Snow or shine: Why the Italian Dolomites are the ultimate year-round destination

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The beginning of this year was one of the worst winters on record for skiing. I found myself in the French Alps, not reaching for salopettes as planned, but a T-shirt – in January. We only have ourselves to blame, of course, for levels of global warming that give new meaning to the term ‘skiing hotspot’. But the wonderful thing about us humans is our clever knack of adapting. Your usual skiing destination not delivering in the snow department? Indulge in a slower sojourn of hiking, glacier spa retreats or Michelin-starred meals. All of which you’ll find in the breathtaking Italian Dolomites.

Which is where I find myself a few months later, white wine in hand, gazing out at the epic panorama completely enthralled. Ahead of me are stays at two hotels with the best spa facilities in a 100-mile radius. Come snow, come shine, I’ll be prepared for every eventuality.

Up in the clouds at Alpina

The first destination on my itinerary is the Alpina Dolomites Lodge & Spa, where a warm welcome means an invitation to take in the spectacular views from the sun-soaked terrace. The hotel sits on an isolated plateau and everywhere you look, there’s the backdrop of Alpe di Siusi – part of the Val Gardena valley and a gateway to the rest of the Italian Dolomites.

Val Gardena is famed for the Sella Ronda, a 40km loop for seasoned skiers during the winter and cyclists looking for a challenge in the summer. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to achieving a set of sustainable practices, such as reducing traffic, expanding bicycle routes and increasing its use of renewable energy sources.

And as I kick back, small figures scuttle around below me, enjoying the abundant nature and snaking their way to chairlifts. But, right now, I’m not moving a muscle. It’s hard not to look out at the dramatic fingers of rock that protrude from the ground and feel a sense of stillness.

alpina dolomites spa

The natural landscape outside is tastefully hinted at inside, where timber logs decorate hallways and stone, glass and wood seamlessly punctuate the interior design. Even the exterior has been designed in quartzite stone and wood to reflect the rugged beauty of the hotel’s surrounds. The theme continues in my Superior suite, where the bathroom features a forest printed along the wall of the bathtub and the balcony overlooks the panorama outside.

While my first thought on arrival was wine, my second is pasta. This is Italy after all. Lunch can be taken casually at the slope-side Alpina Chalet Restaurant (a good place to meet up with non-skiers halfway through the day) where the gourmet beef burgers or tagliatelle with venison ragout are a treat. If, of course, you don’t get too distracted sipping Aperol spritzes in deck chairs and bathing in unexpected sunshine.

As the moon slowly graces the skies, the Lodge’s Mountain Restaurant & Stuben provides quite the spectacle for dinner. Alongside its a la carte menu, the restaurant serves a buffet that will stop any seasoned skier or cyclist in their tracks. Piled high with dishes to satisfy every craving, it has to be one of the most impressive I’ve ever witnessed. Scallops? Prosciutto crudo? Delicate morsels of seared tuna? You’ve got it.

The menu offers up traditional antipasti, primi and secondi but we get so sucked into the delights of the buffet that we end up having six courses in total. Which doesn’t seem quite so glutinous given my guest and I worked up quite the appetite traversing the colossal landscape (we’ll forget the complimentary warm apple strudel we snaffled for tea). Plates come to our table like painted canvases: think steak tartare washed in a powder of green herbs and dark charcoal tortelli in rich black squid ink and a truffle foam.

The next day, after another extraordinary breakfast buffet (options included full English, endless pastries, delicate Bircher muesli pots and a rainbow of fruits), the only thing left to do is disappear into the Como Shambhala Retreat. A rabbit warren of serenity, there’s a sauna and relaxation area, as well as beauty and treatment rooms and a timetable of yoga and Pilates sessions. Eat your heart out Gwyneth Paltrow. Again, the landscape is brought inside with floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor-outdoor pool from which to gaze up at the mountains.

We emerge late in the afternoon floating around like two fluffy clouds and are greeted by the friendly receptionist who asks if we enjoyed another day of hiking and strenuous physical activity. We sheepishly shake our heads, and he gives a slow, knowing nod. Every guest must succumb to the power of their spa.

Rooms at Alpina Dolomites start from €430 per night on a B&B basis, visit

A family affair at Gardena Grödnerhof

gardena hotel dolomites

A quick half-hour drive, and I’m looking at the Sella Ronda from the angle of the Gardena Grödnerhof hotel, right in the heart of the town Ortisei. Ignoring the motorway that dissects the town, it’s actually very quaint. Little market stalls sell locally-crafted wooden souvenirs and there are plenty of bars from which to wash down a calorific Bombardino egg liqueur.

Once again, I find myself skipping around the spa with childish glee – this one is even bigger. Like Willy Wonka pulling levers and buttons, I move between different room temperatures and unusual spa experiences, my body pleasantly tingling from aromas of eucalyptus and tea tree. A note for prudish Brits like myself: European spa etiquette means no swimwear, just towels. Accordingly, I spend a large portion of my time looking at my toes or the ceiling.

Nonetheless, we spend hours getting lost in this soothing cavern, fuelled by complimentary health juices, teas and nuts. The outdoor jacuzzi offers up views of the Ortisei hillside and its delicately-balanced chalets, while the water beds prove the perfect antidote to fatigued muscles. From steam to sauna, I’ve never felt so revived.

Upstairs, Gardena feels slightly more date, but in a good way. The more intimate style of the family-run team creates a home-from-home atmosphere (albeit with five-star service). Hugo Bernardi’s grandparents founded the hotel back in 1923, and now he and his wife, Cinzia, are putting their stamp on the place. We nosy at pictures of their ancestors on the walls, with new frames added to include their son, Alex, who has grown up in the hotel and follows in their footsteps as a charming and welcoming host.

And there’s a lot to be proud of as a family. The hotel is home to the 12-seat Michelin-starred Anna Stuben restaurant helmed by chef Reimund Brunner. Serving original creations with seasonal ingredients, the restaurant is renowned as one of the best dining destinations in South Tyrol and holds one Michelin star as well as four Gault & Millau toques.

In addition to this, there’s an eponymous restaurant where an equally impressive buffet is on offer (sadly sans scallops). We march ahead with the many other delicacies present and, every morning and evening, they save us the same table. It’s a lovely touch.

It’s a great place for families too. We only discover the kids’ area at the end of the stay, which is probably a good thing, as we would have embarrassed ourselves trying out all the activities. The usual craft corner and dollhouse are somewhat outshone by a ping pong table, table football, Playseat racing simulators and even an indoor climbing wall. It’s a small person’s paradise.

For the adults, there’s just as much entertainment. In the evening, we prop ourselves up at the Art Deco bar, the centrepiece of the hotel which becomes a highly social spot for guests in the evening. We while away many happy hours sipping whisky sours and listening to the soothing vocals of a local guitarist who’s been invited to play.

gardena hotel restaurant

The rest of our downtime is spent in the Wellness Garden suite. The pine interiors feel very traditional and there’s a log fire for when it’s cold and patio doors that open out onto the garden outside for when it’s warm.

But for me, the pièce de resistance, or pezzo forte if you will, of a luxury ski trip here is defined by never once having to lug around our ski equipment. Throughout our entire stay in the Dolomites, I barely have to lift a finger, as an attendant slips my boots on and off, measures them in the boot room and, and then takes them up to the van to be escorted to the chairlift. It’s the same all year round, whether you’re skiing or cycling, the service never slips.

Rooms at Gardena Grödnerhof start from €360 per night on a B&B basis, visit

For advice on skiing, hiking, cycling and more in the Italian Dolomites visit

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