance guests have individually tailored health packages, overseen by doctors, trainers and alternative health practitioners. Choose from the active including hiking and electric biking, the educational including foraging for herbs in the mountains and, of course, spa treatments. We joined the Herbal Workshop to learn local remedies, some were appealing (lovely yarrow poultices to cleanse the liver) and others almost medieval (putting raw onions in your socks to clear your sinuses!).
The design is more contemporary and open-plan. A huge black concrete fireplace is set against cool natural woods, and there are shelves of inspiring art books to flick through. We were impressed by their preventative approach to wellbeing designed around the concept of chrononutrition -- simply, eating the right foods at the right time (chronos); being mindful of seasonal and hormonal and sleep cycles.
The food is so good that many Dolomiti guests pop over to the Balance Retreat to sample the gourmet cuisine courtesy of Michelin-starred chef Armin Mairhofer. Choose between the nutritionally rich but still indulgent menu, or more austere Mayr FX inspired meals. We went for the first option and dined on risotto and carbonara (or the more adventurous “tuna lamb in coffee crust”) accompanied by delicious local wines.
Tell us about the treatments
Spa treatments tend to come from a local, holistic and/or alternative approach, from Ayurveda and aromatherapy to Tibetan singing bowls. Highlights include a honey back massage, Cleopatra and rasul baths, curative muds, mountain orchid and raspberry rituals and a Trehs treatment -- Trehs was a mountain witch who “achieved wonders with the Saratine pine”. You can also try Adler’s bio-cosmetics range which uses pure ingredients from the mountains of the South Tyrol and Tuscany, Guinot machine-led facials and luxurious Maria Galland facials.
We had an exceptional full body massage which was profoundly relaxing. My therapist, Natalie, used long, firm and flowing movements all over my entire body and face -- including my eyelids -- that reduced me to putty. Another highlight was the Adler Green Staminal face pack, using the stem cells of unripe grapes to repair skin damage and delicious nutty smelling oils; mine was hazelnut and reminded me of Nutella. There were two masks: one to hydrate, another to seal in the hydration that dried like plastic and lifted off. It was very effective, my skin looked vibrant and healthy.
After a three-hour hike, we also had a wonderful Adler Light Feet foot massage. As soon as my therapist, Anna, began stretching, pulling and twisting my heels and toes, my aches vanished. It was so blissful, after all that mountain air I started to drift off. I emerged walking on clouds.
What else is on offer?
So very much. Off ski-season, you can book day-long or half-day hikes or bike rides on electric mountain bikes, the more intrepid heading high into the snowy peaks and forests. We took a more civilised three-hour stroll through beautiful scenery with our ebullient guide, Thaddeus, climbing through forest paths and stopping to admire the endless array of truly jaw-dropping views, shrines as well as a beautiful pale yellow 13th Century church. The area is famous for its wood-carvings, from historical religious shrines (many dotting the paths around Ortisei) to stunning contemporary sculptures, which you can admire in galleries around town.
There is a huge gym with a daily workout timetable and you can book private yoga, Reiki, anti-stress coaching and meditation classes. We tried a group yoga session with Anne-Marie Sanoner in a large, light studio overlooking the hotel gardens. Makko Ho (“bowing”) is a series of six stretches to help unblock energy and improve immune function. The focus on deep-breathing techniques intensified the stretches, and afterwards I felt relaxed and positive, with enough energy for the abovementioned hike.
If you’re travelling en famille there are lots of treats for children, from an indoor cinema to an outdoor play area and petting zoo.
The views, the cornucopia of luxury and delicious food, and the fabulous five-star service from a friendly, multi-lingual local staff.
The sense of space: It may be the clean air and mountain skies but even during the peak season it’s hard to imagine the Adler Dolomiti feeling full. All the rooms are vast and there’s a fair amount of outdoor acreage to fling yourself about in. Or you can simply bubble away in a whirlpool watching everyone else climb every mountain, while you take it easy and enjoy the spectacular views…. You might just find us there.