" 'Adler' is German for 'eagle.' There are
eagles here in the Dolomites. We see them flying over the snowy
peaks. Actually, they don’t fly so much as soar. A small extension
on the top of their wings makes them tilt gently from side to side.
I love to watch them.”
It is with such an image that we are introduced to
the Adler Spa Resorts in Val Gardena, a valley in the foothills of
the Italian Alps, by Andreas Sanoner who -- together with his
brother Klaus -- owns and operates the property. We are seated in
the lounge of Balance, the wellness component recently added to
this Tyrolean resort complex before a wall of windows framing views
of perpetually snow-covered Alpe di Siusi and a 1,490-foot mountain
that seems to rise perpendicular from the ground.
It is a beautiful late October afternoon, and the
needles on many of the fir trees are a glorious shade of gold. “Do
firs participate in fall foliage in the South Tyrol?” we wonder.
There is something of the make-believe in the scene, an impression
that only deepens later on when we walk up and down the hilly
streets of the town of Ortisei in the shadow of the Alps and take in
the jumble of Rapunzel-like towers, steeples, and roofs that curve
crescent-like up to a single point. It is as if we have plunged into
a storybook, or a painting by Matisse or Chagall. There is a ski
lift rising up the mountainside too, idle now but bound to be
operating round the clock in a month or so. This is, after all, part
of the biggest interconnected ski area in the world.
the moment though, it is enough to look out at this particular
autumnal view as we sip bracing herbal tea and listen to the story
behind the Adler Spa as told by Andreas who is tall and fair, more
Austrian than Mediterranean-looking, and a two-time finisher in the
New York City Marathon.
“I prepare by running on the mountain trails,” he
tells us with an insider’s smile, then returns to the subject of
eagles/adlers. “They are monogamous; each couple stakes out its own
very large territory,” he says. “Once the eaglets are big enough,
they have to fly away from the nest and find their own place. In all
of the South Tyrol, there are only four or five couples. In this
area, there is only a single pair.”
There is also only a single pair of Adler resorts,
the second having opened in Tuscany in 2004. “This property goes
back to 1810,” Andreas tells us, “but its first mention is in a land
register from 1288 where it’s listed as a farmstead belonging to the
Ortiseiters, for whom the village would be named. The next available
reference is from some time in the second half of the 16th century
when it’s described as a guesthouse.”
He continues, “Now, you may have noticed the wood
carvings on buildings in the village, the little museum of wooden
sculptures across the way from the hotel. This area has long been
famous for such carvings. The wood is plentiful, and during the long
winters, farmers did not have much to do. So carving animals,
religious figures, decorative items out of wood became a popular
|“By the 18th century, it had
become a settled industry. Some people began collecting the
sculptures and traveling to distant places to sell them. As
time went on, those who had a talent for selling began to
open shops in cities, at first Munich and Milan, then Paris,
London, Sydney, throughout America. Today Val Gardena
sculptures are sold all over the world.
“Shortly before the French Revolution, five
brothers from the region went to France to set up companies
in Paris and Lyon. They succeeded, even in those turbulent
times. Now it is 1810. The Revolution is over. One of them
returns home and uses the money he has made to buy the
Andreas Sanoner, together with his brother
the Adler Spa Resorts
Andreas pauses, then warms to the climax of his tale. “That was
Joseph Sanoner, the founder of the inn he called the Red Adler. Then
it became the Gold Adler, and then the Black Adler. About 50 years
ago they dropped the color altogether. My brother and I are the
seventh generation of proprietors, our children will be the eighth.”
And so was the Adler born, growing over the next two
centuries from a small village inn to a five-star, 100-room
year-round, in-town, yellow and cream-colored wood-trimmed hotel
with three towers, backed by a 9,000 square-meter park where sylvan
walkways edge flamboyant floral beds, verandas evoke those described
in Thomas Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain,’ a free-form swimming pool emerges
from indoors, and narrow pathways lead to grottos, sauna huts, and
relaxation areas. These last additions are part of the comprehensive
spa that has, in recent years, come to define the property, part of
a process that did not begin until 1999, seven years after Andreas
and Klaus had completed their studies at the University of Vienna
and taken over the operation of the hotel.
had the skiing season from Christmas to Easter and the summer season
from mid June to early September,” Andreas told us. “And then all
the hotels closed down. We were looking for something to extend our
that time, there were spas in thermal areas like Baden-Baden but not
in resorts like ours. We were one of the very first, starting with
four cabins, one masseuse and one cosmetician. Every two or three
years we expanded.”
than a decade, the expansion had added up to the Wellness Oasis, a
three-level extension to the yellow and white hotel where in private
rooms and public spaces, a multitude of treatments and activities
effect relaxation, wellness, beauty and fitness. Bath-robed guests
gather in the reception area of ‘Dolasilla,’ named for a legendary
princess of the Dolomites, to schedule one of the many types of body
massages, peels, hot packs, facials, hair treatments, restorative
baths and packs, manicures and pedicures.
are swimming in or lounging around the stunning indoor-outdoor
swimming pool in “Aguana,” or soaking in the hot tub or brine pool,
or breathing in a sauna’s pure dry air or the aromatic vapors from a
steam bath, or day-dreaming in a relaxing room with panoramic
mountain views, or experiencing the odd but pleasing sensation of
floating in an underground salt lake with enriched salts from the
are working out on fitness and cardiac machines arranged before a
windowed wall so that the tedium of exercise is replaced by the
ever-changing hues of sunlight on the Dolomites. And other still are
taking classes in yoga, Pilates, stretching, and tai chi or
partaking of the multi-faceted Aruyveda program, the ancient
holistic philosophy which encompasses the mind, body and environment
using elements of yoga and meditation. Annemarie Sanoner, sister of
Andreas and Klaus, discovered the discipline while living in India,
became an Aruyveda therapist, and initiated the program at the Adler
Spa when she returned home fifteen years ago.
The Hotel Adler had long been known for its
guide-escorted excursions into the great outdoors: hiking, trekking,
mountain biking, mountain climbing, snowshoeing, winter walking, not
to mention the range of services connected to skiing the Italian
Alps, which being south of the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps, are
more protected from the elements and therefore less cold and windy.
the spa has lent the resort an entirely new dimension. Its timing
was on target. The audience was there. And, as Andreas and Klaus had
hoped, it diminished the down time dramatically. “While the other
resorts in the area are open only in winter, we are open nearly all
year round,” Andreas said.
It also led to another expansion of the Adler
experience in a related realm that was beginning to capture the
public’s attention. “As the spa took off we began to see a demand on
the part of some of our guests for facilities that promote
wellness,” General Manager Klaus Kier told us. “They were looking
for programs that could help them lose weight, learn to eat the
right way, prevent illness, maintain health after their stay with
us. We listened to them, and we recognized there was a need we could
General Manager Klaus
Leader of Balance staff: Michaela Demetz
Adler Balance is the next step of the spa.
Combining traditional medicine with alternative holistic healing
methods, Dr. Giorgio Mazzola, a specialist in nutrition,
detoxification and regeneration, works with a team of doctors and
practitioners in preparing a personal diet and directing an
individually designed program of massages, exercises, meditation,
baths, facial treatments, and Ayuveda sessions designed to cleanse
and regenerate the body, mind and soul. (When Andreas told us he was
inspired to create Balance after visiting spas in Sedona, Arizona,
we knew where he was coming from.)
“Soon after we began Balance in 2007, it became
apparent that the program required its own quarters,” he told us.
“One of its key elements is that the doctor, the chef, the spa
operators must be one-on-one with the guests. It has to be very
personal. The 100-room main hotel was too big.
“So we took a look at the building we are sitting
in right now,” he added. “It was an old hotel that we had bought
more than ten years ago and ran as a separate property. Now we
decided to convert it into a 30-room hotel solely for Balance
guests. It was a very complicated project, an ambitious engineering
feat. We had to build a garage and a tunnel that went underground
and down the hill to connect to the main hotel.
“Construction started in April 2008, and we opened
the day after Christmas of that year. The whole operation went very
well. We have excellent workers in the region, great craftsmen.”
Looking down from its hillside setting over the
Adler gardens, the six-story structure of the same cream-colored
stone and wood trim found all over Otisei is wide and shallow,
designed so that every room has an unobstructed view of the
Dolomites. Rows of terraces are marked off by wooden posts and
fences, lending the edifice a Tyrolean flair and providing yet
another example of the tradition of quality woodworking that
defines Val Gardena.
That tradition is evident in the floor-wide public
space of Balance that incorporates the lounge where we are sitting,
the reception desk behind us, and the adjacent dining room. Light
colored wooden walls, beams, and floors throughout connect the
components and project a sense of serenity and well being.
Peter Pitschiadir is Balance’s chef. He cooks
everything at the moment in his open kitchen, he tells us. Nothing
is made ahead of time, and everything is geared towards the
individual needs of guests after consultation with Doctor Mazzola.
Preparations contain little salt (salt cellars are on buffet
tables), not many calories, but as many regional products as
possible. “It is a balancing act,” he aptly remarks.
The Balance dining room accommodates 60 people,
less than a quarter of the capacity of the hotel proper where five
dining rooms can serve 250 at a single seating. We ended up in the
largest of these at a window-front table we happily were able to
secure for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the duration of our stay.
Left to right, Maitre d' Salvatore
Chef Willi Larese, Second Maitre' Andrea
|We arrived in time for lunch. The waiter handed us
a menu and, for the moment, we were flummoxed. It seemed an endless
tasting menu. And then we remembered: a few years earlier when we
had our first meal at the Adler in Tuscany, we were reminded of the
“Borscht Circuit” in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.
“Order Everything” was a chapter title in our book “It Happened in
the Catskills.” But then, as now, one word sums up a key
distinguishing factor: Italy.
The dining rooms are off a sizeable hall that
serves as reception, salad bar, buffet station, and bakery station.
Lunch begins at the elaborate salad bar with home made herbal
dressings, a variety of melons, cheeses, cold meats. A baker’s tray
holds fresh-from-the-oven breads and rolls. Table service provides a
cold appetizer -- shrimp cocktail for example, hot soup, a choice of
home made pastas (the small spinach-filled ravioli we had were
delicious), followed by a mixed grill of meat or fish (ours included
wonderfully tender and rare tuna) with potatoes and fresh
vegetables. Then it is back to the hall for dessert.
Dinner at the Adler is a gala, candlelit event
accompanied by live piano music, enhanced by wines selected from a
cellar boasting 160 largely South Tyrolean vintages, and featuring
a six-course menu of sophisticated preparations using high quality,
fresh and often local ingredients. One dinner included white
asparagus with smoked salmon, or breast of quail as first course;
garlic risotto with calamari, or ravioli of guinea-fowl and truffle
butter as second; palate-cleaning sorbet; fillet of veal, or wild
salmon, or cheese dumplings as third; a selection of fine Italian
and French cheeses, crème brulée, and a buffet of gorgeous and
irresistible high caloric desserts as fourth, fifth and sixth.
Here, as in Tuscany, we marveled at the scope of a
kitchen that could offer such extensive menus, dishes that required
complex preparations by expert chefs, and in sufficient quantity to
amply feed 250 in well-managed dining rooms negotiated by a friendly
and competent staff. As if this is not enough, menus change every
In several months, the Adler would be celebrating
its 200th anniversary. From a little guest house, it has grown into
a resort that caters to 11,000 people a year. The spa and Balance,
clearly ideas whose time have come, have added to its allure and
extended its season. And a new project is underfoot.
“Our next plan is to open another place on the
plateau atop the mountain," Andreas tells us, pointing to the
mountainside outside the window. "It is the highest plateau in
Europe; the altitude is between 5,900 and 6,890 feet. We are going
to build a small year-round resort up there, only 45 rooms, very
typical and also very high quality. There will be one central
building with a spa and a restaurant, small huts, very nice rooms.
We hope to open the summer of 2011.”
We comment that the Adler operation has been going
on for nearly two centuries and just now it seems everything is
exploding. “You are going in so many directions,” we say.
true,” Andreas responds. “But the whole world is. If you write a
book covering the last 200 years, you can see how for the first 170
years of that period, life went on with ups and down. There was a
lot of progress; there were wars as well. But in the last 30 years,
there has been an explosion of scientific and technological advances
in directions and at a rate never conceived of before.”
the Adler is participating in the future, anticipating and setting
trends. Yet much of the resort’s appeal continues to lie in its
sense of tradition, in the ways in which its rich and colorful past
Elly Sanoner -- "she places her hand over
yours when she speaks to you"
|Elly Sanoner, mother of Andreas, Klaus
and Annemarie, is representative of such a spirit. She is a
fond and familiar figure to the many guests who have
returned to the hotel year after year. Gentle and warm, she
places her hand over yours when she speaks to you.
We were having coffee with Elly in the
dining room. She looked out the window and pointed to a
building across the way. “That is where I live,” she said.
“You can see how easy it is for me to get to my office.” At
the age of 86, she is still working in the business she
married into 54 years ago. For rest and relaxation, she
says, she goes to the spa in Tuscany.
Elly is a link between the Adler’s past and
its future. “There have been many famous guests here,” she
told us. “My mother-in-law used to talk about the time the
last Kaiser of Austria came to the hotel. The children made
a wooden statue for him.
come, I want to show you something.” She led us to a couple of small
rooms off the main dining room. “These rooms are ‘stubens,’ the part
of the house where the family would gather hundreds of years ago,”
she said. We looked around at the bright and inviting spaces and the
extensive use made of wood: the knotty wooden walls and floors, the
small tables lined up against the walls and windows separated by
sconces and lanterns once lit by candles, the Tyrolean-style chairs
“These are part of the original guest house. They go back over 400
passed into an arched, low-ceilinged hallway that ended at a small
door which opened to the street. “This was part of the guest house
as well,” Elly said. “The stubens and this hallway are all that
remain from that time.”
We went up into the main reception area of the
hotel where corridors are lined with photographs going back to the
beginning of the last century. There is a well used library and
piano bar richly paneled with wood. A magnificent wooden staircase
from the 1920s is center stage.
the tradition lives on. In Balance, an irregular arrangement of
what could pass for flattened tree trunks in a surrealistic
stage set serve as dividers between the lounge and dining room.
At the same time, they draw the eye from one space to the other,
the woodwork serving to unify as much as separate. Created by a
local artist, these modern visions give a centuries’-old medium
new means of expression, representing in a 200-year-old hotel
the continuum and vitality of Val Gardena’s distinctive art.
Val Gardena, Dolomites
Phone: +39 0471 775 000
Photographs by Harvey Frommer