It is at this time of year, when the schools are back on track and the slopes are less crowded and fresh New Year snow has finally laid its mantle, that it’s time to get some tranquility out of a long weekend in the mountains.
There is a new thrill in the village of La Thuile, in north west Italy. The village itself is full of local character: the church bells chime on the hour and the sound of rushing water from the icy blue River Dora, which runs through the village, is a constant reminder of the water coming from the glaciers high up on the summits. The parade of small shops that flank the gushing river sell local produce, home-grown (and strictly seasonal) vegetables, endless varieties of organic cheeses and plenty of shabby-chic interior accessories for the stylish Milanese apartments which only get used, at a stretch, for about four weeks per year. Two small banks seem to be able to handle the business of foreign currencies and local transactions, and many excellent restaurants are dotted all around the town. The houses, both new and old, are made of wood and stone, with uniform grey slate tiled roofs – thuiles – which reflect authentic local colour and respect the heritage of the place, unchanged for centuries.
La Thuile is part of the Espace San Bernardo ski area, with access to 286km of downhill skiing, with 156 individual pistes. In addition to the skiing in La Thuile itself, the appropriate ski Lift Pass will allow you to ski or snowboard in the other Espace San Bernardo ski resort of La Rosière over in France. Skiing and snowboarding is assured throughout the season, but the region is steeped in activities and experiences from cycling and golf to hiking and white water rafting, and further down the hill lie the restorative thermal baths in Pre-St. Didier, open all year round.
New luxury hotel group Nira Hotels & Resorts has recently opened a new hotel (its fifth), the Nira Montana, in La Thuile, in the heart of the Valle d’Aosta. Set at 1440 metres, the picturesque hotel enjoys the views that surround this beautiful alpine basin, framed by the highest summits in Europe. A true newcomer in both style and offering to La Thuile, Nira Montana is a city-style hotel meets cute ski resort.
Built in the style of the valley’s traditional houses, this well-appointed, 55-room luxury boutique hotel is constructed of wood and stone, and uses energy-saving systems. It features an authentic Italian restaurant, serving the finest ingredients sourced from across the country, and the bar and restaurant are very much design-led, with floating light bulbs, steel chairs, and solid wood tables and floors. Down below, an extensive and well-edited wine cellar is prepped for local wine and food tastings. The immense lounge area looks out to the snowy fields beyond, the low coffee tables are piled high with designer style books, and the rooms upstairs are furnished with Hästen beds. The international fashion élite come here from Turin, Milan and Geneva to share the comfort of this 5 star hotel, with its cow-hide sofas, cosy lighting and heartening fireplaces; every detail is considered to ensure an elegant après-ski experience with local aperitivi Valdostani.
A facility which will be as popular with guests as with local visitors is the extensive wellness spa, which includes an indoor pool with a view across the snow outside, plus a whirlpool, Vitarium and steam bath. Ideal for après-ski, there are the indispensible sauna, steam rooms, and six treatment rooms for the many interesting holistic massage techniques, from Swedish, sport and deep tissue to Shiatsu, Balinese, Intonga Amasatchi, Tibetan sound massage and more…and of course, to prep for the slopes, there is a fully equipped Technogym fitness centre.
Growing the collection even further, Nira Hotels & Resorts is opening another property – Nira Yana – on Pemba Island in Zanzibar in early 2015. The two hotels will join the group’s three existing properties: Shanti Maurice in Mauritius (2010), Nira Alpina in St. Moritz (2011) and Nira Caledonia in Edinburgh (2012). MPS Puri, Chief Executive of Nira Hotels & Resorts, revealed he was “delighted to launch two new hotels under the Nira brand, bringing our portfolio to five. I’m confident that both properties will be great additions, providing our guests with more choice of where to enjoy the Nira experience.”
That experience can be enjoyed at Nira Montana all year round, as there is a great deal to do come winter or summer. However, don’t overlook Ristorante Lo Riondet in summer, on the way up to the Piccolo S. Bernardo, well-known for its rustic Aosta Valley cuisine of Alpine cheeses, local wines direct from the barrel, and home-made Genepy and other liquors. In winter, make a plan to book at this buzzing, picture-perfect restaurant. Accessible by day from the ski slopes, evening excursions offer much more memorable chalet dinners as arrival is strictly by snowcat and you return on skies by torchlight under the moon.