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Into the trees: A forest retreat with a difference in Italy's South Tyrol

With the wellness and nature therapy trend bigger than ever in travel, Nicola Brady checks into Italy's impressive new Adler Lodge Ritten

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Adler Lodge Ritten

Adler Lodge Ritten

Adler Lodge Ritten

I am sitting in a sauna high among the treetops as a half-naked man dances at my feet.

The people surrounding me are in various states of undress, from the demure woman wrapped in a towel to the naked manspreader to my left. It's taking all the self-control I have to keep my eyes forward.

Giant globs of crushed ice sizzle and crack as they melt on the coals and, as they do, an intoxicating blend of aromatherapy scents is released - first grapefruit, then pine and finally spruce.

The man continues to dance, wafting a towel over the coals and sending waves of warm, fragrant air over me.

When I learned what 'Sauna Ventilation' was, I fully expected to be overcome with giggles. But, surprisingly, I don't feel the urge to laugh. Instead, I breathe in the heavenly aromas, gaze at the treetops, and feel every molecule of stress melt out from me.

I'm in the new Adler Lodge Ritten, in the heart of South Tyrol. This peaceful mountain lodge near Bolzano in Italy makes full use of its forest location - whether that's putting locally foraged ingredients on the plate or building a spa in the treetops.

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Forest bathing at Adler

Forest bathing at Adler

Forest bathing at Adler

The saunas really are incredible. Built around sturdy tree trunks (some of which protrude through the floor), the wooden rooms have giant floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can sit and sweat while you're surrounded by the branches.

The Japanese have been onto this trend for years. Shinrin-yoku (which translates as 'forest bathing') is the art of immersing yourself in nature to reap the benefits, physically and mentally. There's no questioning its power - how many times has a walk through the woods helped to clear your mind and improve your mood?

It's a strange sensation though, looking at the trees as I sweat. And when the heat from the sauna has radiated through every inch of my body, I open the door and leap straight into the plunge pool, dunking myself into the freezing cold water before I have time to think. It's like a shot of pure adrenaline.

This chilly experience isn't exactly a pool you'll want to luxuriate in, but you'll find that once back in the main lodge. The giant, piping-hot infinity pool looks out over the Dolomites, a jagged mountain range that seems to change colour almost every 10 minutes.

Right before sunset, the mountains glow in exactly the same shade as the rosé Prosecco that comes from Adler's own Tuscan winery. You'll always find a bottle of it on the go in the bar, where you can help yourself to a tipple at lunchtime or enjoy an aperitif before dinner (just watch out for the alluring spread of canapés - I accidentally eat a whole block of aged pecorino without pausing for breath).

For all the wellness and nature therapy, it's a great place for gluttony. Adler's restaurant is exceptional, with Michelin-star quality dishes utilising the finest ingredients from Renon mountain, like nutty sheep's cheese, a foamy chanterelle soup, and a juicy pink fillet of beef that pulls apart with the gentlest persuasion from a fork. And the good news? It's all-inclusive. So that means elaborate, multi-course dinners each evening, a never-ending array of charcuterie and cheeses, and a breakfast spread to die for.

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The sauna at Adler Lodge Ritten

The sauna at Adler Lodge Ritten

The sauna at Adler Lodge Ritten

But there are plenty of chances to work it off. This is the kind of place where everyone you meet looks ridiculously healthy; pink-cheeked and strong-thighed. There's a chalkboard in the lobby with a timetable of activities from which you can pick and choose - yoga on the lawn, hiking or mountain biking, for example.

I'm a fairly avid cyclist, but the world of mountain biking is always one I've found a little intimidating. The electronic bike I take out is a godsend for tackling the steep inclines, but it doesn't stop the blind terror I feel when we career off the road and onto the mountains proper - we speed over rocks, roots and dirt, and I remain fully convinced I'm about to be thrown from the bike at any moment.

The relief I feel at the summit is matched only by the magnificence of the view. The Dolomites are laid out before us, the rolling valley below dotted with vineyards and church steeples.

It's a little easier on foot, of course. Hiking trails start at the front gate, weaving through the pine trees and past little hamlets. There's even one that leads to the natural phenomena of Earth Pyramids, huge sand-coloured cones that burst skyward like stalagmites with miniature boulders balanced precariously at their tips.

Mountain rocks are also used in one of Adler's signature massages. The Silver Quartzite treatment uses primordial rocks and precious crystals from the mountain, with the therapist massaging with warmed stones and exfoliating with microparticles of silver quartzite. The massage leaves me so zonked I can barely remember my own name.

Not that I really need to.

This is the kind of place where you can wander around in your dressing gown from dawn till dusk, pottering between fireside loungers and nibbling on figs.

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Natural high: Adler Lodge Ritten

Natural high: Adler Lodge Ritten

Natural high: Adler Lodge Ritten

In the morning, I head out for a guided meditation among the trees. The dawn fog clings to the mountains, the grass is glistening with dew, and the only sound I can hear is the fluttering chorus of birdsong. I don't know if it's the mountains, the trees, or the cheese and wine flowing through my veins, but it's the calmest I've felt in a long time.

Get there

Rates at Adler Lodge Ritten start from €300pp per night, all-inclusive. Fly to Verona, a two-hour drive away, with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com). Nicola was a guest of the resort. See adler-resorts.com

Take Three: forest spas

1. Deep in the trees of Center Parcs Longford Forest, Aqua Sana (aquasana.ie, above) is a dreamboat. The saunas have full-length windows overlooking the trees, and the indoor/outdoor pool leads to great hot tubs. Voya treatments, too.

2. Japan's new Aman Kyoto (aman.com/resorts/aman-kyoto) is set among 72 acres of forest. You can participate in Shinrin-yoku sessions, take a yoga class and soak in the onsen.

3. Opening this month, The Hudnalls Hideout (hudnallshideout.co.uk) isn't strictly a spa, but a luxury treehouse retreat in Gloucestershire, where you can get an in-room massage or go for a forest bathing session.

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