At the end of an epic race along Italian roads, we spot the cable car: it’s the only way to reach our mountaintop retreat. I’m reminded of classic war flick Where Eagles Dare, only I don’t think Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood arrived at their mountain destination in a Punto. They didn’t have accommodation like this, either. Every window of our contemporary cabin frames another spectacular view of velvety mountains. Where land and sky meet, the awesome Dolomites rise. Muscles unknot, features relax, voices hush.
The Vigilius Mountain Resort hotel in the South Tyrol is totally tuned-in. It has not been plonked onto the landscape; it nestles there. In fact, Vigilius fits in better than most of the traditional dwellings scattered about these parts. Sleek wooden beams two storeys high stretch horizontally for several hundred metres. At one end, the structure encloses a hillock from which sprouts a cluster of firs, giving the impression of a green monument. The other end is stopped by ‘culinariums’ (that’s ‘restaurant areas’ to us). Plenty more gorgeous wood forms an almost traditional chalet, topped off by a glass treehouse.
No doubt creator Matteo Thun would take exception to such vulgar descriptions. He’s a classically trained artist who can apparently turn his hand to anything he chooses. Vigilius is so beautifully functional and quietly inspiring that it’s hard to believe it was one of his first architectural projects.
We’re greeted very personably in a wide, loungey reception. This area doubles as a place to stretch out and flick though glossies. Mrs Smith is keen to try a cowhide sofa the size of an ocean liner. ‘No rush, take your time,’ seems to be the Vigilius way, but I’m eager to take the tour.
Our eyes are immediately drawn up to the glass ceilings as we’re led along the museum-like corridors. We pass by a split-level library that transforms into a screening room come nightfall. We marvel at the frankly enormous lightshades (seriously, each one is the size of our Fiat) and ask what’s showing tonight. ‘Whatever the guests want,’ we’re told. A few steps away is the sunken piazza. Smart, comfortable, designer furniture surrounds a fire that looks like a special effect. As in all areas of Vigilius, the views are exceptional. The glass wall also accesses a big, private verandah. There’s no bar as such, but a wooden cocktail menu has been left to entice, and staff are always around to take an order.
No time for indulging right now – we’re determined to cut to the chase. Behind a big wooden door lies our generously sized ‘living area’, which we find superbly user-friendly and totally relaxing. Open-plan, but cleverly divided with various partitions and simple, functional furniture, it’s very design-mag without being cold or uninviting. Almost everything is in birch, brushed and soaped to accentuate colour and grain. Slipping out of our shoes, we run and slide over the beautiful floorboards – it’s like a natural foot massage.
There are no pictures in our room (or anywhere else in the hotel for that matter); the art is provided by Vigilius’ stunning setting. A ruby-hued modern sofa, ripe for resting weary limbs, and a medicinally comfortable bed face another wall of glass. Our eyes are treated to the sight of a small meadow giving way to a forest of Alpine neatness, framed by bright-blue sky and the mountains, miles away, in perfect focus.
So, what’s there to do at 1,500 feet? We soar and get sore. Having missed out on archery owing to our delayed arrival (note to Mrs Smith: satnav in the future, please) we are anxious to get some serious action under our belts. Stage one consists of jumping off our mountain strapped to some charming locals. Paragliding around these parts is a breeze, with plenty of locations to choose from. And it provides more of those mind-boggling views. Our flights take off a short trek from Vigilius, and turn out to be as comfortable as floating about in a favourite armchair.
After barely a panini break in a local café, we’re off to stage two: riding on a couple of Norwegian/Arabic-cross horses. What a way to see the mountains. Our posse crosses rocky rivers and steeply banked streams, picks its way through paths covered with fallen trees, and jumps the occasional boulder. Hushed fir forests give way to winding mountain paths and reach into previously inaccessible villages. Fabulous! But three hours in the saddle takes its toll. We work up some serious muscle aches with which to challenge the staff at the Vigilius spa.
If you’re not fussed about treatments, Vigilius also offers infinity pools, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms, all with incredible views as standard. A devoted follower of pampering, Mr Smith makes a beeline for watsu: pool-based shiatsu, involving a fair amount of floating and a few pressure points. Mrs Smith stews in a fresh-hay bath that calls for a little more mettle. Toxins are purged as the temperature rockets.
The last of our stresses and strains are serviced in the culinarium. Three amuse-bouches are followed by a delicate pig’s head salad and ravioli of radicchio. Finally, sea bass with broad beans and saddle of venison with bitter chocolate and cherries work their way into our adventure. All washed down with lashings of delicious Südtirol Riesling.
On departure day, running late for our flight, Vigilius staff eyebrows are raised as we seek direction on how to travel 300 kilometres in under two-and-a-half hours. Our action-film adventure isn't over yet.