We were in deep. A part of South Tyrol never explored before. Well, at least not by us. The excitement of encountering the unknown volted through our hearts. What treasures would we find in this land bejeweled with stone, pine and pasture?
We didn’t have to wait long to find out.
As our car ascended a road cut through a swath of evergreens, we emerged into an opening where grass ran in waves up a hill beyond our eyes. On the other side of the road, the green tide tumbled into another forested enclave. From its heart rose a watchtower wearing centuries of medieval scorn.
Further up the hillside stood another tower — an even more time-worn relic in an eternal state of crumble. Beyond this castled scene, the chiseled peaks of the Dolomites thundered on the horizon. Naturally, we stopped the car to absorb the sight.
Falling in love with this part of South Tyrol was going to be easy. That much we knew already. What we didn’t know was just how much it was going to feel like home.
South Tyrol’s Rustic Pearl
We crested the castle hill and began a slow descent into a valley that stretched ever wider with farmland. Trees once lining the road were now relegated to the edges of forest-clad slopes. The occasional church spire reached up from huddles of rustic chalets dotting the rolling landscape.
Were we traveling through a postcard? The abundance of idyllic country scenery left no doubt the Casies Valley is a rustic pearl within South Tyrol’s wondrous Puster Valley. Our expectation for a few days of Alpine enchantment at its award-winning Hotel Quelle Nature Spa Resort grew with each passing moment.
As we came up on the village of Santa Maddalena, we saw dozens of red and violet geraniums swaying from the balconies of Hotel Quelle. They were indeed waving at us to exit the road.
After being in the car for more than an hour, we were anxious to get settled. But before walking into the hotel foyer, we paused to inhale the pure mountain air and our new surroundings.
Hotel Quelle’s alluring charm extended well beyond its flower-draped balconies. The landscaping carried us to a simpler time. Amid rows of flower beds, a mountain creek rippled rhythmically through a weathered water mill wheel. Nearby, two antique tractors in nostalgic pose added their colorful touch to the rural setting. Along the walkway, a wooden wayside shrine cradled by pink flowers offered its blessings to those who noticed.
A Welcoming Wrapped in Genuine Warmth
Inside, the hotel’s warm embrace began before we even encountered a soul. At the foot of a spiral staircase leading to the reception area, we admired wood carvings of a man and woman arising from tree trunks reaching out for one another. Artful honeycombed lights hanging above radiated their form with a candlelight glow. Etchings of the word “Welcome” in various languages staggered up the stairwell wall.
Rich tones of Alpine wood wrapped around us at the top of the stairs. Every corner of the hotel exuded a mountain lodge ambiance with just the right touches of elegance. We loved it. Clearly, the boundless natural beauty of the valley inspired Hotel Quelle to create an equally gorgeous resort.
We walked over to the front desk where Hotel Quelle’s manager, Manuel Steinmair, met us with a kind smile. He invited us to relax in a cozy lounge area while our luggage was brought to our room. Relaxing here was not going to be a problem. In the middle of the room under a luxuriant chandelier was a grand floral arrangement bursting with the colors of autumn. The wooing flames of a fireplace enticed us to sink deep into our chairs.
The hotel’s maestro of bar-born wonders, Stefan, brought over a glass of Lagrein, a German pale lager and an early evening appetizer. While sipping and savoring, we browsed a daily guest newsletter given to us by Manuel.
On the cover was a quote: “Your mind believes what you tell it, so tell it positive things.” Do negative thoughts surface in such a charming place? We were already positively certain they do not, but appreciated the inspirational reminder anyway.
The newsletter provided the weather forecast, the day’s culinary delights, evening entertainment as well as available spa experiences and guided outdoor excursions. With 48 attractions awaiting us including 7 pools, 10 saunas, a Vital Garden and the vast wilderness of the Alps just outside the door, we were thankful to receive recommendations.
Upon finishing our drinks, we were greeted by Lisa whose charisma glowed as warmly as the fireplace. She wore an adorable dirndl befitting the hotel’s Alpine character. We followed her to our room through hallways adorned with traditional Tyrolean accents. Every attempt she made to point out the resort’s amenities along the way proved futile. Our attention kept wandering from one lovely decor piece to the next.
Our room was called the “Romantic Fire” suite. One step inside and it was easy to see why. Stylish Alpine detail, relaxed furnishings, soft mood lighting, minibar and a crackling virtual fireplace gave the room an air of refined intimacy.
From the balcony, mountains loomed over the resort offering us breathtaking beauty at a moment’s whim. The soothing sound of a rushing waterfall not far away promised us the most restful sleep in ages. Nearby, a private hot tub tempted us, but dinner time was approaching so we resisted its pull until later in the evening.
We walked back into the room and found our luggage sitting neatly in the room’s closet. Our jackets from our car were hung for us and even items we previously purchased on our trip cordially set out. All we had to do was change into our evening attire.
From Forest to Fork
Dining at Hotel Quelle we found isn’t so much an event, but a journey.
Each night, Hotel Quelle’s chefs and wait staff greeted us as if joining them in their own home. The joy they took in guiding our senses through delectable Alpine and Italian gourmet cuisine was infectious throughout our stay.
The tables swooned with romance. Elegant settings paired with swaying candle flames and soft music encouraged whispering nothing but sweet nothings every evening.
We began each night by speaking with Hotel Quelle’s resident sommelier, Akos Joo. His wine knowledge was astonishing. With 10,000 bottles in the hotel’s wine cellar, Akos’s advice in making a selection was invaluable. Plus, every time we spoke with him we came away a little wiser about wine. When we requested he surprise us with a white from Elena Walch, a wonderful winery we had previously visited, he returned with their “Beyond the Clouds”. We could not have been happier. It was a bottle we had been wanting to try for quite some time.
The hotel’s salad buffet was like discovering a bounty of fresh goodness from the forests, gardens and pastures of the local area. The soup of the day was also always a pleasant surprise. We delighted in unfamiliar flavors of crayfish, oxtail and liver dumplings. Yes, it’s possible to delight in liver.
The second courses were masterfully prepared and so artistically presented that it almost seemed wrong to disturb them with a fork. Flashes of creativity were apparent in every dish.
For us, deciding between South Tyrolean or Italian cuisine was too challenging so we took turns. One of our favorites was South Tyrolean potato ravioli stuffed with rosemary ham on asparagus and “Bozner” sauce. Bozner sauce we learned is the kind of down-home kitchen magic South Tyrolean grandmas know by heart. It’s a delicious local delicacy made with eggs, mustard, salt, pepper, chives and butter.
After the second course, we faced even more challenging menu choices. Each night Hotel Quelle prepared four main course options. Two of which were meat dishes such as Black Angus steak, rack of lamb, pork, veal and duck breast. Seafood and vegetarian dishes like grilled king prawns and potato pumpkin stew comprised the other two.
We both tried the meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes and found them all to be heavenly from the first bite to last. But the one whose flavors stole our hearts was the South Tyrolean spinach dumplings (also known as spinatknödel) with Gorgonzola sauce and glazed grapes.
We’ve savored knödel dishes throughout South Tyrol, but the wonder Hotel Quelle set before us was particularly rich and delicious. The drizzled Gorgonzola perfectly infused a creamy, tangy Italian touch into a hearty Tyrolean favorite that was nicely offset by the juicy kiss of the glazed grapes.
By the time we made it to dessert each night, we gave each other a look of concern. Could we possibly still have room? But our worries melted away whenever we saw the scrumptious delights waiting for us. After enjoying so much amazing food, it would have been just wrong to walk away from the table before the finish line. So we stepped up to the plate so to speak and never regretted it.
One lavish treat we both cherished was actually a first for us. Buchteln is a marmalade-filled pastry of the sweetest order. This traditional South Tyrolean concoction was served to us with a vanilla sauce that we could not get enough of.
The deliciousness of our evenings continued each morning with a plentiful breakfast buffet flush with fresh pastries and breads, homemade jams, local cheeses and meats, berries and juices. As if that wasn’t enough, tasty made to order dishes were also whipped up in an open-air kitchen.
Chasing Cowbells & Waterfalls
Our first morning at Hotel Quelle began the same way our first night ended: relaxing in the hot tub on our balcony. Afterward, we ate a quick breakfast and decided to walk the property. We ventured out of our room to seek out the waterfall whose symphonic splashes sang us sleepy melodies all night.
A rushing mountain stream nearby offered us a pretty good clue. We followed the morning sun bursting off its surface and were soon at the foot of a wide waterfall. Further up we could see two more sending a cascade of Alpine purity from some distant peak.
Near the stream, we could hear a slight, gentle clang of cowbells coming from over a hill. We were not about to miss a chance to befriend cows in this fairytale land so we raced up into a meadow that yawned into the mountainside. A small gathering of cows grazed unmoved by our enthusiasm. Beyond them, the valley stretched for miles until revealing the stony summits of the Dolomites.
We lingered admiring the idyllic scenery for a bit then strolled down the hill back to Hotel Quelle. Our next walking adventure was in the Vital Garden. Here, we went barefoot on a winding Kneipp path. This unique hydrotherapy treatment originated in the 19th century thanks to the naturopathic research of Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest.
The treatment involves walking over pebbles and stepping into shallow baths of alpine water. The stones massage the soles of your feet while the swings between cold and heat improve blood circulation in the legs. We found it a fascinating way to harness the mountain.
After a couple of times around the Kneipp path, we spent the rest of the morning lounging poolside simply letting the sun’s rays caress our skin. No matter where we were in Hotel Quelle’s outdoor oasis of wellness, the soothing sound of water fell all around us. One doesn’t realize how spellbinding water can be until its curative powers are at the heart of your surroundings.
Nothing Sweeter than a Hotel Quelle Massage
The afternoon began with a trip to the lunch buffet. We were not all that hungry yet, but the aromas emanating from the kitchen were too enticing to ignore. Besides, when you feel like a guest in someone’s home, it’s just plain rude to turn down a meal.
Despite the appetizing spread, we made our time at the table short. Showing up late for a spa appointment is an even greater sin than skipping a meal in our book.
When selecting massages the previous day, we must have been going through sugar withdrawal. We browsed 20+ available massages, but settled on a back massage with South Tyrolean honey and a full body hot chocolate massage. Both were as sweet as they sound.
Simply laying in the massage rooms would have been enough to induce a deep state of relaxation. Warm wood walls gently lit by a Himalayan salt lamp summoned a calming Alpine spirit. A flower in full bloom graced our eyes while lying face down on the massage table. Once the masseuses began, our sense of calm transformed into something more. A deep peace.
When we awoke to reality an hour later, we were glad our hiking excursion was not until the following day. Trekking in our trance-like state would have been like walking through molasses.
Delighting in Simple Pleasures
Ensuring we took it easy the rest of the afternoon was made even easier by Hotel Quelle. A traditional bread baking demonstration was on the activities calendar. Watching bread bake was the exact speed we were looking for.
The demonstration took place next to the hotel’s outdoor infinity sport pool. Just the sight of the sun glimmering off its cerulean water enlivened us a bit. We made plans for a dip immediately after our Tyrolean bread baking lesson.
While making bread is a simple joy itself, the real fun was in watching youngsters roll and knead the sticky dough into semblances of loaves. The kids were transfixed by the whole process. We were too once the opening of the outdoor oven swallowed our creations. Medieval in size and manner, the oven had to be a former resident of one of the castles we passed on the way to the hotel.
Behind the oven stood Hotel Quelle’s own chapel dedicated to the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher. We wandered inside to marvel at this quaint adornment to the hotel grounds. The sun streamed through stained-glass windows bathing the interior in amber and blue hues. A magnificent iron cross hand-forged by a faithful soul hung above a worn wood altar. Left of the cross was an ornate statue of St. Christopher and to the right the Virgin Mary. While small, the careful craftsmanship evident throughout chapel matched the loving reverence found in any cathedral.
Revivifying in the Waters of Hotel Quelle
Venturing into the infinity sport pool at Hotel Quelle is like making a grand entrance into a translucent ballroom. The pool begins indoors with steps leading down into the water. Two doors then slide open automatically when sensing your presence. The only thing missing is applause once you wade in!
We spent our time in the pool leisurely lapping back and forth. The water temperature was just right. When needing a break we sat at the pool’s edge enjoying the quiet beauty of the chapel and a rustic mill tucked among flowers, evergreens and boulders born from the slopes beyond.
After our time in the infinity pool, we explored the other pools and jacuzzis situated on the other end of the hotel. The views on this side were even more impressive. We could have sat all day in a jaccuzi facing the rugged mountain splendor under the spell of the late afternoon sun.
It was hard to imagine a more perfect Alpine scene.
But on the following day, Hotel Quelle made sure we found it.
Heeding the Mountain’s Call
Our third day began with another soak in our room’s hot tub. Clearly, a morning ritual was taking shape. After another hearty breakfast, we met a handful of other guests in the reception area to elevate our Alps experience…literally.
Sitting atop a mountain high above Hotel Quelle is the resort’s own chalet called Uwald. Each week the hotel’s guides, Barbara and Luca, lead hikes to this rustic gem perched at 6,700 feet. Beyond enjoying jaw-dropping views, guests are also treated to a traditional South Tyrolean meal prepared in the open.
We all hopped in a transport van that dropped us off at the trailhead in Santa Maddalena village near Hotel Quelle. Luca gave instructions for the hike to the group in German and Italian. As we set off up the path, he thoughtfully came over to us and shared the details in English.
On both sides of the path, we adored green pastures sprinkled with wildflowers and cows basking in the sunlight. Farmsteads in perfect postcard poses greeted us. They looked peaceful and motionless from afar, but as we approached, the hard work of making a living off the land became ever more evident. Stacks of wood and feed framed by tractor tracks tunneling into the mud told tales of South Tyrolean sweat and toil. Winter was coming.
Stands of pine and larch eventually overcame the verdant greenery as we began winding up the mountainside. The sun’s rays fragmenting through the canopy no longer warded off the morning chill. That was fine by us. The steepening trail kicked on our own furnaces. Catching a cool breeze was now welcome.
We chatted with a few other guests along the way. For many, Hotel Quelle was their destination of choice each year. This didn’t come as a surprise. The genuine hospitality, novel amenities, abundance of activities and warm ambiance of Hotel Quelle fosters a feeling of belonging that is rare in our experience.
Over an hour into the hike, we paused to let a mountain biker pass and catch our breath. A clearing in the trees offered up all of Casies Valley below. This was our kind of workout: totally immersed in a bird-sung forest with pure mountain air and epic views as the reward.
As we continued our ascent, the trees began to thin out. An Alpine meadow gradually unfolded before us. The melodic clang of cowbells dinged ahead. We rounded a corner and met our hoofed musicians who kept their noses to the mountain. The merry band of moo grew as we arrived at the Uwald chalet. Luca was already tending to a large grill warming up under a fire.
We took a seat on rocking wooden loungers with the other guests on a porch overlooking the cows and the valley. The peaks of the Dolomites tantalized in the distance. The stunning view held our gaze for more than a moment. But enchantment alone cannot quench thirst so we turned our attention to a pitcher of edelweiss-infused water. Its subtle sweetness did the trick.
A man sporting a traditional Tyrolean hat and holding an accordion suddenly appeared at the edge of the Uwald. Where he came from we did not know. But looking back, we are certain he arose from the mountain itself as some sort of elemental gift to us weary hikers. His delightful playing during the duration of our visit inspired an even more jovial atmosphere.
The lunch we enjoyed inside the chalet was the perfect culinary companion to the hike. It consisted of grilled sausage, chicken, beef, potatoes, polenta and zucchini all washed down by ample amounts of Vernatsch.
Afterward, we relaxed awhile longer on the loungers taking in the serene view and letting the mountain meal settle. Barbara soon came by with a big smile offering us a shot of help. She had a bottle of Schnapps in hand. We were reluctant at first, but she jokingly informed us that at these heights Schnapps is no longer alcohol, but medicine! Put that way how could we resist?
Once our legs recovered for the adventure down, we hopped back on the trail towards Santa Maddalena. The descent was a feast for the eyes as we watched the valley swell with each step. When we reached our starting point, the afternoon sun was illuminating autumn’s full glory. Continuing trekking to the hotel instead of catching a ride in the transport van was the obvious choice.
Where Alpine Italy Meets Hawaii
Back at Hotel Quelle, we decided to don our spa robes and explore the resort’s themed saunas and relaxation rooms. While reviewing the hotel newsletter earlier at breakfast, an upcoming sauna infusion noted as “Tropical” caught our attention. Hotel Quelle’s spa manager, Andrea, had previously mentioned that sauna infusions are a sensory experience not to miss.
Alpine wellness comes in many forms. For some, it’s as simple as unwinding with eyes closed in a remote mountain setting. For others, it’s scaling a craggy cliff always one slip away from death. And for others still, it’s roasting in a blazing hot sauna inhaling steam from exotic healing oils and herbs with dozens of other naked people while loud music and clapping pulsate all around you. Sound intriguing? It is. Welcome to the sauna practice called “Aufguss” (German for “infusion”).
The Tropical Aufguss we participated in at Hotel Quelle took place in their Infinity Show Sauna. We arrived a few minutes before the event and found the sauna nearly full with guests. We had no idea it would be so popular. As we squeezed in on a bench, the “Aufgussmeister” arrived wearing a bikini top with a flower lei and a grass skirt.
She closed the sauna door and explained to us in German and Italian the ritual she was about to perform. We ascertained that it involved setting snowballs infused with special oils from Madagascar on the sauna stove. We also caught that if the heat became too intense we were