It was dark when we arrived at the Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort. Too dark to see the forests and the Dolomite mountains, but we knew they were out there.
In the clear light of morning, we look through our windows and see that we are in story-book-land. The green mountains reach through the clouds, and on the slopes, gingerbread houses painted pink, blue and yellow dot the landscape, vying with the mountain flowers for prettiness.
The breakfast buffet is a sumptuous, vast menu come to life, overseen by charming staff who don’t seem to mind that they have had to wake up early. Eggs made to order, racks of just-baked breads and buns, meats, smoked salmon, pancakes and a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables. From the dining room windows, we see that a fine mist of rain has made everything sparkle, and we can hardly wait to go outside and explore the village of Ortesei.
Breathe. Just breathe. Inhale the crisp mountain air and the fog of jetlag ebbs away. We pass a tiny church in the square that looks like it was the model for a child’s toy village. Cafes and restaurants in pretty wooden houses are as clean as if they all just had a new coat of paint. Of course there is no pollution here. The main industry is woodcarving, from life size figures to tiny adorable apple cheeked urchins and everything in between. One woodcarving boutique intrigues me, and I walk out with a wooden clock carved like a ladybug with moving parts. It makes me smile whenever I look at the time.
At the spa, to begin our program, we take a long circular staircase down, down to the Salt Grotto, the Salt Stone Sauna and subterranean salt lake. In the grotto, we are surrounded by patterns of light, spherical sounds and the interplay of warmth, humidity and natural Himalayan salt. The Dead Sea salt in the lake also helps to cleanse and regenerate our airways and skin. Sitting on a step that goes down into the subterranean salt lake; rubbing my feet on the dome to detox and increase circulation; luxuriating in the ambiance and warmth; I suddenly start to float away on a current of warm salt water!
We do our skin and muscles a favour by indulging in the flower steam bath in the rock grotto. Sabina Valazza, a local artist, hand-painted the tiles in this extraordinary room. We find a special retreat, the Lady Relax area. Bright colours, a rose petal bath of delicate rose fragrance and soft music has an effect that is deeply relaxing. In addition, the warm, humid atmosphere leaves my skin velvety-soft. This is holistic stress management at its ultimate.
Were I so inclined, I could join an enthusiastic group for Mountain Biking, or take advantage of the Mountain Bike School in Ortisei, which offers guided tours and courses. On their return, even those at the mildest level of ability tell me of the stunning turquoise-blue mountain lakes, glowing red peaks, fascinating rock formations and more. A fantastic hiking program has been created for all levels: Forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku, is a recognized treatment in Japan to strengthen the immune system, but the most dramatic is the Full Moon Hiking, where we experience the brilliance of the full moon illuminating the famous Dolomite rock face.
Expert hiking guide, Thaddäus Moroder, takes us for an unforgettable mountain walk at sundown and night. Authenticity prevails, and dinner is served in a traditional Alpine hut. The hike back to the hotel under a beautiful full moon is a magical experience. Dinner in the dining room is white tablecloth, but informal and easy going. Two chefs, one Alpine and one from Southern Italy do not shirk their duty to our appetites. Each evening I find a memorable dish on the menu. Plump pillows of gnocchi, sauced with saffron and tossed with zucchini and mussels is a luscious appetizer. Another day there is crunchy arancini from Palermo. Entrees show off the kitchens skill with meat via veal filet with Dijon mustard, tender lamb shanks with flavourful beer sauce, and traditional grilled steak Fiorentina. The dessert buffet is a daily changing, stunning gathering of goodies. We all like a happy ending.
The essence of the Adler Spa can be distilled into one word leggerezza (lightness) in an ambiance of luxury, but in an accessible way.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.