The Dolomites can reasonably claim to possess the coolest moniker of any European mountain range: only the Carpathians make an argument out of it. But whereas the Carpathians sound like an invading horde come to ransack your homeland, the Dolomites sound like an invading horde and a 1960s soul group, and therefore secures the win.
The mountains themselves are as cool as their name suggests: vast, brooding, their ragged peaks jutting into the sky like the teeth of some immense dinosaur. All mountains are a bit memento mori – how many human lifetimes does their existence span? How many more to go? – yet the Dolomites offer an especially sobering sense of eternity. The Dolomites make you feel small.
The skiing, on the other hand, is fantastic.
Exhibit A: the town of Pinzolo whose gondola will transport you into a snowy playground of pistes rich in both aesthetic and adrenaline. Oh boy, those slopes! There’s one red that runs down from the top of the mountain, winding through corridors of pine trees before widening out at the last hurrah and basically pleading with you to finish it at the highest speed you dare. One of my all-time favourite descents, and I haven’t mentioned the option halfway down of diverging into a black run, used for professional competition, for those who donned their big boy pants that morning.
Of course, the great ski slopes don’t necessarily make a great skiing holiday – there’s also the matter of where you spend your time off them. Here, may we point you in the direction of Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti, the second opening from the brand after the extremely successful Lefay Lake Garda. (Be warned: Pinzolo and Lake Garda are relatively nearby but not to the extent that booking the latter won’t greatly increase your commute to the slopes. Ain’t much skiing around lakes.)
It’s a truly beautiful resort, sleek yet homily, as effortlessly elegant as a tiger in a cravat. Fine dining restaurant Grual – named after the mountain rather than an ironic play on ‘gruel’ – serves up a tasting menu where the ingredients ascend up the slope according to their source, from the valley right up to the peak. Suites are predictably luxurious, offering mountain views from the bathtub. But we really need to talk about the spa…
Now the Lefay Spa takes its duty as a spa very seriously. Often, the space a hotel advertises as a spa will consist of a sauna the size of a broom closet, and if you’re lucky a hammam that’s marginally less steamy than an episode of Gardeners' World with Alan Titchmarsh. There might even be a jacuzzi but let’s face it, there probably won’t be, and if there is then its bubbles will be as reviving and potent as last night’s prosecco. After ten minutes, the only sparring you’ll want to do is with the holiday rep who sold you a quote-unquote resort hotel weekend for the best part of £500.
Rest assured: the Lefay Spa is not one of those spas.
For starters, it’s themed. Anything that has bothered to bestow on itself a theme should be taken seriously, whether it be a cocktail menu or the office Christmas party. Rest assured, somebody somewhere has gone to great pains to create this theme – a Michelin-starred chef; Janet from accounts – and not giving the theme its due respect will doubtless end badly for you. The Lefay Spa doesn’t have an overarching theme (other than relaxation, I suppose); rather it’s themed by area to ensure its patrons enjoy maximum chill.
The areas are colour-coded and named after animals (to be precise: two animals, two mythical creatures). Each one does its own thing.
– The Green Dragon. The entry level: dry saunas with medium temperature and humidity. For those who like margarita pizza and tend to stick at roulette, or would if they ever played. (My mum, essentially.) As dragons go, this is no Hungarian Horntail but there’s nothing wrong with the easy life.
– The Red Phoenix – aka Green Dragon for the big boys. High temperature, low humidity saunas that will have you sweating like a teenage boy who forgot to delete the browser history from the family computer. The Finnish panoramic sauna has a vast window overlooking thousands of snowy pine trees covering the adjacent mountain and must be the most beautiful of its type that I’ve ever experienced. Would be ideal Instagram fodder if you could only bring your phone in.
– The White Tiger. Here you’ll find steam rooms that will make you feel like you’re taking ten within a strangely aromatic geyser. There are three separate zones – wheels within wheels – so be prepared to get wet.
– The Black Tortoise. Ever tried a salt water lake? You float in warm salt water and contemplate the nature of existence. It’s a bit like being back in the womb, only slightly less dark and with the addition of soothing music. You also have more existence to contemplate. Thus the Black Tortoise.
All areas are connected by the Centre, itself another area with a massive pool. It’s a very nice pool but pales in comparison to the indoor-outdoor pool that you’ll find a couple of floors above. Automatic doors open onto the alpine sky, steam rising all around you as though you were an exceptionally fearsome pro wrestler who happened to be entering the arena via breaststroke. Gaze up at the gleaming yellow lights of the resort, the falling snowflakes, the infinite sky.
If you wish to be pampered, Lefay will be happy to oblige. There are massages, so many types of massages: sports massages, deep tissue massages, meditative massages, massages to mangle your muscles or mellow them out. Or you can try mud therapy. Allow me to elucidate.
Strip naked, with only a linen slip protecting your modesty, and recline on a large PVC bed while a masseuse rubs mud over your entire body. Should the masseuse be an attractive member of your preferred sex, attempt to alleviate your inevitable awkwardness with some very weak small talk. I went with the weather, I kid you not. As she moved onto my upper legs, it took all my willpower not to start humming.
Anyway, once fully mudded – the mud is sourced from the local mountains, according to my masseuse – the bed is folded over to envelope you in a sort of cocoon. Then you will be left alone for twenty minutes while the mud does its thing. It’s relaxing, if a bit squelchy when you try to move. Very good for the skin, once you’ve washed off all the mud.
Coming off the slopes is often the worst part of your day; Lefay will have you looking forward to it. Take a drink at the bar, reminisce over your favourite descents, and then don a bathrobe and go chase the green dragon.
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Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti offers a Ski & Wellness package from 1,120 Euros per person. The price includes three nights in a Prestige Junior Suite, breakfast in Dolomia, a 2-day ski pass for Madonna di Campiglio, one tension-relieving neck and back massage (30 mins), one sports massage (40 mins), one session in the salt-water lake (40 mins) and entrance to the Lefay SPA World of 5,000 sqm of pools, sauna, fitness centre and relaxation area. To book visit www.lefayresorts.com