On a mountain high at Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti

By Juliet Herd | 17 Dec 2021 | Travel

Juliet Herd takes a trip to this recently opened gem in the Italian alps for a spectacular getaway above the clouds

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I am sitting in a low-lit Finnish sauna, temperature 70 degrees, humidity 20%, wearing a paper bikini and being instructed by a young man in the art of “sauna stretch” at the Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti in northern Italy. At first, I’m fearful of passing out in the heat as my genial instructor Marco sprinkles essential oils such as Siberian pine, rosemary and peppermint on the burning coals. But I decide to put my trust in him and he takes me through a series of slow and gentle stretches that somehow allow me to maintain my modesty while releasing the tightness in my muscles.

By focusing solely on the exercises, I find my senses are heightened as I breathe in the smorgasbord of fragrances, designed to help expel toxins from the body – and mind. Afterwards, I lie wrapped in a towel on the cool grass outside, watching a vivid pink sunset drift across the valley and listening to the soothing sound of sheep bells from a neighbouring farm.

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This one simple activity embodies the ethos of this luxury wellness eco-resort – delivering exactly what it sets out to achieve: space, nature, silence and time for oneself. It may sound cheesy, but I really do experience a “rebirth” of my jaded city senses, as promised in the brochure.

Surrounded by the majestic Brenta Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and located within Trentino-Alto Adige’s famous Madonna di Campiglio ski area, the five-star Lefay Resort & Spa is an impressive proposition even by the most luxe of standards. Rising like a giant modern chalet above the town of Pinzolo, the central building represents the iconic “diamond” shape of the Dolomites, with wings either side made out of local larch wood and fir, housing 88 beautifully proportioned balconied suites.

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Here, environmental wellness is as key as the personal kind – architecturally integrated into the surrounding countryside, the resort, which opened in 2019, is a leader in the use of renewable green energy and latest-generation technologies designed to reduce energy and water consumption. As with its sister property, Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda at Lake Garda, it offers guests a completely CO2 free experience. Certified by both the prestigious ClimaHotel and Green Globe sustainable tourism programmes, it offsets 100% of its annual emissions through the purchase of carbon credits (in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol). 

The 5000sqm destination spa, one of the largest in the Alps, is the undisputed jewel in the crown. The sheer scale of it is mind-blowing enough but the philosophy behind it and the meticulous layout takes this award-winning super spa to a whole other level. Based on the original Lefay Spa method, a blend of classical Chinese medicine and Western science, the sauna space is divided into five circuits, each offering different types of saunas, materials, phytotherapy and aromatherapy.

You start your personal “energy-therapeutic path” with a 15-minute wallow in a light-flooded whirlpool enriched with magnesium salts. From this central point, you can choose one of the four seasonal zones, each linked to different body organs and designed to help restore individual Yin/Yang balance and energy levels.

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For example, the bio-sauna Green Dragon zone represents spring with a focus on the liver and on relieving restlessness and anger while the Finnish sauna Red Phoenix embodies summer with the heart as the target organ to help release the flow of energy from the chest to the surface. Then there’s the steam bath White Tiger, which represents autumn and puts the focus on the lungs and reducing inflammation and sadness, and finally, winter zone Black Tortoise, designed to shift kidney blockages, which can cause lower back pain and lead to feelings of inadequacy and fear. 

It may all sound a bit New Age but it’s surprising how quickly you adapt to the rhythms of this seductive circuit; you literally go with the flow, whether floating in the Black Tortoise’s salt-water lake or admiring the breath-taking scenery from the panoramic Finnish sauna. The idea is to follow a bespoke programme, which will take you from your chosen sauna to the 22-room treatment floor for either a signature massage tailored specifically to your energy requirements, a vigorous body scrub or wrap, or nourishing facial using the Lefay alpine skincare range.

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Each of the four wellness levels has its own relaxation hub with panoramic mountain views and a series of impressive pools: in addition to the large central whirlpool, there’s a vast indoor-outdoor heated pool and an indoor adults-only sports pool made from local tonalite stone. The 24-hour fitness centre follows the same holistic approach, offering free group classes in yoga, Pilates, meridian stretching and something called Qi Gong, an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique involving meditation, controlled breathing and gentle movement. I can report it leaves you feeling very zen.

The respect for nature and eco-sustainability is also reflected in the resort’s interior design, incorporating local materials such as oak flooring and chestnut furnishings as well as Italian natural leathers and wools. Only chemical-free water paints have been used on the walls. The vibe is sophisticated yet cosy with open fires and soft lighting in the lounge areas and floor-to-ceiling glass walls affording uninterrupted views. The suites are similarly stylish, featuring wall mounted electric fires and glass-encased bathrooms with free-standing bath, from which to soak up the spectacular scenery. For 6000 euros per night, you can book the 430sqm royal pool and spa suite, which boasts an indoor and outdoor whirlpool, two saunas and private treatment zone. 

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As tempting as it is to linger all day in the resort, there is, of course, an alpine playground waiting to be explored outside. Visiting in autumn when the mountains are a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colour, our group takes advantage of the mild weather to embark on a leisurely guided hike through the Adamello-Brenta geopark, a protected natural park rich in flora, fauna, alpine lakes, waterfalls and forests.

Signs alert you to the presence of the park’s famous brown bears, reintroduced to the area in 1996, but despite our best efforts, we fail to spot one. Our two-hour hike ends with lunch at the charming Chalet Fogajard (www.chaletfogajard.it), which specialises in products from the Trentino area, and we feast on delicious ricotta cheese flan, cannelloni with cabbage salad and salted beef. The menu changes daily and features just five well-crafted seasonal dishes. 

There are more than 400km of intertwined paths within the park, of different levels of difficulty, and the resort has teamed up with the local tourist board to offer specially designed itineraries, such as guided meditation, barefoot walking, tree hugging, yoga and breathing activities along eight of the routes.

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In summer, mountain bike enthusiasts descend in droves – there are 24 extensive tracks – while in winter, skiers can explore more than 150km of slopes, including four snowboard parks, covered by a single ski pass. You can hire equipment and buy your passes from the resort’s ski shop, and there are free private transfers to and from Pinzolo’s ski lifts. Other winter activities organised through the concierge team include snow hiking, horse riding, cross-country skiing, paragliding, dog-sledding and snowshoe excursions.

A different kind of expedition is the extraordinary culinary one enacted nightly at the Lefay fine dining restaurant, Grual, which is also open to non-residents. Devised as an altimetric experience by chef Matteo Maenza, the 12-course tasting menu pays homage to the Trentino region by literally taking you on a gastronomic “walk in the mountains” – where every ingredient is linked to a specific altitude. The journey starts on the valley floor with ingredients such as red turnips and whitefish, then moves to the alpine pastures with wild herbs, apple and brown trout, and finally, reaches the high peaks with Artic char and roe deer. 

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Our menu included melt-in-the mouth mountain potatoes, spontaneous herb pesto and rosehip ketchup; red turnip dumplings, smoked ricotta and white goosefoot; Artic char, Trentino bread puree and wild broccoli; saddle of roe deer, polypodium, and wild blackberries, and an “undergrowth” dessert of walnut emulsion, chocolate mousse, blackberry compote and mountain pepper ice cream. The exquisite flavours, evocative smells and sheer visual poetry of the dishes instantly conjure mountain streams, woodland and pastures. 

Fittingly, the restaurant décor also resembles an enchanted forest complete with real trees. “Having dinner here means awakening the palate while learning the names and types of fauna and flora from the local landscape,” says Maenza, whose regular rambles inspire his menus. I predict it’s only a matter of time before the Michelin inspectors will be paying Grual a visit and awarding it a well-deserved star or two.

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For everyday dining, there’s the spacious Dolomia restaurant, which combines traditional recipes with contemporary flavours. The Caesar salads, caprese with cherry tomato and burrata cheese, and spaghetti with zucchini and parsley pesto with garlic and confit tomatoes hit the spot every time!

If you get the chance, take a stroll into Pinzolo to visit historic family-run Alimentari Caola delicatessen, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of olive oils, mountain cheeses, dried meats, jams, honey, wines and grape spirits – and make sure you take a little taste of this captivating region home with you.