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Graced with fresh air, wow views and scenic mountains, Val Gardena isn’t just an active holiday destination for cycling, climbing and Nordic walks. The South Tyrol also boasts a quirky spa featuring alpine ingredients. Annabelle Hood went to see for herself. I’m fortunate to have had a number of...

A Charming Tyrolean Time Warp

Graced with fresh air, wow views and scenic mountains, Val Gardena isn’t just an active holiday destination for cycling, climbing and Nordic walks. The South Tyrol also boasts a quirky spa featuring alpine ingredients. Annabelle Hood went to see for herself.

I’m fortunate to have had a number of back massages over the years, but there are only a handful that are memorable, such as my short but sweet half hour massage at the Anais Beauty Farm in the basement of the Hotel Gardena Grödnerhof. The gourmet alpine hotel and spa is not just any Relais & Chateaux member, but the winner of the ‘Relais & Chateaux Spa of 2011’ award.My treatment left me with lasting physical benefits for some time after I’d left the treatment room and pondering the theoretical advice of my young therapist (who can’t have been older than 20, but what knowledge!) for some time afterwards too. Not only did she listen and adapt her massage technique accordingly (gold-dust to have a therapist who asks if the pressure is okay then actually adjusts it to suit), but what really blew me away was having five minutes of reflexology as part of a customized treatment.

When questioned, she knew every reflexology point in the foot that she was pressing. A squeeze here revealed neck stiffness, a press there, a grumble in the lower intestines. Clever stuff, because what reflexology does is to reveal potential health problems and then help kick-start the healing process in that organ or area of the body. While reflexology doesn’t replace conventional medical treatment, my grandmother lived to 97 and swore by it.

You’d expect this level of service, which incorporated a reflexology theory lesson (which the therapist gave in response to my fascination) to be beyond the scope of 30-minute treatment. But it wasn’t and represents the great added value that sets this kind of spa apart from the masses. This is also the difference between a ten-a penny therapist who follows by the book and an intelligently adaptive head therapist-in-the-making.

I wish I could tell you about the intriguing-sounding Goat Butter Bath or the spa’s unusual indigenous South Tyrol Apple Bath, but unfortunately we were told that no therapists were available to administer these. More’s the pity, as goat’s milk and butter and apples are indigenous ingredients to the South Dolomites area and are not only used in spa treatments but also in the local Tyrolean cuisine.

Other unique options on the extensive spa menu included the traditional alpine soft-pack Hay Bath and a host of impressive Ayurvedic treatments, from traditional Shirodara to Keralan foot massages and Thalam – a massage in which a mix of medicated powder and oil is applied to the head.

I’d be fibbing, if I said this was a state-of the art hotel – it was pretty dated throughout, from its spa décor, to its rooms and public areas – though not in an overtly terrible way, just in an older client kind of way. The spa had originally piqued my interest, having scooped the Relais & Chateaux Spa award. On first impression, I couldn’t think why it was worthy of such an accolade – until I’d experienced this fantastic massage. But things became clearer when I was relaxing post treatment.

Rather than slope back to the indoor pool or to my room, I decided to explore an intriguing flight of stairs leading down from the spa in the basement. Could this be a part of the spa I’d missed? To my delight, the staircase led me down to the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of the spa’s wet area, set in an enchanting ‘spa village’ with a small cluster of South Tyrolean huts housing a sauna here and a steam room there, decorated with flowerpots and cowbells.

Gardena Grödnerhof Spa by Mario Rabensteiner, courtesy Relais & Chateaux.

Such eccentricity could only really happen in the Tyrol, yet it worked delightfully. Bright window boxes of geraniums and ornate wooden shutters with cut-out hearts added to the authenticity of a Tyrolean spa that had a touch of the surrealism of Universal Studios (spa purists hell-bent on aqua per sulis would balk, but as someone who can’t take the heat of a sauna for longer than 30 seconds, I liked the novelty of it).

Pushing open a set of doors leading off this quirky mock village square, I found myself in a small indoor-outdoor artificial Italian grotto cave, which featured two plastic yellow recliners and a wall of faded fake grey flowers drooping amidst the drip of water (hardly aqua per sulis…).

With a fresh lick of paint, a change of name, and a drop of the TLC I’d received in my short wow-factor massage, the archaically named Anais Beauty Farm could once more become something to shout about. For now, it’s a hidden R & R spot for wellbeing seekers of a certain age holidaying in the stunning alpine surrounds of the Italian Tyrol.

Since my visit, the entrance area, bar and lounges of the Gardena Grödnerhof Relais & Châteaux have been completely refurbished. Inspired by the area’s stunning landscape, interior designer Wilma Agostini has used local natural materials to create a cosy, comfortable and elegant interior with a pleasing modern ambience.

Relais & Châteaux Hotel Gardena Grödnerhof – Gourmet Hotel & Spa
Via Vidalong 3
I-39046 Ortisei
Val Gardena
South Tyrol, Italy.
Telephone: 0039 (0471) 79 63 15. www.gardena.itContact hotel for latest rates and spa packagesEasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Verona (transfer time 2–3.5 hours depending on traffic)
Member of Relais & Chateaux www.relaixchateaux.com

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