I used to think paradise only came in shades of one colour – blue, blue and bluer … all of it with golden or white sandy edges and a few whitecaps for good measure. But, I’ve recently discovered the calming effect of mountains that tower over 3000 meters high and the liberating knowledge that there really is nothing to do for three days, except spa, spa and more spa. And, it’s winter; an even better reason to hibernate in the wood-panelled walls that surround us in a spacious room at the Adler Balance Spa and Health Residence.
Set on the Italian side of the Dolomites, in the South Tyrol, where Austria and Italy share a border, the Adler is a collection of three, distinctly different properties – all of them virtuous in their own right. The main Adler hotel, geared for families, overlooks Ortisei, a charming, pedestrianized resort town, perfect for after-dinner strolls, and daytime foraging through deli’s well-stocked with local specialties. A walkway connects the main building with the healthier Adler Balance, where we’ve come to switch off and submerge ourselves in spa-land. We could not have come to a better place.
The Adler Balance Spa
The Adler Balance has just 31 rooms, making it feel more like an intimate lodge. About a dozen different types of wellness teas are at one’s disposal in the lounge area, and guests are encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle with low-fat meals served in the dining room. Guest rooms are not an after-thought to the spa areas; instead, they are extensions, with tubs for two, large showers, and balconies offering panoramic views of the mountains.
There are three doctors in residence, providing cosmetic, medical and stress-related treatments. I’m tempted to sample the stress relief, but settle on the commonly accepted forms – facials and massages, rather than the physician-approved.
Given how long the Adler has been around, the sixth generation of the Sanoner family now run it, it’s no wonder the spa staff are the best I’ve ever experienced. My facialist is local (as I suspect most of them are), and I’d imagine the emphasis on skincare is deeply bred in the small town of Ortisei. Sadly, no facial will ever be the same after this one. I am advised which products, from several different brands, will be most suitable for my skin, and whilst my face is absorbing all the good stuff, I am treated to a shoulder and neck massage. I’m not a sucker for products, but Adler’s Red Grape Night Cream is so luscious, I may have to drop a 50 for it. As good as the facial is, the massage delivered by Andrea is even better. I know, it’s only a massage, but if you knew me, you’d understand why getting me to be as chilled out as the Grateful Dead is no small task. Thank you, Andrea.
Ski lifts are a five-minute walk away with gentle trails, but we’re not here to ski, so our days consist of a breakfast of seven different kinds of homemade, fresh bread and buttery, flaky croissants that would put a Parisian baker to shame. Food is sourced locally, as are most of the 300 wines – our favourite is a crisp, smooth Austrian white called FeldMarshall. The morning spread includes a handful of different honeys, and the usual suspects. Snacks are served in the afternoon and dinner, if taken in the main building, is a feast with a large salad/antipasti bar, cheese buffet and tables of desserts, with starters and mains a la carte. In between eating, we rotate from the well-equipped gym, to the Waterworld – essentially a water park for grown-ups. Children are allowed, but there are no slides – no, this is all about thermal, and briny water, and indoor/outdoor heated swimming pools, massaging jets and waterfalls in coves. There is something surreal about swimming in an outdoor, heated pool, staring at the snow-covered mountains above.
Our agenda each day is filled with long visits to Waterworld, where yogurt smoothies, water and fruit are on hand all day, mixed with treatments and trips to special grottoes and baths. We break up our rhythmic routine only to ascend the mountain because we’re feeling guilty – after all, what good is a mountain unless you’re going to go up to the top? A short hike from where the lift drops us, we find the secret gem in the Adler’s crown: the Mountain Lodge. If you were looking for a place to hideaway from the world – this would be it. You are blissfully trapped on the mountain once the lift closes after dark. The lodge is for adults and children over 8 years old. Stargazing is a big activity here – note: there are professional binoculars on tripods on the patio outside. The lodge has its own spa and restaurant.
Eating at the Adler
We return to our spa schedule back down the mountain, where we’re enjoying a mix of the quiet at the Balance property, with the social element of the main building… Breakfasts at Balance, drinks and dinner at the main bar, where we sit outside around a fire pit, and interact as best we can with the mix of Italian, Austrian and German clientele – one of the best things about this place. We, refreshingly, hear no Anglo accents, though staff speaks perfect English.
The only thing preventing us from desperately trying to extend our stay is the knowledge that if we spent one more meal here, our clothes wouldn’t fit. The food is that good – it’d be a shame to come here with any weight-loss goals. Rarely does a place live up to expectations – or even exceed them, but the Adler, with its blend of warm hospitality, efficient service, and generosity has created the perfect environment for stress relief and restoration.
We will back – hopefully, to try the Adler’s recently renovated Thermae spa in Tuscany next.
Fly into Innsbruck (90 minutes’ drive) or Verona (2 hours). The Adler can arrange private transfers.
Tip: We flew into Verona and found it to be a charming city, perfect for a 24-hour stop. The city is compact, walk-able and has specialties like risotto alla’ Amarena, made from the local red wine.