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South Tyrol, Italy

Christmas at Vigilius. Best Christmas ever.

Vigilius is a striking lodge positioned high in the South Tyrol, designed by Matteo Thun and reachable only by a vintage James Bond-style cable car from the Italian town of Lana far, far below. The lodge design is intended to emulate a fallen larch but I think that’s a bit postmodern. It does however lie low and sleek and breathtaking on the mountaintop, curving around slightly, all horizontal timber and glass.

The rooms are small but well designed, with views out onto frosted forests. If you don’t feel like braving the cold snap from your balcony, you can always just peek out from the feather warm depths of your eiderdown. A deep soaking tub and shower area take up the other side of the room, separated by a partition wall. It’s semi open plan so not ideal for non-couples unless you’re very friendly. Rooms have a Scandinavian sensibility with timber furniture and neutral tones, relieved by quirky wooden details. Vigilius also stocks perhaps the best bath amenities I’ve ever come across, almost worth a trip themselves – the brand is Trehs, an organic Austrian brand which is pure pine in a bottle – but in a good way. Unlike retsina.

Common areas are minimalist without being cold, and not over-designed, by which I mean everything is where it should be and works harmoniously. The library is a beautiful area with comfortable seats perfect for lounging in by day, whilst a drop down cinema screen shows classics in the evening. The lounge opposite is warm and sun filled, perfect for indulging in the lodge’s daily afternoon tea of exquisite biscuits, pastries and cakes, which is both exceptional and gratis.

The lodge also has two restaurants, 1500 (a reference I think to altitude rather than weight, although after a few meals there you could probably apply it equally) and Parlour Ida. 1500 is a contemporary restaurant serving some of the best food I have eaten in Italy, whilst Parlour Ida is a warm, timbered tyrolean style stube serving lots of delicious schnitzel-y and nudel-y things, designed to replace the calories you have expended whilst hiking or skiing vigorously about the countryside.

The lodge is full of rosy-cheeked, firm-buttocked German types who look as if they roll about in the snow and beat each other with birch twigs. You know, the sort who have a strict NO CLOTHES policy in the sauna. I am sure I could change their minds.

Christmas day was as perfect a day as you could ask for, crisp and sunny. We opened our door in the morning to find each room had been left a lovely little twig-tree decorated with red glass balls, a bottle of locally distilled cranberry spirit and some spiced gingerbread, a thoughtful and quite beautiful touch. After a lazy breakfast of fresh, sweet apple juice, dark bread, delicious local cheeses and home cured meats, we hiked through the snow to the frozen Schwarze Lacke, where we ordered hot chocolate and apfelstrudel at the Gasthaus on the lake, mucked around with some quoits on the ice and then headed back for a spa and dinner at 1500.

The spa was an experience. I was greeted by a muscular german Frau wearing surgical scrubs. She had a peroxide buzz cut and a large gap between her teeth. She threw me back in the chair, ostensibly for my “Rejuvenating Qui Facial”, but there were none of the gentle circular motions I was expecting. If you are familiar with breadmaking, you will know what is involved in kneading and knocking down. At one stage she gave me a blood nose and we had to stop the treatment so I could staunch the flow. I left radiant though - radiant that I didn’t need to be airlifted to hospital.

We left the next day, me holding a small departing gift of a beautifully wrapped bag of locally dried apples in one hand, and clutching a tissue to my nose with the other.