Unlike other winter-sport destinations, the autonomous South Tyrol region in northern Italy has a lean and sharply innovative hospitality industry — hotels are family-owned operations where Germanic craftsmanship and technical know-how come together with Italian artistry and bonhomie. As a generational handover has ignited a wave of renovations in the past 10 years, no other project has so expertly combined the old, the new and the permanent as the Bühelwirt, a place so conscientiously suspended in time that it might bear the answer to our over-Instagrammed travel customs.
San Giacomo, Italy – Michaela Haller, the co-owner of the Bühelwirt, already knows the drill of the unspoken guest arrival routine. There is a small transportation price to pay for being a best-kept secret, so many reach the hotel tired from the journey — San Giacomo, a hamlet in the Valle Aurina section of South Tyrol, is a mountainous two-hour drive away from the Innsbruck airport and three-and-a-half hours from the Venice airport. Some of those guests go through the check-in process almost as in a mute haze. And yet, as they walk from the reception to the lift, their eyes suddenly open when they cross the literal line on the floor that separates the old building from the new extension: the floor-to-ceiling larch and the panoramic views of the Dolomites have a strong effect on their spirits. By the time they reach their rooms, featuring similarly striking panoramic windows and bespoke wooden furniture in calming lines, they become animated and talkative, their eyes bright with childlike glee.
That’s because the Bühelwirt is the subject of one of the most intelligent hotel renovations within the already impressive South Tyrol tourism industry. The execution, handled by local firm Pedevilla Architects, challenges the concept of timelessness by mirroring two differing versions of it: one from 1910 and another from 2017, but the latter designed to blur any time stamps.
Instead of sprucing up the old building, a standard practice in the boutique-hotel industry, Haller and her husband Matthias decided to preserve it in its entirety, and instead purchase the mountain-view parcel right below, in order to create a contemporary extension. This addition, though, is not in a separate building: it is seamlessly integrated, as the frontal one ends and the posterior extension begins in a nearly imperceptible division in the middle of the dining tables.
That’s one way to do timelessness: finding a way to not leave one’s original client base behind, while still diversifying
There’s a solid business decision behind it. The first incarnation of the Bühelwirt was as a roadside locanda — the name translates to ‘the eatery on the Bühel hill.’ From then, it progressed into a guesthouse with 24 modest rooms, attracting mostly Italian tourists on winter holidays. But the Italian per-capita income, particularly after last decade’s economic crisis, does not compare to the broader capacity of the German-speaking traveller. Therefore, instead of shifting the entire operation to the tastes and wallets of the high-end Teutonic consumer, the Hallers also kept the more budget-friendly option up front. That’s one way to do timelessness: finding a way to not leave one’s original client base behind, while still diversifying.
That choice has a highly personal background. South Tyrol might be an autonomous region in Italy, separated from the rest of the boot by language and lineage, but there’s something traditionally Italian about it: the majority of its businesses is family-operated, and hotels are no exception. Instead of large resorts undersigned by hospitality conglomerates, offerings in the region are entirely owned by third and fourth-generation hoteliers. Michaela Haller is one of the latter.