From the mountains of the Dolomites to the canals of Venice, Italy’s remarkable variety of landscapes never ceases to stun. Charlotte Flach hikes, bikes, rails and sails her way across a twin-centre trip guaranteed to please both nature lovers and culture vultures.
A Mountain To City Italian Adventure
Review: Granbaita Hotel, The Dolomites
Nestled in the centre of the tiny village of Selva di Val Gardena, with prime positioning beside the Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage site, Granbaita is instantly captivating. Owned by a local family, the Puntscher-Perathoner’s, their personal touch is evident from the outset.
Entering the lobby, its glass, wood and stone interiors are both cosy and stylish, evoking the sense of a lavish family home. Staff are decked out in traditional dress, and on chillier days a fire crackles in the opulent velvet-bedecked bar area.
Nods to nature are embedded in the design of the rooms and suites, with natural materials and colour palettes. I stayed in a generously-sized Superior Room, with smooth wooden panelling, luxurious forest green soft furnishings, and a rain-like shower. To complete the immersion in nature, a large balcony looks out onto the picturesque landscape and town, ideal for taking in the crisp mountain air with your morning coffee.
Early starts are the done thing, with adventure tours heading out at 9am sharp. The mountains are a veritable playground for sports and outdoor enthusiasts, offering up hikes rewarded with verdant vistas for miles; e-bike adventures along rocky trails and meadows dotted with cows; and dreamy long lunches in alpine huts surrounded by a landscape reminiscent of The Sound of Music.
As much as mornings are for working up a sweat, the afternoons are reserved for sweating out toxins. Referring to the best spa you’ve been to is a bold claim, but the Savinela Spa is a strong contender.
Clearly a labour of love for the hotel owners, everything from its multitude of steam rooms and saunas to the beautiful carved wood details, emanates quality. I start with the Finnish sauna, moving on to the aromatic Turkish bath, then try the novelty of the hay sauna, finishing with the exhilarating snow shower.
Luxuriating in either the indoor or outdoor jacuzzi afterwards is a real treat, but the piece de resistance is the pool. As you swim through the ‘window’ separating the indoor and outdoor pool, the tranquillity of the magnificent picture postcard backdrop captures you in frame.
Not to be missed are the standout treatments. Try the water bed, where a therapist covers you in moisturiser, wraps you in clingfilm, then leaves you to ‘float’ in the warm, womblike inflatable. This is followed by a full body massage, teasing out the aches and pains from your morning exertions.
The food in Granbaita’s main eatery comes with unbeatable views of the mountains through its uninterrupted full length windows. In the evenings, the sunlight reflects off the crevices of the Dolomites, casting ripples of pink light on their surface.
Tyrolean food is an eclectic mix of the best of numerous regional cuisines, thanks to its intersection across several different countries. Hearty dumplings, luxuriant game meats and Austrian ‘spaetzle’, join mouth-watering pastas and risotto. For something unusual, the speciality hay soup is an absolute must-try.
A separate gourmet restaurant ups the ante, with a six-course tasting menu, which can be paired with unique Alpine or international wines. The dishes all have fun, themed names such as ‘Flowers’, ‘Escape’ and ‘Rave’, alluding to the nature of the meal. Everything from lobster to American bison, from nettle ravioli to moray eel, can be sampled.
Seven tables offer an exclusive experience, and mean the service is highly personalised. I struggle to choose between the six different types of olive oil and butter that are offered to me, so I opt to try them all.
JW Marriott, Venice
An older Italian lady once told me that the ultimate – no, the only – way to arrive in Venice is by train. As I press my face against the glass of the window, I finally understand why. The city appears to rise up out of the depths of the sea, the beautiful asymmetry and bright colours of the Venetian buildings offering a beacon among the turbulent, dark waves. Rushing towards them, the marvel of a city built on the bed of the sea hits home.
A magnificent city deserves a magnificent stay, and the JW Marriott is more than up to the task. Located on its own private island, Isola delle Rose, and set away from the bustle of the main islands, we arrive in style by water taxi, passing underneath the building and into a small submerged dock.
The hotel’s atmosphere is immediately buzzy, with a mixture of luxury and independent boutiques lining the main corridor, selling everything from handmade, one-off swimsuits to lovingly-crafted, regional glassware.
I stayed in one of the Deluxe Guest Rooms, with a soothing white and grey colour palette. Although minimalist in design, it includes all the home comforts, such as a tea and coffee station; vanity table; walk-in wardrobe, and large bathroom with both a shower and bath. Black and white photographs of the famous and the beautiful add a sophisticated design touch.
Several hundred years ago, the island served as a hospital for those with respiratory diseases, which means the resort is filled with olive trees which were believed to purify the air. The lush gardens and wellness concept have been maintained in the present day, particularly through the hotel’s spa experience.
The Spa by Night concept takes guests through a holistic wellness journey. Begin with a bio-sauna and hammam, followed by a dip in the vitality pool. This is then followed by a short but vigorous yoga session either on the lawn or in a converted chapel, weather dependent. After this, a pampering treatment is in order. I sample the signature BAKEL facial which leaves me glowing for weeks afterwards. Lastly, a sound healing session guarantees a restful night’s sleep.
Culinary geniuses – or novices – can join a cooking session at the Sapori cooking academy, led by a resident chef who can instruct on whipping up Italian favourites such as risotto. For sunbathing with views for days, the rooftop pool is great for cooling off and admiring Venice from a distance, also offering an overview of the resort from a bird’s eye perspective.
And of course there’s plenty to see and do in Venice itself. Start with a city tour led by a local guide, who will be more than willing to share lesser-known facts and reveal some of the city’s most interesting history.
Italy is of course famed internationally for its food, and the in-resort restaurants don’t disappoint. There are a number to choose from, including the Sagra rooftop which is ideal for a leisurely lunch, drinks by the pool, or a coffee. Note that asking for a cappuccino after 11am is not the done thing in Italy!
The Dispensa Delicatessen stocks a range of top notch delicacies and snacks, which can be taken home as mementos or bought as picnic items for the resort’s Chic-nic concept.
The most exclusive location for dinner is Agli Amici Dopolavoro Venezia, which attracts visitors from all over Venice and is considered a special treat among the Venetians. Expect inspired works of art created by Michelin Starred Chef Emanuele Scarello, paired with wines chosen by his sister, and sommelier, Michela.
The two tasting menus – Menu LagunAmare and Menu Rose Garden – are themed around seafood and the restaurant’s vegetable garden, respectively. Delightful morsels from the lagoon such as amberjack, cuttlefish and jellyfish join plant-based creations featuring seaweeds, rose rice and organic egg.
THE FINAL WORD
With nature, culture, cuisine and relaxation in abundance, Italy is a first class destination for pairing the countryside with the city. And to see some of the country’s best destinations in the lap of luxury, you could do far worse than pairing two of its best five-star hotel experiences.
- Rooms at JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa start from £470 per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
- Rooms at Hotel Granbaita start from £130 per person per night on a bed and breakfast basis.