Elite Escapes

Alpe di Siusi, home to Italy's most exclusive ski resort

Silvia Marchetti, for CNNPublished 24th December 2015
(CNN) — Seated in the backseat of a sleek Mercedes, I hear an electronic beep as we pull up to the window of an Alpine authority booth.
"We're entering the protected natural reserve of the Alpe di Siusi," says my driver, a sunburned woman who speaks Italian with a strong German accent. "No cars are allowed in."
Located in South Tyrol province, this fairytale land of mountain witches and dwarfs sits at the border with Austria. Though this is Italy, the locals speak German, leaving me feeling like a stranger in my own land.

Bond-style entry

Alpe di Siusi is the most untouched and exclusive patch of the Dolomites mountain range, a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. Europe's largest high-altitude plateau, it's dotted with alpine huts and barns.
Sunlight turns its zigzagging peaks -- dubbed "teeth" and "hand fingers" -- pink. By night they've changed their hue, reflecting the silvery shade of the moon.
Access to the Alpe di Siusi is permitted only on skis or by cableway -- unless, like me, you're staying at the Adler Mountain Lodge. Set at 1,850 meters above ground, much of this 5-star resort was built with "singing wood" -- the spruce trees that provided the timber whistle when the wind blows.
The entrance could easily belong to a James Bond villain's lair. The driver presses a button, a female voice greets us and a tunnel opens, leading us into a garage that's cut in the hill's belly.
The lounge is filled with leather sofas and carpets. The walls are glass, framing 180 degrees views of the Sassolungo (Long Rock) and Sassopiatto (Flat Rock) massifs -- two 3,000-meter sleeping giants.

The sounds of silence

As I start asking questions, the manager, Daniela Demetz, hushes me.
"Shhhh... just relax," she says. "You need to feel the sensations of this unique spot. Please, sit down and let it sink in. It's a movie theater: nature comes alive and changes in front of your eyes. The sun, the birds, the animals, the stars and moon. Everything moves."
I obey and head to the patio, which appears to be suspended above a precipice. There are crackling fires on jet-black cocktail tables.
Silence rules. All I hear are jingling cow bells, horses neighing and the cries of eagles.
Guests whisper to each other as we all sit and stare at the peaks, spellbound. It might only be 4 p.m. but at the all-inclusive Adler, food and top wines are served nonstop. I grab a plate of a South Tyrol specialty, speck -- peppered, smoked local ham -- and a bowl of hay soup.

Ski safari on a coral reef

Adler Mountain Lodge offers easy access to 60 kilometers of alpine ski trails.
My private cottage is a deluxe, traditional dairy hut.
Dawn is my alarm clock. As I forgot to pull the curtains, the sun rays shine through the glass veranda and wake me at 6:30 a.m. -- the perfect time to set out on a five-hour ski safari.
"Don't worry, first we'll do the Alpe di Siusi area, if you're fit we'll move on to the other valleys," says Erich Kostner, the lodge's sports concierge.
Kostner's job? Making sure guests burn off all that gourmet food they devoured at dinner.
In my case it was homemade Kloatzen ravioli with mountain cheese, roe saddle and deer fillet in wine sauce accompanied by a bottle of red Teroldego Beato Me.
We start from the lodge, sliding downhill. It suddenly hits me -- I'm skiing on a former coral reef.
Millions of years ago, the limestone Dolomites were the volcanic bed of the ancient Thetis Sea, dividing Africa from Europe. The area is full of fossils including one known locally as Cow's Hoof that is believed to be footprints of dinosaurs.
After defying my aching leg muscles to survive the first couple of hours, Kostner leads us to the opposite mountain flank where we board a special bus -- the only vehicle allowed to drive through this pristine forest with its crystallized snow. (Local folklore attributes their beauty to a workaholic dwarf king who sprayed the area with crystals.)
We stop for a quick lunch at the Ciampinoi Baita, a wooden hut serving goulash stew and Canederli dumplings. The safari moves on to the hamlet of St. Christina, where we jump on an underground train before making our way on skis to Ortisei.
After a cappuccino break we take the cable car back to the hotel. Bonus: I'm able to ski right up to my cottage and park my equipment on the doorstep.

Partying with witches

For non-skiers, alternative activities include yoga, visits to frozen streams or snowshoeing.
There are treks to the Witches' Benches -- stones resembling sacrificial altars. According to popular folklore, these were once popular hangout spots for the flying sorceresses believed to have once wreaked havoc on the area.
There are horse carriage rides across the powdery snow and night sleigh rides down the slopes amidst the muffled echo of falling flakes.

Jacuzzi beds and healing pools

Even the sauna offers beautiful views.
Hot water is the best end-of-day therapy. I walk from my chalet to the spa in a bathrobe and flip-flops.
The heated infinity pool, infused with Dead Sea salt, is made of precious Dolomites' silvery quartzite, which many claim has healing powers and removes bodily toxins. A sliding door separates the pool, which can be enjoyed indoors or out.
I wave my hand in front of a sensor and swim out under a blood-red sky that sets aflame the peaks' magnesium. The water turns purple. The jacuzzi bed keeps me there till night falls. My lungs are so full of pure oxygen I feel dizzy.
Next comes the Tyrolese hay sauna. It's like lying in a heated barn, with hay tickling my feet and a pleasant scent in my nostrils. Wanting more, I jump into a wooden barrel for a hay bath.
After an "alpine star" facial scrub I retreat to a leather lounger in the glass-roofed relaxation area and watch the stars.
A week at the Adler Mountain Lodge during the high winter season costs $3,140 per person, including ski rentals.
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