Mountain Escape: San Luis, South Tyrol


Outside it’s a dreamy landscape: pines, firs and larches give an abundance of green, in the distance the peaks of the dolomites are snow-capped and in the impossibly cerulean sky, clouds lie low like big tufts of cotton-candy.

My view is of South Tyrol. Where? You may well ask. And you might be surprised to discover that this is a region in the very north of Italy and, unlike the rest of the country, which is overrun by gawping Italophiles and awe-struck tourists, this little enclave seems to have been weirdly overlooked.

I say it is in Italy – and it is – but it is almost as un-Italian as it gets. Perhaps it is because this is an autonomous region (and has been since 1948), or maybe it is because of its geographical location – to the north-east lies Austria, to the north-west is Switzerland. Then there is the language spoken here, although most locals can speak Italian, it seems that German is the favoured tongue, (signs are in both languages), with some stalwarts favouring the local dialect, derived from Latin, called Ladin. While you can find spaghetti carbonara on most menus, you’re more likely to find apple strudel, knodel bread dumplings or Grostl (a local beef cooked with potatoes and onions). The Teutonic influence is widespread across the region, not least in the growing crop of design-influenced hotels cropping up here.

San Luis Resort in Avelengo

From the Vigilius Mountain Resort in Lana to the Alpina Dolomites in Trentino, the area has been an unlikely spot for architects to let loose: ultra-modernity at the forefront of their minds. The latest gem is San Luis, found in its own forest at Avelengo/Hafling, a few miles from Merano.

While my outlook on the world outside is heavenly, inside it’s dark, moody and dramatic. This is an urban-style retreat from the world, hidden away in a 40 hectare alpine park, in the most bucolic setting imaginable, and the juxtaposition of nature and design is stunning. Centered around a clubhouse, which houses the spa, restaurant and tiny cinema, accommodation is in chalets or tree-houses all situated around a shimmering lake.

The all-wood cabins have floor-to-ceiling feature windows to make the most of the views and are rustic-chic in décor. Fancy, carved Austrian chairs and crisp linen window dressings are contrasted with pink-clay walls, French black-pleated wall lights and piles of soft-down cushions and comforters. There’s a cosy kitchen-diner, so you can be as private as you wish, which can be separated off by a wooden door – staff can provide breakfast and other meals without the need for you to even know they are there (a genius touch).

San Luis Resort in Avelengo

The living area, with contemporary fireplace and huge sofa, flows into the bedroom and the bathroom is also open-plan. Your tub is next to your bed so you can seamlessly hop from suds to snooze. Tucked away is a walk-in wardrobe, complete with industrial-style shelving and a slate-clad shower room. Bare floorboards, storm lanterns and full-size organic toiletries in black-glass bottles (including a wonderful massage oil) add a rough-hewn charm. Best of all is your private sauna, accessed via the bathroom area, and open-air hot tub found on your deck.

This is the sort of place that serves guests equally well in summer and winter. Dips in the lake, mountain walks and evenings spent al-fresco by the twinkling lights of lanterns make for idyllic summer memories. While, come colder days, there’s skiing, ice-climbing and Christmas markets to explore – before coming back to roaring fires and comforting food.

On the subject of food, the hotel echoes the region in its penchant for stand-out cuisine (South Tyrol has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the whole of Italy – 23 across 19 restaurants). In the clubhouse, Michelin-starred chef Artuto Spiocchi is at the helm. His inspiration is the abundance of produce found in the nearby valleys, fields and mountainsides and his menus reflect a combination of Alpine flavours and Mediterranean-style dishes, with an emphasis on raw ingredients and simplicity. Expect crisp, uber-fresh salads, tagliatelle with porcini and asparagus risotto with onion confit, goat cheese and chives.

Italy - South Tirol

The barn-style country spa, meanwhile, harnesses the feel-good factor further – black cement walls, crystal chandeliers and trestle tables laden with a mix-match of vintage glasses and Victorian glass domes – give a cocooning feel. Here you can indulge in body massages, with oils infused with local herbs and plant essences, a whole selection of advanced facial treatments or go the whole hog for a bespoke day package. Afterwards, there are crackling fires to doze next to, poolside beds to catch the sun in warmer months or take a dip in the inside-outside pool. It’s the stuff of dreams.

For more information on South Tyrol, visit

Chalets at San Luis start from €250 per night for full board (excluding drinks) per person. San Luis, +39 0473 279570. For more information, visit