Ahead of the Curve
The Italian Tyrol has never seen the likes of Matteo Thun's Vigilius Mountain Resort
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
High in the Dolomites, Italy's Alto Adige is like another country entirely. The local dialect is incomprehensible. Got a craving for spaghetti Bolognese or penne puttanesca? You'll have to search long and hard to find them on the menu. Instead, the region has strong cultural ties to Austria and Germany.
Now, this southern part of the Tyrol also has a hotel that's sui generis: the Vigilius Mountain Resort by Matteo Thun's namesake firm. Light years removed from über-chic boutique lodgings or gemütlich inns, Thun's design represents a formidable endeavor, entailing two years of construction and a $25.5 million budget. The result blends forward thinking with respect for ' the environment and local tradition—especially the legacy of the century-old Vigiljoch hotel, which used to stand on this site.
The trip begins with a funicular ride, the sole means of access. Climbing 5,000 feet from the village of Lana, the cable car eventually arrives to views of a three-story rectangular volume of larch and glass. That the structure first appears to be a gigantic fallen tree trunk was part of the architect's early vision. "It's the stuff of dreams—surrounded by nothing," he says. "The Vigilius is special because it inspires soul-searching."
As a native of the southern Tyrol, Thun saw the Alpine landscape as an important protagonist, too. "Everything here revolves around nature," he says. Indeed, of the 150,000-square-foot main building's 41 guest rooms and suites, various public spaces, and three-floor spa, virtually all open to terraces.
Thun constructed the main building as a gentle curve oriented on a predominantly north-south axis, and he sited guest rooms along the east and west elevations to capture sunrise or sunset views from any point inside. Spanning these facades, larch trellises serve as a sun shield for terraces below—but Thun finds pragmatism less important than poetry. As the trellises emphasize the long, sleek form of the hotel building, he says, they "refine the architectural skin to make it extremely sensitive and delicate."
Similarly, his mantra of "simplicity, serenity, spirituality" defined the interiors at Vigilius. Public spaces are all of a piece: largely larch envelopes with 'an austere attitude toward furnishings.
The reception area, which Thun likens to a grand piazza, is anchored by minimalist seating arrangements of sofas covered in cowhide, oversize lounge chairs upholstered in leather, and Thun's rectilinear larch cocktail tables. In the lounge, Antonio Citterio's wool-upholstered sofas line up perpendicular to a window wall and terrace on one side, a plaster-finished fireplace on the other; large leather-covered floor cushions appeal to the more Zen-minded guests. And that's basically it—besides a sprinkling of crimson to spark the neutral palette and the artwork occasionally exhibited in the curved corridor linking ' the lounge tothe guest rooms.
Were the latter not physically set apart, they'd virtually be perceived as one and the same, since they're also clad in larch and furnished in an identical purist style. Among the few differences, orange glass accents juice up the bathrooms. They're separated from the bedrooms by partitions surfaced in raw clay—to do double duty as radiant heating during the chilly winters.
At 775 square feet, suites are merely larger versions of the standard room, fitted out with additional furnishings. The Tyrolean theme becomes evident in each dining nook's carved fir chairs, accompanying a cantilevered cushioned bench. Local antiques provide additional ties to place.
Connection to the landscape assumes a literal meaning at the spectacular indoor-outdoor infinity pool on the second floor of the spa, which also includes a fitness center, treatment rooms, and thermal baths. And the hotel's rooftop is a doubly "green" destination point, with gardens and a channeled mountain stream to promote passive cooling. For further evidence that Thun is tuned in to ecology, note the renewable wood used for construction and the energy conservation that derives from siting.
Even Ida and 1500, the resort's restaurants, make a grand gesture toward recycling. Linked by an enclosed walkway to the main hotel, they're both housed in a three-story structure that was built with wood 'salvaged from an Austrian granary. A ceramic stove retained from the Vigiljoch hotel stands along one wall of Ida's ground-level dining area, recalling a typical stube, or family gathering room. True to Thun's vision, the restaurants' exterior form and interior furnishings both speak the dialect of an Alpine chalet—while remaining fully conversant in a contemporary vocabulary.