My first impression of the Hotel Engel in Nova Levante was an anonymous exterior and lobby typical of Alto Adige, with its wooden counter, polished surfaces, beige doorways, and dried flowers with a gold and snow sprayed on their leaves. The corridors, hallways and stairs are empty enough to make your footsteps echo and your voice a whisper. It was not a good first impression. The room has a long corridor and tiled floor like a B&B from the sixties, fitted wardrobe with mirror and jacket hangers. It all translates as a desire for modernization, but the mindset is that of small steps in line with an internal budget rather than a business plan.
The lady in her Tyrolean dirndl skirt at the desk lifts her eyes and smiles at me. She takes me up to my room to show me how the lights, taps and password work. In the bathroom is a basket to take all your essentials to the spa. In the spa, with its Venuses and other gods lit up by red, pink and blue neon I don’t know where to start. Outside, the pool steams. I react to the shivers by diving into the sauna; not just your normal small, dark space, this is an observation cabin in natural wood with a glass wall that brings in light and offers a view of the woods opposite. The relaxing room has just been renovated, and still smells of green wood and its essences. There is a new room that scientists at the university of Hertfordshire have described as ‘the most relaxing in the world’: a soundproofed place with a temperature of 25-26°C. Blue light on the ceiling and green on the walls. They promise to smooth out a few wrinkles.
Ms. Kholer, the hotel owner, tells me that in 2014 they lost their chef and so, to keep up the standard of the gourmet cuisines they were famous for locally, they called in Theodor Falser, who was said to be good. Theodor accepted on the proviso that he could do something new; not just the usual French-style haute cuisine. Result: after two years he won a Michelin star and the Engel was listed in the Les Collectionneurs founded by Monsieur Alain Ducasse. Theodor describes his choice as 100% local, 100% seasonal, 100% wild herbs and vegetables that grow at higher than 1500 meters asl, freshwater fish and meat from local farms. He only buys from those he knows personally, like Michael from maso Elsath, who grinds grains and produces vegetables to request by the chef. The Johannestube has only a few tables, and wood-paneled walls and ceilings. Silence reigns supreme. The waiter wears white gloves to slice the bread, and puts it into a basket made from a tree trunk, as he does so explaining how they make the bread: only cereals from the local mill and sourdough starter, no industrial ingredients. I spread beetroot butter on the still warm bread. My tartare of venison from Val d’Ega, with sorrel leaves and juniper berry powder. Dolomite-style poke with fillet of char from Val Passiria, tarragon, trout stock, caviar, wild herbs and baby vegetables. The braised shin of Wagyu beef is from Renon. Grilled marshmallows, skewered on a sprig of red pine, pea mousse and nettle cheesecake.
Via S. Valentino, 3, Nova Levante