We prescribe a stay at Forestis, a former sanatorium turned cure-all hideaway with its head in the clouds (at 1,800 metres above sea level) in a particularly scenic patch of the Dolomites. The treatment: an ever-present view of a mighty massif, which can be seen from all the stylishly minimalist rooms; the restorative powers of the mineral-rich waters from the hotel’s spring; lungfuls of fresh mountain air; a temperate climate; and a generous helping of sun-filled days. But Gaia is aided by a spa that takes cues from the original wellness influencers, the ancient Celts, offering sauna sessions with spiritual sounds, druidic meditation, massages with healing woods, a Tyrolean take on yoga and a dip in the indoor-outdoor pool with one hell of a view. The stay operates in Earth-kind ways, serves hyper-local ‘forest cuisine’ and cocktails infused with spruce, larch or pine, served at the world’s highest bar too.
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A half-bottle of regional sparkling wine Bellavista Franciacorta
11am, but flexible, subject to availability and a €110 fee for each guest. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £343.26 (€400), including tax at 23 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.40 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a hearty breakfast of granola; foraged fruits, nuts and seeds; cheeses and meats; bread and local honeys; smoked salmon and trout and more.
On arrival you’ll get a quite literal taste of what to expect as you’re handed a hot towel and a drink made of crystal-clear water from the hotel’s spring mixed with stone-pine syrup. Don’t miss the hotel’s daily kaffee and kuchen, when you’ll find Sachertorte, red-velvet cake, strudel, cheesecake and more under the glass cloches in the lounge.
The hotel will close from 14 November to 2 December in 2021 and from 27 March to 13 April in 2022.
At the hotel
Spa; saunas; two boutiques; lounge; fire-pit-warmed terraces; store for ski equipment; free-to-hire backpacks, walking sticks and snowshoes; e-bikes to hire; free WiFi. In rooms: TV, minibar with free drinks, desk, free WiFi; suites and up have a seating area and view-blessed furnished balcony; Tower Suites have a traditional tiled stove; and the Penthouse has its own private heated pool, sauna, dining area and bar with a wine fridge.
Our favourite rooms
The Penthouse Suite is undeniably the headline act here, with its privileged top-of-the-tower position (hello, Unesco-protected panoramas), private heated pool and spruce-wood sauna, and personal bar where you can muddle up a couple of stone-pine-infused gin and tonics, to enjoy on either your upper or lower terrace before falling asleep to a sparkling mobile of stars laid out across the window wall in your bedroom. But, the hotel’s clever design ensures that even the humblest rooms have a dreamy view and catch the sun. A lot of work went into the hotel’s good looks: take the bathrooms, for example, where Dolomites stone mixed with pigments made using earth from the area is sealed in beeswax to naturally protect it, and the wood lining the walls was made using storm-felled trees.
The large, lap-length pool is on the lower level of the spa and a glazed wall lets the Dolomites show you their range from discrete day-beds. Its filled with natural spring water that leaves you with glowy, mineral-enriched skin. Plus, it’s swim-in, swim-out through a glazed door – when the peaks are icy and there’s a frosty nip in the air, the curlicues of steam rising from the water make an alfresco dip seem all the more inviting.
At 1,800 metres above sea level, you’re on a high by default here, but Forestis’ destination spa can get you even giddier. If you’ve never considered your spirit tree before, now’s the time to start, as many treatments tap into the frequencies and healing properties of local mountain and stone pines, spruce and larch. For example, the pagan-esque forest-tree-circle ceremony, where music mimicking the trees’ acoustics plays as you’re cleansed, scrubbed and lacquered with nutrient-rich serums, before being gently worked over with wooden wands and smooth stones. Alternatively, soak up nature’s goodness with a forest-salt bath or a spruce body scrub. The spa spreads over two levels in one of the towers, both glass-fronted to ensure soothing views. On the lower level is the boutique and private consultation room and up the hotel’s statement staircase – shaped like a spiral fossil found in the mountains – are the treatment rooms (only open to guests with a booking). There’s also a 24-hour gym with top-of-the-range equipment and practices which throwback to the ancient Celtic tribes who roamed the surroundings and apparently invested heavily in self-care; say their version of yoga, called ‘wyda’ and druid-inspired guided meditation. There’s also seven – yes, count them – saunas to steam away in; the shy should note that one is ‘clothing optional’. For a different sort of au naturel, take your bending and stretching or spell of self-reflection under the forest canopy or by a babbling stream.
Leave your vices and bring gear for hiking, stretching and swimming, plus an open mind. And, maybe bring a flask to fill from the tap: what pours out is pure spring water (with an impressive 6.6 PH level, chemistry fans), so you might want some for the road to boost that mineral-rich glow.
Most suites are well set up for wheelchair users.
Dogs are welcome for €30 a night and the hotel will supply a bed, bowl and baggies (and food for an extra charge). There’s one pet in each room and they’re not allowed in the spa or pool area, but there is a special restaurant section for them. See more pet-friendly hotels in Dolomites.
Leave little ones at the foot of the mountains – or with a trusted sitter – this holistic high-altitude stay is for over-14s only.
Forestis has a very harmonious relationship with its surroundings: they duly recycle, laundry is done onsite to reduce their carbon footprint, wood pellets are used as a sustainable heating source, all water is supplied by a pure-as-can-be artesian spring and all food is sourced and foraged locally where possible or brought in from no further than Italy’s borders. The kitchen is zero-waste too, (to the point where they’ve designed their own wooden boxes for deliveries). And, in making the new towers that rise above the original sanatorium, local architect Armin Sader achieved carbon-neutral construction by using all-natural materials from the surrounding area and riffing on the trad Tyrolean style. For every tree felled in the build, two saplings were replanted. And the hotel’s regrowth efforts didn’t stop there: each room has a ‘no housekeeping’ button too – for each day you press it, the hotel will plant a tree to reward you.
Staff have dubbed the banquettes ‘shells’ because their high backs provide a modicum of privacy for more intimate meals. Groups of friends should perch themselves near the glass-walled wine ‘cellar’.
Swap salopettes and spa robes for a svelter silhouette (dirndls, lederhosen and jaunty Alpine felt hats optional).
There are two. A lounge with the hotel’s trademark minimalism (wood-lined walls and floors, seats upholstered in natural textiles) is where the more casual all-day menu is served. But breakfast and dinner are served in the more dramatically designed restaurant downstairs, where white banquettes are arranged amphitheatre-style on tiers to ensure everyone gets an uninterrupted view of the shows that play out over the sawtooth Geislergruppe massif – be it a sunset that casts the peaks in purples and pinks or a thunderstorm that clatters through them like an all-natural son et lumière. Oh, and there’s rather excellent food too. It’s dubbed ‘forest cuisine’ because chef Roland Lamprecht works with what grows in the mountains, nearby farms and in the small kitchen garden. Many ingredients (mushrooms, berries, nuts, seeds, pine) are foraged and pickling jars on display in the dining room show off their preparations for winter. There are no ingredients from outside Italy (sorry, smashed-avo lovers), with the furthest travelled being Sicilian mangoes. There are two menus – a six-course tasting menu and a vegan detox menu – which change daily and show off the locality’s nourishing nature in creative fashion. Expect dishes such as brook trout from the Eisack Valley with bronze fennel, goat-ricotta gnocchi with tomatoes and wild herbs, braised carrot with caraway broth and birch-leaf smoothies. The region’s mezzelune pasta might appear, drizzled with fonduta, too, or you might find pickled pine shoots on the end of your fork.
The hotel’s rooftop drinkery is the highest bar in the world, so you’ll be on a level with the Tyrolean golden eagles that sometimes swoop overhead when it comes to views, while the interior is sultrier than the rest of the hotel, with dark-wood walls and low lighting. If you’ve ever wondered how the ancient Celts got lightly sozzled, Forestis will show you how with gusto. Drinks use herbs, nuts, berries, shrubs, honey, and even bark and fir needles, then draw from eldritch alchemy (well, preserving, drying, reducing into syrups, smoking and pickling) to create four signature cocktails that embody the hotel’s respect for nature and wellness-boosting approach (yes, really). For example, Zirbe (stone pine), might have a measure of whisky, but added pine and beetroot reduces cholesterol; Fichte with spruce, vodka, honey and thyme aids pulmonary diseases; Lärche’s larch, brandy, apple and chilli alleviates skin conditions; and Latschenkiefer, where gin is muddled with stone pine, spinach and lime does wonders for your circulation. It’s our kind of detox, and possibly the only time you’ll leave a night of drinking healthier than when you started.
In the main restaurant, breakfast is served from 7am to 11am and dinner from 7pm till late (last orders 9.30pm). In the all-day eatery, you can dine from 7am till 11pm.
You can dine in-room round the clock. From 7am to 11pm you can choose from the all-day menu (with a €20 charge for delivery), and from 11pm to 7am there’s a smaller edit (and a €50 charge) of toasties, pizza and cheese and charcuterie.
Deep in the Dolomites, close to petite village Palmschoss on a slope of Plose ski resort, at an altitude of 1,800 metres, sits Forestis amid pine trees and frosty peaks.
The closest international airport is Innsbruck, a two-hour drive away, where flights arrive direct from major cities in Europe. But if you’re flying from within Italy, or Berlin, Dusseldorf or Ibiza, you can catch a seasonal SkyAlps flight to Bolzano Airport – a 90-minute drive away. Or, to fit in a little sightseeing and a picturesque drive past Italy’s great lakes and into the mountains, touch down in Verona or Venice (each around a three- to four-hour drive away). On request, the hotel will happily send an eco-friendly Tesla X (for up to five guests) or a minibus (with eight seats) to collect you. Prices vary depending on your pick-up point, from €200 for a one-way trip for two from Innsbruck to €450 from Milan.
Trains from Munich, Milan, Venice, Innsbruck and Verona all arrive direct at the Bressanone/Brixen station in Tyrol’s oldest city, which is a handy 30-minute drive from the hotel. The ride can be as long as three-and-a-half hours, depending on your starting point, but quaint chalet-lined villages, emerald valleys and slopes furry with pines make for diverting scenery. Transfers from the hotel are €55 one-way, for two guests.
You may have to navigate some vertiginous mountain passes (the road from Brixen has a few twists and turns), but having a car may come in handy for independent explorations, although you could easily leave the driving up to the hotel staff and instead take advantage of the hiking, skiing and wild swimming on your doorstep. If you choose to drive, whether you’re coming from north or south, find your way to main artery the A22, which runs from Verona to Innsbruck via Brixen; just turn off on the SP29 for the hotel. There’s free parking 50 metres from the hotel, where you’ll also find ports for charging electric vehicles.
Hum Ride of the Valkyries as you swoop over the mountains and land at Bolzano Airport on a chartered chopper. The hotel can help to arrange high-flying transfers to here and other hubs.
Worth getting out of bed for
A century ago, this former sanatorium was a curative retreat for TB sufferers, and – while its focus has shifted to less life-threatening maladies, say, stress at work, burnout, the lack of immediate cocktails – it’s still dedicated to recharging guests to a hundred per cent. To this end, activities here ensure that you get plenty of the good stuff: Tyrolean sunshine, time outdoors in the year-round temperate climate, breathing in the freshest of mountain air, frolicking in spring water… Outdoorsy pursuits vary by season; the hotel’s on a slope in the Plose ski resort, and from November through to March, ski enthusiasts arrive to zip along 45km of trails, tour on skis or try uphill skiing. Or you can let a pack of huskies do the heavy lifting on a dog-sledding expedition. The hotel is fully ski-in, ski-out; they can point you in the right direction if you need to hire equipment, and they have a room where you can stash your gear pre- and post-piste. Snowshoes are free to hire and the owners’ uncle will lead the charge as you waddle through the snowy surrounds. Guided hikes will take you high into the Geislergruppe massif or gently through the forests, where you may see skittish deer and ibex, and you can ask the hotel to arrange afternoon tea in one of the nearby cottages so you get the live-like-a-local – and maybe make friends with one – experience. Just south of the hotel, Alta Badia’s Puez-Odle park has plenty of Heidi-esque charm and wild swimming is possible at the nearby lakes, or you can take to the skies, paragliding or hot-air ballooning. Communing with nature comes in many forms here – be still and silent amid the verdure while forest bathing; go foraging for mushrooms, berries and nuts with chef Roland; or harness the power of pine and other woods in the spa’s tree-circle ceremony. Or simply admire the zig-zag Dolomites skyline from the heated indoor-outdoor pool. Or pass the time in pagan style with contortions in a ‘wyda’ class (a unique Celtic take on yoga), some druidic meditation, or run through the samhain ritual in one of the hotel’s saunas: a chakra-perking medley of scented infusions and rhythmic drumming.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this nature-and-nurture hotel in South Tyrol and unpacked their ski goggles and jar of foraged pickled mushrooms a full account of their hard-reset break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Forestis in the Dolomites…
Pencil in some serious quality time with Mother Nature by checking in to Forestis. You could easily become besties here at the pine-clad heart of the Unesco-protected Dolomites, whose serrate Geislergruppe massif is visible from every stylishly minimalist wood-lined room. And she puts the hours in, providing the cleanest of air to energise you for hikes or wild swims and send you soundly to sleep; fresh mineral-rich water from an artesian spring above the hotel; a temperate climate where cool winds from the Brenner Pass intermingle with the warm Mediterranean front; and lots of life-affirming sunshine. But, wellness has been the hotel’s MO from the get-go; the original wooden chalet was built by the Austrian monarchy a century ago as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, until it was abandoned during the war and occasionally used as a hideaway for the Vatican’s higher-ups. Skip forward to 2000 and hotelier Alois Hinteregger spied the roof of the historic building through the trees, recognised its geomantic potential and brought it back to life as a luxury holistic hideout. Now in the hands of his son Stefan and daughter-in-law Teresa, it’s in peak condition with the eco-friendly addition of three tree-trunk-aping towers, the world’s highest rooftop bar at 1,800 metres above sea level and a spa that espouses the wisdom of Tyrol’s ancient Celtic tribes, where you can try their version of yoga (or wyda) and schwitz in one of seven saunas as you listen to a soundtrack of tree frequencies. And, when you’re not forest bathing or snowshoeing, the outdoors is very present within, where cocktails are flavoured with spruce or pine, vegetables and fruit are foraged, and the ever-present mountains get bathed in colour as the sun sets. Here it’s nature’s time to shine.