Dolomites and Bressanone

Diane Priestley experiences one of Europe’s best-kept secrets; the blissful mountain retreat at Adler Spa Resort in Val Gardena.
Dolomites Adler Spa

“Sporting my new swimsuit, I glide into the warm embrace of exquisite luxury. Glancing up, I’m awe-struck. The tranquil indoor and outdoor pools of liquid velvet are surrounded by the magnificent mountain range of the Dolomites; spectacular but also comforting. The dramatic snow-capped peaks seem to affectionately cradle the quaint little village of Ortisei in Val Gardena in this northern Italy paradise.”

Here I am at the five-star Adler Spa Resort transported into the arms of pure indulgence by a quick flight out of Gatwick to Verona and a pleasant taxi drive through verdant countryside to this heaven on earth.

I’m travelling with an interesting group, Sue and Bethan, the capable PR gals who have organised the jaunt and fellow journalists, Briony, a seasoned traveller and skier, lovely Lucy, fit and slim with a mop of blonde curls and Rob, who’s in training for a charity challenge, cycling 300 miles from London to Paris. I’m the only unfit one daunted by the strenuous mountain hike planned for tomorrow. I’d love to stay here gliding around the pool and staring at the view but adventure calls!

But first there’s the serious business of sampling the gourmet food! We meet the delightful Alessandra who shows us around the resort. The exclusive Adler Balance, offering a vast range of medical assessments and natural health treatments, is connected by a beautiful underground corridor to the luxurious Adler Dolomiti; the largest wellness facility in the Dolomites. It has three distinct zones: Dolasilla for beauty & vitality, Aguana where the pools, including thermals are located, and AdlerFit for sport & fitness.

ladies sauna - whirlpool

The private Ladies’ Sauna is set in an opulent Arabian-style relaxation dome permeated with the delicate scent of roses while deep underground, the mysterious grottos, salt lake and whirlpool and aromatic saunas offer guests blissful sensory pampering.

The Adler Spa Resorts have been owned and lovingly operated by seven generations of the Sanoner family for 200 years, dedicated to top quality, beautiful and innovative facilities and gentle, natural health care. 

Ah yes, the irresistible food! We meet around the buffet of freshly baked apple strudel and delectable desserts for afternoon tea on the terrace, as we chat and watch the activity in the village streets below.

Back in my spacious natural timber room, I sprawl on the massive bed. There’s a comfy sofa, desk, elegant bathroom with huge shower and even an automatic light in the toilet (which turned out to be very handy when stumbling around in the dark) and of course the omnipresent breathtaking view of lush meadows dotted by immaculate farmhouses with the Dolomites backdrop against a vivid blue sky.

Ortisei, South Tyrol

The peaceful village of Ortisei has around 5000 residents and 5000 visitor beds so the ratio of locals and tourists is kept in balance to ensure an undisrupted, genteel lifestyle. Set in South Tyrol, this glorious haven boasts a fascinating mixture of German and Italian culture.

Historically the region was part of Austria then became part of northern Italy after the First World War. Locals speak both German and Italian and keep alive the traditional language of Ladin. The rich cuisine draws from both cultures using the fresh ingredients of local farmers; nutritious herbs and vegetables and dairy foods from contented cows grazing in alpine meadows.

I get to savour the fresh, creamy dairy in the gourmet banquet prepared by a dedicated team of highly-trained chefs. We reconvene for dinner at 7.30 in the sophisticated dining room with impeccably dressed and attentive waiters. As a vegetarian, I savour the local delicacy of forest mushrooms and chestnut soup (to die for), homemade pasta, spiced vegetables and tofu. My companions enjoy superbly cooked fish and meat dishes that melt in the mouth. The desserts are sublime. We all stagger off to our beds with full bellies ready to face tomorrow’s ascent into the mighty Dolomites.

Dolomite mountains

Exploring the Top of the World

Hubi is a man clearly happy with his life. Our cheerful guide has been hiking his beloved mountains since he was a curious boy and adventurous adolescent and knows them intimately; the explosions of colour at sunrise and awe-inspiring sunsets and through seasonal changes draped in pristine snow and valleys dressed in shimmering green. At 68, Hubi’s enthusiasm for his daily hikes with tourists has not diminished. He loves his mountain home with an irresistible passion and enviable sense of belonging.

We climb aboard the shiny red capsule to go soaring above the treetops and up the mountain slope to the first plateau. As we gaze across the panoramic vista, Hubi explains that the towering Dolomites are made of fossilised coral. In winter, the treacherous peaks provide adrenalin-fuelled exhilaration for skilful skiers while the gentle slopes and vast fields of soft snow unleash endless fun for all ages and abilities.

While a favourite ski resort for an annual influx of Germans and Italians, the world-class alpine resort is a best-kept secret from British holidaymakers (or it was until I spilled the beans!) And during summer the natural playground is a magnet for keen cyclists and hikers.

Hubi cracks the whip and we set off on the first leg of our hike, “just a short walk” he says, smiling and 20 minutes later we arrive, sweaty and puffing, at the glorious new Adler Mountain Lodge, which only opened last year.

Adler mountain lodge
Adler Mountain Lodge

Adler Mountain Lodge

Our intrepid Rob opts for a mountaintop bike ride while two athletic Italians and a petite German lady, Lena join our group for the dizzy ascent to the ultimate lookout. We’re driven to the chairlift and swaying mid-air I start to feel queasy and Hubi tells me that weird sensation is altitude sickness!

We hike the craggy paths, coming across herds of pretty tan and white cows grazing on lush pasture and a tame Palomino, glistening in the sunshine eager for a pat and photo session! As we climb higher and higher my heart pounds and I’m gasping for breath. The fit hikers show mercy and slow down until I recover and we trek onward and upward finally arriving at Puflatsch Umrundung, with a majestic view that stretches from Austria to the north, Switzerland to the west and Italy to the south! The reward was worth the exertion! This is just glorious and such a rare privilege! Hubi says this is the very heart of the Dolomites and we proudly take a group photo with the Adler flag!

Ah but now there’s the descent! Hubi coaxes me, saying it will be “easy”, however on the steep downhill slope my confused calf muscles are burning, my feet throbbing and my head spinning by the time we reach the welcome respite of the Adler Mountain Lodge.

Over a delicious lunch chatting with Lena I discover she is an emergency heart surgeon so I was certainly in the right company for my challenging lofty hike!

We are treated to a guided tour of the luxurious lodge with 18 impressive rooms and 12 superb chalets surrounded by infinity pools and pampering facilities perfectly located amongst magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site scenery where you could gaze at the mesmerising mountains forever.

Sadly we must leave for another one of Hubi’s “short walks” back to the Mont Seuc cable car. Thankfully, Briony coaches me through my mental and physical exhaustion with deep breathing and incremental goals to reach each next tree until I finally flop in the red bubble for the return trip down the mountain to Ortisei and the promise of a well-earned full-body massage!

Ah bliss! The fragrance of the aromatherapy oils and gentle touch of the masseuse is heaven-sent and that evening we share hiking stories over exotic cocktails on the terrace before indulging in another exquisite meal fit for royalty! (Tough job but someone has to do it!)


Discovering Cheese and Wine and the Culture of Bressanone

Saturday morning I dress bravely in a summer dress with bare legs and sandals to tour the cultural attractions of the charming city of Bressanone with the delightful Deborah from South Tyrol Tourism

Arriving early, we huddle together outside the forbidding grey concrete bunker, which was ingeniously converted post-war into a cheese storage facility. The gloomy, chilly sky starts to spit rain and I’m regretting my choice of flimsy clothing.

Rob, a former choirboy, refuses to sing us a song to pass the time but finally Josef, the Cheese Maker, arrives in his trusty little car with his dainty little dog. A lanky man with a thick moustache and no English, Josef hands us hairnets and shoe covers before we enter the bunker, giggling in our quirky attire!

Phew! Our nostrils are assaulted with the pungent odour of thousands of blocks of cheese maturing on shelves in the dank recesses of this unlikely tourist attraction. Deborah translates Josef’s explanations of the fermenting process, which can take up to three years and how he meticulously turns each cheese three times a day! Such dedication gives us a genuine appreciation of the art of proper cheese making!

Sampling the wares of speciality cheese boutique Degust

And now for the yummy part! We visit Degust speciality cheese shop in the fancy little village of Varna and young Martin turns on an appetising cheese tasting explaining the subtle flavours of each cheese to accompany the light fruity white wine. I purchase a creamy pear-sweetened camembert to take home to share with my husband, Andrew.

By mid-day the grinning sun has burst through grey clouds and turned the sky to baby blue, with whimsical cotton wool clouds dancing across the mountaintops. Standing on the terrace at the vibrant Kofererhof restaurant, I savour the perfection of this idyllic scene, stunned by the beauty of the neat rows of leafy grape vines nestled within emerald hills.

We are served a hearty lunch. As I devour my delicious homemade gnocchi, we chat with handsome Werner who has joined us to talk tourism. Like other locals we’ve met, he is immensely proud of this bountiful region and explains that the preservation of the traditional rural industries rests on keeping eco-friendly tourism flourishing.

The region needs loyal returning visitors and is keen to attract new British first-timers to discover the joys of this blessed region with its culinary and cultural delights of musical festivals and unsurpassed outdoor activities including glorious skiing in winter and thrilling mountain biking events throughout the summer. 

The beautiful baroque Abbey of Novacella

Historic Bressanone

Next stop is the Abbey of Novacella, a monastery and wine growing estate founded in 1142 with 85 hectares of elevated vineyards. Our debonair host Andreas greets us for a tour of this impressive Augustine sanctuary. Inside the Bavarian Baroque-style church the towering walls and ceilings are adorned with joyous paintings, celebrating redemption (not sombre depictions of Christ’s suffering) while outside, the placid green hills are graced with tidy rows of hand-nurtured vines. The immaculate winemaking complex sparkles with the latest equipment, where 700,000 bottles of unique wines are produced annually.

Andreas is a retired architect from Germany who migrated to the gorgeous region in Northern Italy, a long-held dream, to embrace his passion for culture and fine wines. He treats us to an enthralling wine tasting. This is my first experience of learning how to appreciate wine with all the senses! The selection of intricate white wines delight in every way with Andreas’ eloquent descriptions of the elixir with subtle notes of peaches, lychees and cloves.

Already well-sated, we pile in the car and head for the historic city of Bressanone (also called Brixen) with flamboyant tour guide Luciano who shows us the charming Baroque buildings, the medieval cathedral and former Bishop’s palatial residence, now a fascinating museum.

We stroll the sunny laneways amongst trendy boutiques, cafes and markets before settling in for an exquisite cuisine at the stylish Vinoteca Vitis part of the Finsterwirt exclusive restaurants. I chose the tantalising Vegetable Tartare followed by a heavenly dessert of fresh mango and chocolate mousse. Such gourmandising has left us all buzzing on the drive back to Ortisei for our final night in the lap of luxury.

Sunday morning before a scrumptious breakfast, there’s time for a relaxing float in the crystal salt dome with soothing underwater music! How can I go back to my mundane life!

We travel in comfort in a Mercedes Benz taxi van to Verona Airport for the return flight to London and then, for me, a reflective slow train home to Kent, with my belly and heart full of European splendours.

Dolomites and Bressanon facts


Rooms at Adler Balance start from Euros 518 per person sharing a double room for a weekend break (Thursday to Saturday inclusive) and include ADLER BALANCE vitality cuisine, «AGUANA» water world, ADLER FIT, sports and leisure programme, underground car parking and all other ADLER inclusive services, such as daily guided hiking and biking tours. Book online at

Getting there

BA, easyjet and Monarch from London Gatwick to Verona, on a daily basis, fares start from £100, then a private transfer, hire car or public transport (train & bus) to Ortisei; easyjet from London Gatwick to Innsbruck, certain days per week, fares start from £100, then a private (75-minute) transfer or hire car to Ortisei.

Last modified: June 9, 2021

Written by 12:01 pm Europe