(CNN) — Think apple strudel, dumplings and potatoes, ski slopes, forest foraging, mountain views, saunas and uber-chic design hotels.
Believe it or not, this isn’t Austria or even Germany. Say “hello” to Italy’s Dolomites. Particularly South Tyrol and the surrounding area.
The beautiful region is another Italy. One that has its own language, Laden, and where in addition to Italian, German is native too.
A destination where glorious Renaissance and Baroque monuments or cathedrals are replaced by castles, Romanesque architecture with alpine wood, buongiorno with a guten morgen.
This part of the boot shares the UNESCO heritage-protected Dolomite mountains (le Dolomiti in Italian), with provinces and towns like Trentino and Belluno.
Handed over to Italy by the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I, it remains an autonomous province where recent history melds beautifully with the present.
Here and right across the Dolomites, the present consists of food and wine, nature, wellness and sleek, design-centric boutique hotels.
It’s filled with places to soak, indulge, ski and après-ski, all with the precision of Northern European service delivered with that sought-after Italian flair and warmth, and to call on an overused term — a little dolce vita.
The chic hotels here juxtapose soft white pillows with hair-raising mountain edges, while the drive through this bizarre rock formation isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s quintessentially Italian in that it’s a panoramic show off. But unconventionally Italian too.
“Each moderates and exalts the other, culminating in something quite amazing. Add to that, an incredible climate with around 300 days a year of sunshine that has you bathing in a lake one minute to heights of 3,000 meters the next.”
Famous mountain climber Reinhold Messner is said to have referred to the Dolomites as a piece of art, and his words certainly ring true.
The Dolomite Mountains are in constant flux, engendering wonder as the sun rises and sets, every angle offering a different shade, different perspective.
“Their jagged peaks, sheer cliff faces and crags are quite spectacular, and watching the ‘enrosadira’, the beautiful phenomenon by which most of the peaks take on a pink or reddish color at dawn and dusk, is very special indeed,” says Ursula Pizzinini, co-owner of famed ski resort Rosa Alpina.
This part of Italy can also offer a good dose of healing.
According to Teresa Hinteregger, co-owner of Forestis, a spectacular ski-in, ski-out hotel, spending time in the Dolomites can help with sleep regeneration due to the dense nature and forest surroundings.
“Experiencing nature, space and time is not possible in a better way in any other place in the world,” says Hinteregger.
“Particularly famous for amazing food and amazing landscapes, sleep is also a focus for us. This is a peculiarity of our region — the recovery that occurs in the body, thanks to nature.”
Aside from the all-embracing views, clean mountain air and fascinating cultural history, the region offers an array of five-star hotels and more than 20 Michelin star restaurants, showcasing everything from traditional alpine fare to cutting-edge cuisine.
But perhaps most importantly, the Dolomites provide a timely reminder of how big nature is. Here are eight of the region’s most spectacular design hotels, in the most unbelievable settings, that take you to the heart of it all.
ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti, Val Gardena
The ADLER name is synonymous with wellness, with resorts that intimately immerse guests in the surrounding nature.
Located in the village of Ortisei, this one sits within manicured parklands, offering a tranquil oasis of peace and views galore.
Its holistic and tailored spa programs deliver an unrivaled escape, with saunas, pools and an endless list of avant-garde treatments.
Guests can enjoy vitality breakfasts, multiple-course fine dining and an afternoon tea buffet, along with daily guided winter walks with a local in-house guide.
The nearby ADLER Lodge Ritten is an entirely wooden forest hideaway of luxury suites and chalets encompassing the Dolomites’ imposing peaks where you can soak, spa and then dine under the stars.
Breathtaking ski-in, ski-out hotel Forestis is one of the Dolomites’ stand-outs.
Set over the clouds at 1,800 meters above sea level, the Forestis is the ultimate in design.
Surrounded by views of the Dolomites — from the floor-to-ceiling windowed restaurant, to each of the magnificent suites — as well as the cleanest mountain air, guest can ski right in and out of this exclusive and show-stopping hideaway.
The hotel holds two penthouses that stretch across two floors, maximizing the picture-perfect panorama from every vantage point, including the private pool and spruce wood sauna.
Forestis also has a luxurious spa, complete with dolomite stone furnishings, multiple sauna and indoor and outdoor pools, that offers up regenerating treatments.
Miramonti Boutique Hotel, Avelengo
Used as a location in the classic Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the Miramonti Boutique Hotel impresses with its Nordic minimalist design, mountain surroundings and steaming hot Japanese onsen pool.
Set high above the pretty town of Merano, the stunning hotel’s dining options are plentiful, with Italian fare at Klassik, a sophisticated fine dining experience at the Panorama restaurant and cheese lovers rejoice at Stube where classic South Tyrolean cuisine, including a raclette, is served.
Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti, Pinzolo
Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti offers expansive mountain range views.
With its striking design, organic gourmet dining and state-of-the-art spa, Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti is an oasis of natural beauty surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
Strategically positioned for hitting the slopes, the resort offers incredible mountain views that can be enjoyed everywhere from the bar and even the heated indoor and outdoor pool.
Speaking of pools, there are several to soak in. The 5,000 square-meter spa is the star, providing cutting-edge wellness programs.
As for the accommodation, the property holds suites, a penthouse and private residences for larger groups, all warmly decked out with contemporary and digital comforts, plus wellness amenities.
Private transfers to the Pinzolo ski lifts are available to guests free of charge, with passes and equipment available at the on-site ski shop.
Alpin Panorama Hotel Hubertus, Sorafurcia
The Alpin Panorama Hotel Hubertus is an architectural wonder.
With one of the most striking infinity pools in northern Italy — the Sky Pool — family-run Hotel Hubertus is a design knockout.
Overhanging the powdery slopes, the 25-meter heated pool has a glass front and underwater panel looking out over the jaw-dropping scenery of the imposing Dolomite peaks.
Practically suspended in the air, guests are left feeling as though they are floating on top of the world.
The recent spa add-on, named the Heaven and Hell Sky Spa, is an architectural marvel, with alpine huts hanging dramatically and seemingly upside down for the most unique Dolomites perspective.
Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Cortina d’Ampezzo
Situated in Cortina D’Ampezzo — the Queen of the Dolomites — the Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort has also served as a movie backdrop, with the likes of Frank Sinatra among its famous visitors.
Its art nouveau architecture with Viennese touches has proved to be a big hit with celebrities and the international jet-set, who revel in the setting and panoramic spa overlooking the Dolomites.
The historic hotel is due to be revamped ahead of the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics and will reopen under the luxury Mandarin Oriental brand in 2025.
Rosa Alpina, an Aman partner hotel, San Cassanio in Badia
Rosa Alpina, a family-run retreat located in the heart of pretty mountain village San Cassiano.
With world-class skiing, a glamorous marble spa and a partnership with luxe brand Aman, Rosa Alpina is a big draw with affluent travelers, yet somehow manages to retain its family-run hospitality feel.
Based in the village of San Cassiano in Alta Badia ski territory, it’s the perfect mix of chic and chilled, with a yoga room, sauna, plunge pool, bar and many restaurants to choose from.
Bolzano-born chef Norbert Niederkofler keeps confirming his three Michelin stars year after year for refined cuisine that consistently pays tribute to the local culinary heritage.
Gardena Grödnerhof Hotel and Spa, Ortisei
It’s hard not to fall for Gardena Grödnerhof’s classic alpine architecture, impeccable service and verdant setting (covered white in the winter).
This place truly brings guests into contact with nature. And with ski lifts, a ski school and cross-country ski paths adjacent to the hotel, there’s plenty of opportunity for adventure.
The resort is family-friendly with a kids club, movie theater, climbing wall and children’s tables at dinner. The infinity pool offers sublime mountain views, while the Gardena spa with saunas and steam baths is a peaceful haven.
Guests can also splash out on a south Tyrollean Michelin dining experience at in-house gourmet restaurant Anna Stuben.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the Dolomites became part of Italy.
Maria Pasquale is an award-winning Italian-Australian food and travel writer based in Rome. Author of “I Heart Rome”, “How to be Italian” and “The Eternal City: Recipes & Stories from Rome,” her adventures can be followed on Instagram @heartrome.