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It’s time to buckle up for this final instalment of the Fast Lane’s summer tour. If you’re just joining us, we’ve already spent a few days in St Moritz, enjoying the lakes and the lovely Hotel Waldhaus in Sils-Maria, and wandered around Merano in Südtirol/Alto Adige, wondering what life might be like in one of those solid, multiterrace villas above the city centre.
We’re now on the immaculate highway heading northwest out of Bolzano towards the tiny village of Barbiano. From there, we’re supposed to drive along a narrow road and look for a grassy parking lot near a sports centre where we’re to leave the car and then either hike for 60 minutes up to the hotel or call to be picked up. Worry not, we’re opting for the latter. And, in case you haven’t consulted the itinerary, we’re heading to the Hotel Briol for an evening before carrying on to Bolzano and then the Villa Feltrinelli in Lake Garda.
I’m not quite sure how they were expecting us to get up to the tiny hotel by foot as the ride in the perky Toyota Land Cruiser is at times both hair-raising and slightly comical. The octogenarian driver bumps and weaves along a tiny track, missing tree trunks by millimetres and just holding the road with half a tyre tread. After 10 minutes on the trail, the final turn reveals a sun-kissed meadow and the sturdy façade of the Briol.
On the terrace, guests are reading in the sunshine and drinking local beer and wines from the valley below. Just beyond, proper linen sheets and dishcloths are hung out and fluttering in the wind, while young girls in dirndls and Nike trainers are preparing for dinner.
It seems that most of the guests (a mix of Germans, Swiss, Danes and Austrians) have been coming here for a while, so when the dinner bell sounds, everyone promptly moves to the very proper dining room to await the arrival of one hearty course after another – a sausage salad, pumpkin soup and an excellent lasagne made with radicchio. The Briol might cater to various dietary requirements but I could imagine that anyone who calls up requiring high-speed internet connections and a bathroom with a double basin being told there is no room at the inn. Just as Japanese ryokans are an exercise in perfect luxury due to their economy of choice, so, too, is the Briol.
Days are spent hiking or reading, evenings are meant for eating and socialising and bedtime is for sleeping with the windows open, tucked up under crisp linens and big duvets. Come morning, we woke at six, hiked up to the main building (we stayed in a wonderful little villa belonging to the property down the hill) and jumped into the circular, steel pool set into the grass that’s been fed by mountain streams for almost a century. In the morning sun that was just breaking through the Dolomites, we warmed our skin, got dressed, wandered down to breakfast and enjoyed fresh redcurrants on yoghurt, plates of speck and alpine cheese and wonderful pots of coffee. An hour later, we were rocking back down the mountain in the Land Cruiser and shortly after were behind the wheel of our own car and heading back to Bolzano. In the city centre, we stopped in to say hello to the very chic owner of Victorienne (perhaps one of the most elegant women’s shops in Europe), picked up some wine at a nearby shop, made time for a coffee or two and then hit the road just as the town centre was closing for lunch.
We thought about taking a table on one of the town squares but decided lunch might be best enjoyed poolside at the Villa Feltrinelli, so we hit the autostrada and 90 minutes later we pulled up on the shores of Lake Garda and were promptly shown to a table. The Feltrinelli has been a regular escape for the past few years and never fails to deliver on service, attention to detail and one of the best morning swims in the world. The dip involves rolling out of bed, pulling on trunks, wandering down to one of several jetties, inhaling the sharp air blowing down the lake from the Alps and then diving into the cool water. Afterwards it’s straight to breakfast on the terrace where all the right newspapers are on offer, guests speak in hushed voices rather than yak at each other and pretty much anything one might want to start the day with is on offer from the kitchen.
After two days at the Feltrinelli it was on to Lugano and then down to Portofino to introduce my mother to the delightful Bagni Fiore. I had to correct some unruly Russian girls, who didn’t quite understand that the social code of sunbathing in a civilised environment means keeping your music to yourselves.
After two days of perfect weather on the Ligurian coast, it was a direct dash back to St Moritz, one last splash in an alpine lake and a gentle journey back to base in London. This column shifts up a gear from next week.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at www.ft.com/brule