Its a “gratitude day” for me…one of those slighty flat-feeling Mondays when I pick myself up by thanking people for all the ways they positively contribute to my life, including writing a stash of overdue reviews for books, products and services. One place that I have been meaning to give a glowing five-star review for a month now is La Vimea hotel, which is where we stayed in August and here’s why.
I’ve written before about the challenges of travelling when you have health issues or even health preferences; what do you do when you love to travel yet you simply don’t eat what other people eat, can’t cope with chlorinated pools or sleep well with wi-fi on 24/7? I was almost at a loss to find the kind of place that could work with me on these things, as a result of which I’m mostly used to self-catering on holidays unless its just for a day or two (which is such a busman’s holiday for the person who does all the cooking at home). This means that there is no respite in life’s busy routine when you go on holiday; in fact it can turn out to be even more stressful and arduous than at other times.
This year I was fortunate enough to find somewhere that catered for all my needs and beyond; and in such a breathtaking location too. La Vimea is a family run hotel in the mountain-setting of Naturns, in the Italian Tyrol; one which is not only vegan but which offers Ayurvedic diet and treatments and is a fully committed eco-hotel. I had such a great experience there that I feel I want to share my experience so that more people can be made aware that these kinds of options are starting to appear on the market and that we don’t have to keep “making do” or dropping our standards when we book a trip. The more people make mindful choices rather than compromising their health or lifestyle principles when they travel, the more such hotels, restaurants and other businesses will start to appear to cater for them; thus its our duty to spread the word and to sing their praises when they get it right. La Vimea gets it very right and here’s how they did it for me.
We stayed in this hotel in August, having booked it many months earlier when I was in search of a vegetarian hotel which this was though, by the time we stayed there, the hotel was fully vegan. Little did I know that, by then, I too would be, to all intents and purposes, vegan due to having recently discovered that I have a number of food intolerances including eggs and most dairy. In fact, I arrived at La Vimea with quite a long list of ingredients that I was supposed to be avoiding, plus I was trying to heal myself by following a strict Ayurvedic vata-pacifying diet. Most hotels would have rolled their eyes at me but I needn’t have worried! La Vimea spoke my language; they knew exactly what I was talking about regarding the Ayurvedic diet and calmly took my list of food avoidances off me, working every single meal for a week (three times a day!) around my requirements.
In fact, I was never looked after better in my life and I was so grateful to them for dispersing all my fears and doubts about how I was going to continue enjoying my food since every meal they prepared was a culinary delight prepared with so much thought and consideration. All the ingredients there are organic and fresh, the product of biodynamic growing practices, many from their own garden where they are irrigated with rainwater or spring water from their well. It became quite the normal thing to spot one of the kitchen staff outside at first light, foraging for breakfast ingredients in the well-stocked garden at the best time of day. In fact, mindful adherence to natural rhythms is very-much a way of life at La Vimea. Even the wood used for the hotel furniture was cut from local trees according to the cycles of the moon, we read, and these are just small examples of the extreme care and consideration given to everything in what must be the most eco hotel environment I have stayed in thus far.
Each gloriously sunny day started with a wonderful breakfast buffet eaten on the patio which, as standard, includes Ayurvedic warm dishes of dhal and rice, plus porridge and gluten-free options, so I was more than catered for and went away from the table feeling replete and very-well grounded. Seasonal fruits, oat milk and butter, sugar-free tarts and cakes…the spread of food was always a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, with far more that I was “allowed” to eat than I ever expected, including some of the sweet treats since no processed sugar is used.
Each lunchtime, the wonderfully patient chef Luca would come out of the kitchen to our table and talk me through what he had in mind for me as an alternative to the standard Five Elements lunch. I learned to always say “yes” to everything he had in mind since it was invariably delicious and extremely creative (I’ve been trying to copy some of his dishes ever since I got home). One more word about Luca is that he very kindly prepared a warm take-away breakfast for us on the day we left at 6am for our flight, even though this meant him getting out of bed especially early; for which I was profoundly grateful since the prospect of finding anything suitable en route or at the airport had me terribly daunted. Another quip about the staff: one of my Ayurvedic foibles is that I was instructed by my practitioner to eat a slice of two of fresh ginger laced with lemon and salt before every meal while I travelled to encourage my digestive fire. Again, with no fuss, this was brought out for me before every meal…with a friendly slight grin and a nod. I think they possibly came to think of me as “the ginger woman” and could have been forgiven for thinking I was also a bit eccentric (which I am) but I never felt more comfortable about being this way than amongst these easy-going folk.
Evening meals at La Vimea consist of a taster menu of five courses (the first one was generally a version of what they call Happiness in a Glass) and, again, each layer of this colorful adventure in taste and texture was carefully tweaked to suit my intolerances…always without compromising my enjoyment. Our waitress Illaria was a ray of sunshine at every meal and we felt like old friends by the end of the week; in fact, we still miss her and its no exaggeration to say she helped to make our holiday so special. That’s something we noticed about all the staff at La Vimea (though the equally friendly owners
don’t embrace the word “staff” since they regard themselves as more of a family) – they are all quite exceptional and invariably ready with a smile. Most of the guests there were Italian or German-speaking yet our English-ness didn’t faze any of the La Vimea “family”; we found everyone fluent and full of easy humour, not to mention some funny anecdotes that made the time pass. Not all guests seem to encourage so much chin-wagging with the those serving the food or drink but we loved it, not being fans of “stuffy” hotel dining. In other words, though La Vimea would hold its own in comparison with the most formal of dining experiences, it was anything but that if you wanted to be more relaxed.
The hotel was refurbished just last year and is uba-modern with its minimalist clean lines yet also warm with so much natural wood grain visible in every scheme. This came as a relief as so many veggie-vegan places can look like a thow-back to the 60s or 70s or resemble something hand crocheted (if you know what I mean). We stayed in the Park Suite and our veranda delivered the most spectacular view of the sunrise coming over the mountains each morning so it was exceptionally easy to get up for that first sun salutation, meditation and yoga at the start of every day (in fact, I would automatically wake up five to ten minutes before the sunrise, like my body just “knew”). Another word of comment here: La Vimea purposefully turn off their wi-fi every night, just as we do at home, which means it is possible to get a really good night’s sleep whilst only tuning into the kind of signals that the body is meant to tune into!
As for the facilities, I haven’t been able to swim for over half a decade due to a severe intolerance to chlorine so the natural bathing pool and saltwater pool were such a gift for me, not to mention the lily filled natural pool being so magical to sit around day and night. Also, the extent and variety of spa facilities was a complete surprise to us since the website tends to underplay them so we were treated to a bio and a Finnish sauna almost every day (plus a FAR infrared sauna like the one I have at home), also a hot stone lounge, all located right next to two yoga studios and a drinks station with wonderful Hildegard von Bingen inspired herbal teas “on tap”. We grew to really relish the late afternoon ritual of using these wonderful facilities then showering off ready for a hearty evening meal. Daily yoga classes and massage are also there for anyone who wants them.
The garden and ambiance at the hotel are just gorgeous and extremely tranquil. We found we didn’t really want to leave all that much, though there are plenty of places within easy driving or walking distance including the very ancient church of Saint Proculus (with some of the oldest frescoes in Europe), a cable car taking you to the top of the Texelgruppe nature park offering hours and hours of spectacular mountain walking and Merano with its botanical gardens very close by.
Since then, when I feel a little bit flat, all it takes is remembering our recent stay at La Vimea and my spark comes back, which is what a holiday should let us take away from it. There was something just a little bit sacred about the setting; something deeply grounding about the ever present aroma of warm wood and all this water, not to mention all that earth-derived sustenance. When we were there, we were being forever reminded that we were ringed all around by the embrace mountain peaks with their heads in the clouds, even while we were being bathed in so much golden sunshine day after day.
I feel all the more relaxed for having been fully catered for…not just a little bit, as when the food is “just OK” on a holiday, but really met right where I am as a veggie-vegan who sleeps with the wi-fi off, who likes her food to be organic and creatively plant-based (without fall-back on yeast flavourings, soy or processed meat substitutes to fill out the menu) and who doesn’t want to be around chemicals, in or out of the water. Having never been a huge fan of staying in hotels due to these preferences, I find that I am now utterly spoiled since we loved La Vimea so much that I just want to keep going back. In fact we plan to do so soon and to make it a “regular” if we can; which is another rare thing for us as we generally like to try new places every time we travel. This tells me that La Vimea are doing something very unique and really quite special; that is, providing a home from home, only one that is super-enhanced and made more than a little bit magical (which is what a holiday should be like, after all). They also make “treading softly upon the earth” part of that holiday picture; which is as it should be, for our own and everyone else’s highest enjoyment of this planet (because what is the point of so-called relaxing at the same time as worrying that you are abusing the earth’s resources more than usual; like running up a sort of planetary overdraft). I also came home more than a little bit inspired about what was posible to achieve in my own life. In fact, this hotel reminded me what the point of a holiday was, in so many ways – which is really an experience of all of these things, brought into focus. For the first time in years, I really slowed down to take in the setting where I was staying instead of charging about on excursions or seeking restaurants and places to feed and entertain me. They took care of my body while I got to plunge deep into the kind of soulfulness that comes from taking a complete respite from the day-to-day world. It was perfect on so many levels.
I’m not sure the family at La Vimea will want to hear this but I hope what they have got is catching as the world needs so many more places to stay that are built on this model. For the moment (my research for next year’s holiday tells me…) they seem to be a step ahead of their times. Something to aim for, I would say to all other hotels; which could only help make the world a far better place.