Discover a rare mountain retreat in South Tyrol that gourmets and explorers will adore alike. Embedded at the foot of the Dolomites, the new Gfell Hotel embodies a 50+ year legacy of uncommon hospitality that wows beyond expectation.
From the first upward bend, the journey to the Gfell Hotel is spellbinding. The road winds past flowery Tyrolean farmsteads set before mountain meadows gushing galvanic green. Spotting a smiling young woman twirling about the hillsides would not be out of the question. In fact, you consider doing it yourself.
Soon, the tips of the Dolomites greet your eyes. A craggy labyrinth of peaks mounts the treeline polarizing the pastoral bliss with a roaring thunder of stone. You want to soak in the awesome sight, but the entrancing drive continues until the road is no more. At its end, lies Gfell.
Within seconds of arriving at the hotel, you wonder if you somehow drove past it. All that stands before you is a gorgeous barn and next to it the inviting Schönblick Restaurant. However, a well-parked boulder emblazoned with “Gfell” assures you are indeed where you belong.
A Tyrolean Barn Like No Other
One of the newest hotels in South Tyrol, Gfell (pronounced /gi’ fel/) is also one of the most unique. It is literally carved into a mountain. The hotel’s 17 cozy suites sit beneath a historic barn on the fertile slope of Völseggspitze, a 6,000+ ft. spectacle soaring in the Schlern-Rosengarten Nature Park that bridges Alpe di Siusi and the Rosengarten Group.
Gfell’s novel farm-forward design offers guests a breath of fresh air not to mention boundless views that peer beyond the skysill of earth and heaven. The sweeping panorama of quaint farmsteads crowned by the peaks of the Brenta Dolomites, Ortler Group and Texel Group makes you feel as if the silhouetted summits are under your command.
When the Mair family sought to complement its 55+-year-old restaurant with the addition of a boutique hotel, they aspired to be boldly different. After all, transcending the status quo is what elevated the Schönblick Restaurant to be among the top dining experiences in the region — a rare gastronomic gem frequented by locals and travelers.
To mirror the restaurant’s enduring success, the Mairs wanted Gfell to be a celebration of South Tyrol’s romantic past and its ever-inventive future. The family partnered with a local architectural firm, Network of Architecture, to bring their one-of-a-kind vision to life.
Whereas many hoteliers would consider an age-old barn on a property to be at best a rustic adornment and at worst an eyesore, the Mairs chose to make theirs the centerpiece of Gfell. Dating back generations, the family transformed the barn into a calm-inducing lounge, morning dining area, and welcoming reception lobby. The result of the renovation is utterly inspiring.
While the outside of the barn retains its seasoned handcrafted beauty, the inside is a warm melody of contemporary and traditional touches with a wood fireplace at its heart. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite you to step out into a spectacular terrace where the mountain scenery greets you like a long-lost friend.
Masterfully landscaped gardens seem as if hung on the edge of the world. And in some respects, they sort of are. According to Julian Mair, Gfell’s manager and son of the Schönblick Restaurant’s award-winning chef, the hotel’s name is born from a local word denoting the highest mountain pasture in a valley.
Bliss Beneath the Mountain
If you can peel yourself away from the terrace, your room awaits beneath your feet. Stairs inside the barn lead to two levels cocooned in the mountainside. You might expect the levels to be cavern-like, but well-placed skylights and windows flood the hotel with natural lighting.
The hallways feature artful affections that amplify the connection to nature including stunning photographs of South Tyrol by the renowned Fabian Dalpiaz. His portraits of the region inspire adventure and exploration, but when you arrive at your room, Gfell’s expansive windows reveal a sun-drenched private patio where sinking into a deep state of relaxation with a glass of wine is equally enticing.
The rooms flawlessly balance a timeless alpine aesthetic with minimalist modernity, providing a sophisticated yet comfy setting to rest and enjoy life amid the Alps. When you wake up each morning, forested slopes, velvety pastures and a radiant sky are lying right next to you.
At dawn, you may also hear a choir of cowbells sweetly singing “good morning” from afar. Such dreamy sights and sounds can encourage sneaking a few more winks before venturing up into the barn to savor a breakfast spread fit for a mountain king.
Exploring Mountains, Legends & Serenity
Gfell’s proximity to the Dolomites makes the hotel an ideal launching point for hiking some of its most scenic trails. And the hotel’s abundant breakfast choices each morning provide delicious nourishment to brave the outings with relative ease.
Numerous hikes begin straight out Gfell’s door. On the first day of our stay, we chose to trek to the Tschafonhütte perched atop Mt. Völsegg. The hike led us through forest-flanked meadows where cows lingered carefree among a salad bar of flora.
We eventually wound our way toward the summit where the Tschafonhütte afforded us wide-open views of the Rosengarten, Vajolet Towers and the Latemar massif. After enjoying a meal and refreshments, as well as a quick snooze on the hut’s sunny alm, we circled back to Gfell making photogenic stops at the picturesque Wuhnleger pond, which famously reflects the parading Rosengarten Group in its waters, and the stark St. Sebastion chapel, a sacred site erected in remembrance of the Black Plague that ravaged the region in the 1600s.
We were so enamored by the Rosengarten that the next day we hopped on a lift near Gfell to hike directly beneath the face of the massif. The immense mountain vistas we encountered traversing a stretch of King Laurin’s Trail rivaled that of Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The legend of King Laurin can be found throughout this part of South Tyrol. The whimsical saga of a dwarf king and his cherished rose garden dates back centuries and explains the natural phenomena of alpenglow in the mountains.
Upon returning to our room after a full day of hiking, we slipped into cushy spa robes provided by Gfell and wandered down the hallway to the hotel’s wellness area. The space is a heaven-send for tired legs. We immediately lounged in private nooks where the soft bedding granted us pure dolce vita.
After a restful hour or so, we sat in Gfell’s Finnish sauna, which provided a front-row view of lush swaths of forest carpeting the valley’s hillsides. The vista is so pretty you might consider it a wellness treatment all its own.
On the terrace bordering the wellness area, we discovered an outdoor patio tub. It was tempting to jump in for a soak, but as we just enjoyed the sauna, we opted to lay on a sunlounger for a while and simply inhale the fresh air.
Evenings of Alpine Splendor
As we discovered on the first day of our arrival, the sunsets at Gfell are not to miss. Especially in autumn. The radiance pouring over the horizon would make the gates of heaven envious.
Dusk in this corner of South Tyrol seemingly sets fire to the distant peaks with a prismatic precision only a master artist can conceive. Don’t believe us? After the wellness area closes for the day, plan to unwind a bit more and take in nature’s greatest performance from your room’s sundeck.
Each night, like a grand finale, we watched the evening sun enflame the summits. Its rays gracefully torched the horizon; first gleaming gold then burning a fiery red until eclipsing the mountains where the crests glowed briefly as if crowned with a halo.
After the nightly celestial theatrics, we followed our appetites to the Schönblick Restaurant to sip and dine the remaining hours away. Prior to arriving at Gfell, we read that the oldest, highest-circulating gourmet magazine of the Alps, Falstaff, awarded Schönblick with two Falstaff Forks. Given such lofty praise, our expectations for dazzlement at the dinner table were high.
From the intimate gasthof ambiance to the friendly service of the Mair family and their staff to each and every delectable dish we received, the Schönblick Restaurant proved why locals have journeyed up the mountain for over 55 years to dine.
Like the Gfell Hotel, Schönblick does not shackle itself to convention. The wine list, for example, is carefully curated to offer lovely wines from winegrowers you likely never heard of…even if you frequently visit South Tyrol.
Schönblick’s creative flair impresses well beyond its wine selection. Each night our dinner began with a flavor-brimming gift from the kitchen, an amuse-bouche, that teased the deliciousness to come. And since our stay at Gfell was during Völser Kuchlkastl, a 45-year-old gastronomic tradition that takes place during the month of October in Völs am Schlern, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to order from a special menu that showcases the true culinary brilliance of Schönblick.
The Völser Kuchlkastl menu featured old family recipes refashioned and refreshed by Schönblick. We delighted in nearly all of it. Our favorites from the menu were chestnut ravioli filled with mascarpone in a creamy chestnut and pear sauce, as well as venison medallions in a pumpkin puree and a tender Völser beef dish that melted in our mouth. We also savored a unique twist on speck that we are yearning to recreate at home.
Tip: If you are a gourmet at heart, consider staying at Gfell during Völser Kuchlkastl. Schönblick is one of a handful of restaurants selected to partake in this zestful tradition. If a stay is not possible, you can still make plans to dine at Schönblick. As Julian impressed upon us, keeping the restaurant a destination for locals and non-hotel guests was a must when opening Gfell.
Schönblick’s classic menu did not disappoint either. The best Buchteln in South Tyrol lives here. Even if your grandma was 100% South Tyrolean and the sweetest lady alive she could not make a better version of this dessert than Schönblick.
By the way, if you are concerned that your German or Italian is not up to par to order confidently. Fear not. Schönblick offers a menu in English and many of the restaurant staff speak it as well.
Who Should Book a Stay at Gfell Hotel
As we illustrated above, Gfell will appeal to those seeking a stylish, yet totally unique, mountain getaway that pairs sensational views with out-the-door trail access as well as the kind of dining that feels as if you were the guest of honor at a South Tyrolean’s rural home.
The hotel is ideal for couples and is very dog-friendly. We met several four-legged friends during our stay who made us wish our pups at home could also hit the trails. In addition, as a 3-star rated hotel, more budget-minded couples will find Gfell offers a highly affordable way to experience heartwarming alpine luxury. 👉 Click here to explore availability at Gfell.
If you have children tagging along on your holiday to South Tyrol, you may wish to consider another property depending on their age. While Gfell does have a cute wooden playhouse for youngsters to enjoy, the intimate setting of the hotel and Schönblick Restaurant means that keeping restless children in line and entertained would likely require pulling a trick out of a hat.
We’d like to thank the Mair family for wowing us during our stay at Gfell! All opinions expressed in this review are our own.