For over 25 years, Georgia and Stefano Barbini typified the world of fashion and haute couture design. Both owners of their respective fashion houses, they embarked upon an ambitious project to lovingly restore a sixteenth century farmhouse they found in the now Italian, but former Austrian, region of South Tyrol. The exact name is San Lorenzo di Sebato.
When Stefano and Georgia came upon the 42 acres of pristine woods and meadows that was to become San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, there was little ‘lodge’ to speak of. The property had been formally owned by the local clergy and was used as a battue hunting lodge. Stefano tells us that the deer often come down from the tree line into the gardens. Taking pot shots seems a little unfair from that distance perhaps. The building itself was nothing more than ruins when they started. This was very much a ground-up build, but one that would require immense attention to detail in order to restore it using traditional methods. The roof shingles, for example, aren’t machined; they are hand cut from solid wood and deteriorate twice as fast as the manmade equivalent. Such is the nature of maintaining this property’s delicate balance with nature and rustic romanticism – everything must be carefully preserved in order to look after the local land and feel of the property.
One thing that required serious eco-planning was the integration of a private golf course into the landscape. That’s right, a golf course. The lodge sits at an altitude of 1200 meters, so when we were told it had golf facilities, we couldn’t quite fathom it. True to his word, in 2012, Stefano worked with American golf course architect Ron Kirby and Paolo Gueltrini, a young designer, to bring his idea to life. San Lorenzo’s green is almost an identical replica of the famous “Valley of Sin” from St Andrew’s Old Course. The green was specifically created from manmade fibres in order to avoid using complex chemicals to maintain a real green. If, of course, you choose to take in the other local courses, the green-side helipad is there to whisk you away to a variety of famous and exquisite golf courses. If this wasn’t enough, the lodge has its own spring, so uses its own water. Expect to see Greenpeace holding their annual think tank here.
The chalet is clearly a labour of love for its owners. Every detail echoes their style and design heritage. Valuable antiques have obviously been painstakingly preserved, whilst modern objects have been cautiously fitted in, so not to upset the balance of nature and modernity. The furniture and textiles used all help to perpetuate the wholesome and native atmosphere.
The breakfast room and dining area keep their original structure within the stübe where all meals are served. The stübe is a traditional wooden panelled parlour with a bed atop a large kiln-like edifice. Even the heating in the lodge is traditional, as the smell of fir wood fills the air. If you are opting to hire the lodge as we did – fully catered – you are in for a treat.
Georgia prepares all meals in a manner befitting of a Gault Millau rating. Her menu is incredibly warm and rustic – never before has the term ‘home cooked’ been so beautifully actualised. Rocket with juicy Italian tomatoes and strips of beef; artisan cheese wrapped in the local speck, the hanging hooks of which can still be found in the entrance hall. This is the sort of cooking that would keep me coming back again and again. We joked on the first night about the local poppy seed cake being used to send the children off to sleep. This symbolism wasn’t lost when Georgia lovingly cooked a poppy seed dessert on our second night. All the meals are served with Stefano as sommelier, showing his passion for local wines as he pairs them from his cellar. This is a man that loves to entertain friends and family. Within 30 minutes of being in their company, we all felt like part of the Barbini troupe.
After dinner it was time to retire to the drawing room, a side room fitted with luxurious furs, lounge suites and chairs by Baxter and Flamant. Grappa was obviously the aperitif of choice, along with several espressos.
The lodge has four bedrooms, three of which are double, and all have breathtaking views over mountains and meadows. One room actually has Stefano’s family bed in it, passed down from generation to generation. All the bedrooms are connected by a central landing complete with open fire and soft furnishings. I’m sure if we hadn’t been having such a good time everywhere else, we would have taken to the upstairs area quite nicely. There is also a bunk room for four little ones, connected to one of the bedrooms through an adjoining bathroom. Upstairs you will also find a spa built with ancient wood and quartz, Finnish sauna, Turkish bath, chromotherapy lamps, an emotion shower and an indoor whirlpool for four people. Oh, and Stefano hand crafted the wooden rocking recliners himself. Is there no end to the Barbini creative flair? No.
Outside, through the heavy wooden garden door, there are more surprises: a seating area with flame bowl and a ten-person whirlpool overlooking the majestic Dolomites and the valley below. It even comes complete with a heat lamp to dry your robe.
The following morning, I awoke early to see the sunrise over the majestic mountains and take a stroll up the lane to take in the atmosphere. The Dolomites are a visual place of wonder; at day’s end the sun sets and the sky glows pink in every direction.
With the team packed into the van, it was a mere 15-minute drive down the mountain to work off some of our indulgence. Not before a beautiful breakfast from Georgia, of course. Local poached eggs and the most delicate croissant I’ve ever tasted.
The Kronplatz lift area boasts a half pipe, slalom run, board park, a range of runs for all levels and wifi on every lift and bubble. I appreciate the need to unplug whilst away, but how else can you post a boastful picture for all to see, whilst you are skiing in March. “I don’t know if you know this, but I am just having such a better time than you right now”.
Obviously all this glorious weather began to take its toll on the snow, but luckily Stefano had offered to guide us with all the zeal of a rural convert, and so took us to the other side of the mountain that had retained its shade. If you really are a skiing fanatic and go every season with family or friends, the Dolomites should be on your list. If you are happy to rise early, then the conditions are great for morning skiing way into late March.
Having had lunch with Artur Costabiei from Kronplatz, it is clear that this development is one of the most technically advanced ski areas in the world. Their new development budget is hearty and no doubt international tourism will go through the roof over the next five years. I urge you to consider a trip before it becomes everyone’s new winter escape. Perhaps even look into the local property market. Stefano even shared a local toast with us, which shall remain private, of course (please write in for full details).
Later that night, after a well-deserved soak, we were treated to a ride on Stefano’s Ferrari. Not quite the prancing horse I had in mind, rather a Dutch number by the name of Berkel. That’s right, a painstakingly restored Berkel and a side of the local Speck. Cue the familiar sound of Prosecco-charged glasses and the scene was set.
The San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge has more to offer in a day than anywhere I have ever stayed. Everything has a story; nothing is there for the sake of it. The property and surrounding land is a thing of true unadulterated beauty, romantic to the core and in need of some form of Unesco World Heritage plaque. If you are planning your 2014 ski break and looking for a property that will truly stay in your heart for many years to come, look no further. Spend a week with Stefano and Georgia Barbini – truly beautiful people in a part of the world that is indescribably enchanting.T: +39 0474 40 40 42 W: sanlorenzomountainlodge.com E: firstname.lastname@example.org