San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge: a private luxury retreat in the Dolomite mountains
Passepartout Homes’ property portfolio showcases a very exclusive collection of unique luxury holiday retreats located in 15 countries on four continents across the globe. What’s unique about each of our exclusive holiday villas is that every one is a home which has been lovingly built, rebuilt or renovated by its proprietors who invested their hearts and souls into creating a unique and special atmosphere for their guests. In this interview series, we meet the property owners who tell us the stories behind their exclusive holiday homes.
Somewhere in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains lies a luxury holiday hideaway tucked away in the pristine woods of the Val Pusteria, in the German-speaking region of South Tyrol. This fabulous mountain region in north-eastern Italy is one of Europe’s best skiing destinations and a favourite with adventurers who love mountain climbing and hiking. The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting stunning mountain landscapes and deep picturesque valleys.
A winding mountain road leads the way from the small village of San Lorenzo di Sebato, climbing up to an altitude of 1200 metres above sea level, to the exclusive San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge. Located on 42 acres of private property covered with meadows and forest, its exact location is only revealed when guests are taken there personally by villa staff. Owners Stefano and Georgia dared to leave their high-flying careers in the fashion business and completely change the direction of their lives when they decided to take time out to restore this historical 16th century mountain chalet. With the utmost respect for the preservation of this unique heritage property and a loving attention to every detail, they have created an exceptional private luxury retreat. Not only do they offer a stay in a beautiful property in a completely private and pristine natural environment, but also provide a warm welcome to guests and the unique opportunity to take part in authentic local experiences.
Stefano told us how he and his wife stumbled onto this exceptional property once they had taken the bold decision to get off the well-beaten path of modern life…
What inspired you to leave your prestigious careers in the fashion business and take a complete change of direction?
In our previous lives, I was working as the CEO for Escada in Italy and France, and my wife Georgia was part of the Brioni family business, another high-end Italian fashion house. I was spending 3 days of the week in Rome and 4 in Paris, while my family was in Rome. One day we decided to make a drastic change to our lives. Somehow when you’re part of the fashion business you think you’re the king of the world but really you’re missing out on other priorities in life. We have three children and I decided I wanted to spend more time with my family, not only on the weekends. When Escada was bought out and restructured, I realised that this was the right time for me to take a break from the fashion world and make my family my first priority.
What made you fall in love with the property?
San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge is a 16th century mountain chalet and was part of a farm which belonged to the bishop of the nearby town of Brixen (Bressanone in Italian). The house was built as a hunting lodge and it has many notable features which reveal it was a nobleman’s rural estate and not just a simple mountain farmstead. For example, it has a vaulted Renaissance ceiling in the entrance area, beautiful Gothic doors and a stairway made of stone.
At first we used the house as our family holiday home, but we quickly decided to live here full-time. For me, spending time in nature is more important than city life. Also, a family needs stable roots. That’s what I wanted to give my children. So we decided to transform our holiday home into a luxury retreat. We built a family home just 100 metres away, a distance which ensures enough privacy while the proximity means that we can guarantee a certain level of service for our guests, which is of prime importance to us.
What was the renovation process like?
When we bought the house, it was a ruin. There was no heating, no water, no electricity, no bathroom. The ceiling had completely collapsed and the property had been abandoned for over four years. The doors were left wide open and a lot was stolen from the inside of the house, but the most important and valuable feature of the house was luckily intact: the antique Gothic doors which are over 400 years old.
The renovation process took two years. Since this historical house is a listed property, we needed the authorisation of the Office for the Preservation of Historic Monuments to start the renovation work. During the renovation process, we aimed to preserve the house as it once was 500 years ago and of course since it’s a listed property we couldn’t make any changes. We’ve kept the original stone dating back to the 16th century. We did a lot of research to select the right materials and made use of the local craftsmanship available.
We did the interior design ourselves, aiming to keep it sophisticated and unique. Everything was designed by my wife – even the lamps. We have a natural spring here which provides us with high-quality water and we use the wood from our own trees to heat the house. This makes the property self-sustainable.
What is unique about the property?
What’s unique about San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge is not only the landscape it’s situated in, but also the fact that we can offer authenticity. We have a certain philosophy. I used to spend 120 days a year staying in hotels and on our family holidays, we would never stay in a hotel. We would prefer to stay in holiday homes. We stayed in many chalets in France or Switzerland, but we would often be disappointed because what was usually lacking was the quality of services provided. These holiday homes are usually built by people who make a real-estate investment and then look for someone to run it.
It’s important for us to be hosts to our guests. What we provide are ‘priceless experiences’ that money can’t buy. These experiences are unique. For example, I often invite clients to come chop wood with me in the forest. When you’re in the forest here, there is no one else, only you. This is also an excellent anti-stress activity and a way for a famous man to become an ‘ordinary person’. We had a guest staying here from Brazil for one month and he loved to chop wood! He found it very therapeutic.
In the summertime I take guests mushroom hunting and organise it like a treasure hunt. I go out and find the mushrooms first and then tell them where to look. I then teach them how to clean mushrooms and prepare them. They almost always ask me if their mushrooms can be cooked separately!
Kids love to milk our goats. This is something which will stay forever in their memories. Another experience is making butter with our fresh milk and having it for breakfast the next morning. This can’t compare to ordinary butter.
We have a relaxation area with a sauna, Turkish steam bath, whirlpool, and a large outdoor panoramic whirlpool which is kept at 39 degrees Celsius. Our guests love using it at night under the stars and this experience is often one of the highlights of their stay.
Our private 18-hole golf course is another priceless experience. It was designed by Ron Kirby, a guru of the golf world and is a vertical golf course – something very different, very unique and very difficult.
This is the new luxury – these priceless experiences. This is what makes a difference to a holiday – not a beautiful house.
What type of visitor does San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge suit?
We mostly have families staying here or couples – very often a husband and wife who are both busy with important jobs and just want to spend time alone. Sometimes we have couples who invite friends to stay with them for a few days and then stay longer to spend some time alone together. We have three double bedrooms and a room for children with bunk beds and can accommodate up to 10 people but it’s rare that we have groups staying here.
Did you have any notable guests stay here?
We’ve had many famous people stay here, including TV and film stars. Usually their bodyguards come beforehand to check out the property and then quickly conclude that no security is needed. The property is hidden in a valley and far from the possibility of photographers and paparazzi to intrude on privacy. The property can’t be reached by GPS and the only way to come here is with someone who knows the location. Many guests arrive in their own helicopter and that’s why we have a private helipad. We’ve also had high-profile businessmen working for famous companies who come here to holiday with their families.
Interview by Isabel Putinja, Travel Writer.