Seehotel Ambach presides over the shores of Lake Caldaro in Italy’s South Tyrol with its perfectly formed, curvaceous marshmallowy walls which cloak this design icon from the seventies, built in 1973 by the legendary architect Othmar Barth. Add to the groovy scene a handful of soaring peaks, an emerald lake and an immaculate shoreline lawn dotted with canary-yellow sun loungers and you’ve got yourself an effortless and iconic Slim Aarons-style scene.
Seehotel harks back to a time of laid-back glamour, chic repose, and carefree holidays when the order of the day was colourful cocktails and lakeside luxury. The boutique retreat has been thoughtfully reimagined keeping true to the original design fabric being cleverly adapted for today's nomad of cool by South Tyrolean architect Walter Angonese, who also added the fabulous ‘Badehaus’ in the grounds. It's hard to imagine how you can make the 70's even cooler, but evidently you can: Angonese has not only triumphed in creating a sophisticated realm of period design, he has morphed the house with subtle modern interventions.
Interiors of smooth, white candyfloss concrete form a canvas on which splashes of retro tangerine, vert and oxide reds drape mid-century furniture pieces, and vintage arched lamps create pools of light with pale timber cladding the curved mezzanine. Seehotel has all the hallmarks of sleek modernity – bold, cuboid, simplistic yet sophisticated. Wide open-plan living spaces are framed by large geometric window panes which theatrically put the H20 landscapes of Caldaro al Lago centre stage.
And what an outside it is. The low-slung hotel rises block-like from its lush, green environment, with balconies overlooking a manicured scene of lawns and endless mirror of the jade-green Lake Caldaro. A wooden bathing jetty protrudes out over the water waiting for that first Hockney-esque splash.
Of course, it’s not just a stand-and-stare kind of place. There’s fun to be had on the water in old-school pedaloes, swimming and paddleboarding among the reeds and rushes. If this all sounds too much like hard work, rest assured there’s a Badehaus (bathhouse) to soothe weary souls. The spa pavilion is swathed in glass with an oiled wooden roof - acting in such contrast to the white-on-white hotel that the spa is sometimes referred to as Seehotel’s shadow. Inside, it’s a mecca to the play of light around the whirlpool, Finnish sauna and steam bath.
At the end of the day, as the sun slinks behind the mountains, Alpine hospitality comes into play. Traditionally rooted South Tyrolean gastronomy mixes sun-drenched Southern Italy fare with a flourish. Order a cocktail and join the Slim Aarons set for a piece of utopia dressed in fuchsia and sorbet tones, grooved with style.
Embodying the sheer function of 70s design, the 32 rooms and suites are frill-free affairs but splashes of colour from retro burnt orange throws and curtains and add a frisson of vintage. Timber-framed windows look out onto the all-important view of the lake and many of the rooms have gorgeous balconies to take advantage of the fresh air and rejuvenating panorama.
Alpine aficionados will take note of traditional Tyrolean features such as timber built-in furniture, simple oatmeal-hued flooring and white-on-white bathrooms. But the addition of stylish mid-century pieces of furniture and applique lamps from the 70s, by the Italian lighting designer Goffredo Reggiani elevate rooms to a high standard of retro charm.
You’ll find none of the stodgy, rustic mountain-fare here. By fusing the best of Tyrolean gastronomy with that of Italian Mediterranean food, Seehotel’s dishes come flying out of the kitchen on plates resembling works of art. Delicately placed meat and fish comes with artful swirls of fresh herbs such as sorrel or rose blossom.
Most meals can be taken outside on the lakeside terrace, resembling a boat deck, which stretches out towards the soothing, shimmering lake and forest-clad mountains. Gourmet chef Albin Widmann and his team bring together unexpected flavours in creative ways including light seasonal lunches, with evenings showcasing the best of local produce in five-course fine dining. Oenophiles will enjoy wines from the nearby winery, 400-year old vineyard Manincor which is known for its earthy Sauvignon Blancs and smooth Merlots.
The 250m sq. spa unfolds into three wings which overlook the hotel, the lake and Kalterer Mountain. Created from transparent glass facades, and topped with oiled wood, the spa provides a retreat for rejuvenation, without losing sight of the beauty of its environment. It follows the gently undulating lake shore, reflecting the surface of Lake Caldaro.
With a nod to Nordic health culture there’s a Finnish sauna inside, plus a traditional steam bath, whirlpool and a drenching Rain Room. For chillier days, there are padded loungers within the spa structure and for heat-soaked afternoons, the 20-metre pool is the perfect spot to cool off.
In 1973 Anna Ambach inaugurated her Seehotel. For 40 years no changes were made, preserving it in its original state. She then bequeathed this precious family jewel to her nephew Klaus Maran, who now runs it with his wife Manuela. The sporting couple were multiple windsurfing world champions and met each other in the Italian national team. In 2014 the duo took the helm and begun a gradual programme of restoration, to adapt to today’s expectations of luxury, whilst keeping a grip on the original 1970s design narrative.
Klaus says "We wish to preserve far more than just the spirit of the building: we look to enrich it even further."
Seehotel Ambach occupies a rural location between the Mendel Pass and Lake Caldaro in northern Tyrolean Italy.
As well as embracing stylish lakeside living, guests can visit local wineries, gaze at ruined castles and discover ice caves.
The Mendel Pass cable car, the longest in Europe, is 6kms away for giddying views over the Etsch river valley and the South Tyrolean Unterland.
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