Escape to the best design hotels in the Italian Dolomites

(CNN) — Think apple strudel, dumplings and potatoes, ski slopes, forest hunts, mountain views, saunas and super chic design hotels.

Believe it or not, this is not Austria or even Germany. Say hello to Italy’s Dolomites. Especially South Tyrol and surroundings.

The beautiful region is another Italy. One that has its own language, shop, and in which German is also at home alongside Italian.

A destination where magnificent Renaissance and Baroque monuments or cathedrals are replaced by castles, Romanesque architecture with alpine wood, buongiorno with a Good morning.

This part of the boot shares the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Dolomites (le Dolomiti in Italian) with provinces and cities like Trentino and Belluno.

Handed over to Italy by the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War II, it remains an autonomous province where recent history blends beautifully with the present.

Here and beyond the Dolomites, the present consists of food and wine, nature, wellness and elegant, design-oriented boutique hotels.

It’s packed with places to soak, pamper, ski, and après-ski, all with the precision of Northern European service delivered with that coveted Italian flair and warmth, and to use an overused term – a little Dolce Vita.

The chic hotels here contrast soft white cushions with hair-raising mountain ridges, while driving through this bizarre rock formation is not for the faint of heart. It is Italian through and through as it is a panoramic show. But also unconventionally Italian.

“[It’s] a place of encounters and contradictions between two – or three if you add Ladin [the ancient language of the Dolomites] different cultures: Precision and attention to detail are typically German and the enjoyment of the good life is typically Italian,” says the award-winning winemaker Andrea Moser from the Kaltern winery, who is at home in the Dolomites.

“Each moderates and elevates the other, leading to something quite amazing. Add to that an incredible climate with around 300 days of sunshine a year that lets you swim in a lake one minute and at 3,000 meters the next.”

The famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner is said to have described the Dolomites as a work of art, and his words ring true.

The Dolomites are in constant motion, creating wonders as the sun rises and sets, each angle offering a different shade, a different perspective.

“Its jagged peaks, sheer rock faces and cliffs are quite spectacular and there is something really special about observing the ‘Enrosadira’, the beautiful phenomenon that causes most of the peaks to take on a pink or reddish color at dawn and dusk” , says Ursula Pizzinini, co-owner of the famous ski area Rosa Alpina.

This part of Italy can also offer a good dose of healing.

According to Teresa Hinteregger, co-owner of Forestis, a spectacular ski-in ski-out hotel, a stay in the Dolomites can help with sleep regeneration due to the dense nature and forest environment.

“There is no better place in the world to experience nature, space and time,” says Hinteregger.

“Particularly famous for excellent food and breathtaking landscapes, sleep is also a focus for us. This is a specialty of our region – the rest that takes place in the body thanks to nature.”

In addition to the all-encompassing views, clean mountain air and fascinating cultural history, the region boasts a number of five-star hotels and more than 20 Michelin-star restaurants, offering everything from traditional Alpine cuisine to fine dining.

But perhaps most importantly, the Dolomites are a timely reminder of how great nature is. Here are eight of the region’s most spectacular design hotels in the most incredible settings, putting you right in the heart of the action.

ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti, Val Gardena

The ADLER name is synonymous with wellness, with resorts that allow guests to immerse themselves in the surrounding nature.

Located in the village of Ortisei, this hotel is set in manicured parkland and offers a tranquil oasis of calm and views galore.

Its holistic and bespoke spa programs offer an unrivaled retreat with saunas, pools and an endless list of avant-garde treatments.

Guests can enjoy an invigorating breakfast, multi-course fine dining dinner and afternoon tea buffet, as well as daily guided winter hikes with a local, in-house guide.

The nearby ADLER Lodge Ritten is an all-wooden forest retreat of luxurious suites and chalets, surrounding the imposing peaks of the Dolomites, where you can swim, walk and then dine under the stars.

Forestis, Brixen

The stunning ski-in ski-out Hotel Forestis is one of the outstanding Dolomites.

Courtesy of Forestis

Perched above the clouds at 1,800 meters above sea level, the Forestis is the ultimate in design.

Surrounded by views of the Dolomites – from the floor-to-ceiling window restaurant to each of the magnificent suites – and the cleanest mountain air, guests can ski right inside this exclusive and breathtaking retreat.

The hotel has two penthouses spread over two floors that maximize the picture-perfect panorama from every vantage point, including the private pool and spruce wood sauna.

Forestis also has a luxurious spa, complete with dolomite stone furniture, multiple saunas, and indoor and outdoor pools that offer rejuvenating treatments.

Miramonti Boutique Hotel, Avelengo

The Miramonti Boutique Hotel served as a filming location in the classic Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me and impresses with its Nordic minimalist design, mountain landscape and steaming hot Japanese onsen pool.

Perched high above the pretty town of Merano, the stunning hotel’s dining options are plentiful, with Italian cuisine in the Classic, a refined dining experience in the Panorama Restaurant, and cheese lovers rejoice in the Stube, where classic South Tyrolean cuisine, including raclette, is served.

Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti, Pinzolo

The Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti offers a wide view of the mountain range.

The Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti offers a wide view of the mountain range.

Courtesy of Lefay

With its striking design, organic gourmet restaurants and state-of-the-art spa, Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti is an oasis of natural beauty surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

Strategically located to reach the slopes, the resort offers incredible mountain views that can be enjoyed from anywhere from the bar and even from the heated indoor and outdoor pool.

Speaking of pools, there are several to dip into. The 5,000-square-foot spa is the star, offering state-of-the-art wellness programs.

In terms of accommodation, the property offers suites, a penthouse and private residences for larger groups, all comfortably furnished with contemporary digital comforts and spa facilities.

Private transfers to the Pinzolo ski lifts are available to guests free of charge. Passes and equipment are available at the on-site ski shop.

Alpine Panorama Hotel Hubertus, Sorafurcia

The Alpin Panorama Hotel Hubertus is an architectural marvel.

The Alpin Panorama Hotel Hubertus is an architectural marvel.

Alex felt

With one of the most striking infinity pools in northern Italy — the Sky Pool — the family-run Hotel Hubertus is a design knockout.

Overlooking the powdery slopes, the 25 meter long heated pool features a glass front and underwater panel overlooking the stunning landscape of the imposing Dolomite peaks.

Practically floating in the air, guests feel as if they are floating on top of the world.

The latest spa add-on, dubbed Heaven and Hell Sky Spa, is an architectural marvel with dramatic and seemingly upside-down mountain huts for the most unique Dolomite perspective.

Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Cortina d’Ampezzo

Located in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Queen of the Dolomites, has also served as a film set, with famous visitors including Frank Sinatra.

Its Art Nouveau architecture with Viennese accents has proved a huge hit with celebrities and the international jet set, who luxuriate in the surroundings and the panoramic spa overlooking the Dolomites.

The historic hotel is slated for renovation ahead of the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milano Cortina and reopening in 2025 under the luxury Mandarin Oriental brand.

Rosa Alpina, an Aman partner hotel, St. Kassan in Thurn

Rosa Alpina, a family run retreat in the heart of the pretty hilltop village of San Cassiano.

Rosa Alpina, a family run retreat in the heart of the pretty hilltop village of San Cassiano.

Alex felt

With world-class skiing, a glamorous marble spa, and a partnership with luxury brand Aman, Rosa Alpina is a huge draw for affluent travelers but somehow manages to maintain its family-run hospitality.

Located in the village of San Cassiano in the Alta Badia ski area, it’s the perfect mix of chic and relaxed, with a yoga room, sauna, plunge pool, bar, and plenty of restaurants to choose from.

Year after year, chef Norbert Niederkofler, who was born in Bolzano, confirms his three Michelin stars for a refined cuisine that always pays tribute to the culinary heritage of the region.

pink alpina, Strada Micurà de Rü, 20, 39036 San Cassiano BZ

Gardena Gardena Hotel and Spa, Ortisei

It’s hard not to fall in love with Gardena Grödnerhof’s classic alpine architecture, impeccable service, and green surroundings (covered in white in winter).

This place really puts guests in touch with nature. And with ski lifts, a ski school and cross-country ski trails right next to the hotel, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure.

The resort is family-friendly with a kids’ club, movie theater, rock-climbing wall, and kids’ tables for dinner. The infinity pool offers gorgeous mountain views, while the Gardena Spa is an oasis of calm with saunas and steam rooms.

In the in-house gourmet restaurant Anna Stuben, guests can also enjoy a South Tyrolean Michelin cuisine experience.

Maria Pasquale is an award-winning Italian-Australian food and travel writer based in Rome. The author of I Heart Rome, How to be Italian and The Eternal City: Recipes & Stories from Rome can follow her adventures on Instagram @heartrome.

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