Discreetly tucked away in a quiet corner of La Thuile, a delightful village in the foothills of Mont Blanc’s Italian slopes, Nira Montana is the very essence of Alpine luxury. A 5 star retreat to pamper weary limbs after a hard day skiing, exploring Skyway Monte Bianco or hiking in the Aosta Valley.
Nira Montana is the latest opening for luxury boutique hotel group Nira Hotels and Resorts which includes three other properties; Nira Alpina near St. Moritz, Nira Caledonia in Edinburgh and Shanti Maurice in Mauritius.
While nearby Courmeyeur steals the local headlines in the Italian skiing stakes, La Thuile’s authentic charm and hospitality and quieter ski slopes are the real draw factors for those in the know. it is a real gem of a village perched on the Dora river close to the Little St. Bernard Pass. There’s even an original Roman road running from the village across to the pass and down into France.
Speaking of authenticity, I find general manager Giuseppe in the hotel bar intent on getting me to taste Edelweiss, one of their signature cocktails; gin from the Dolomites infused with Edelweiss, rosemary, thyme and a marriage of citrusy essential oils and Mediterranean style tonic water.
“You’ll love it” he assures me, “we blend a lot of our cocktail ingredients right here in the hotel.”
I have to admit, it is very good. “Who gets to rubber stamp the new creations then?”
“Now that would be telling tales” he answers with a knowing smile.
Nira Montana has been a project built from the ground up and Giuseppe has been here since the start; a love affair that is clearly evident. The rustic wood and stone three storey construction echoes much of the region’s ski lodge traditions, but with the accent heavily on luxury.
The 55 guest rooms each offer varying degrees of generous space, from deluxe rooms to suites but all contain king or queen beds, balcony or terrace, walk in rain showers, flat screen televisions, Bluetooth docking stations, Lavazza espresso machines and free wifi.
My room is a grand deluxe, which in another hotel might be termed a suite such is its size. The floor to ceiling glass offers up a fine view of the Italian Alps, there’s plenty of marble in the bathroom along with some welcome high end toiletries and a very soft robe.
I need to explore more, but for now, the espresso machine winking at me from the counter top is too much of a temptation to ignore.
Back downstairs I delve even further into Nira Montana’s Tardis-like innards and discover a very impressive spa. The indoor infinity pool is more than adequate, as are the sauna, Turkish bath and vitarium. A well stocked gym lies in wait for anyone who feels the need for more exercise than the Aosta Valley can provide, while the range of treatments on offer is extensive provided by therapists on the payroll. There’s even a personal spa area on request for couples or friends who feel the need for some personal balancing of ying and yang in private.
Fresh from my cocktail sampling, the Stars restaurant awaits where Chef Paolo Bertholier weaves his culinary magic, celebrating not just regional specialities from the Aosta Valley, but from a diverse medley of other Italian regions.
Polenta is all the rage in these parts, and although it can be quite a filling dish, my starter Aosta Valley Fontina fondue with apple, fried polenta, raspberry, chestnuts and brown bread has just the right amount for a taster.
Next up is probably the finest gnocchi I have ever had the good fortune to taste. Deliciously creamy gnocchi made with butter and thyme, celeriac cream and diced apples. It is art on a plate.
The main is another hit; veal cooked in butter and a winter mushroom and white chard sauce.
Paolo is clearly on a roll here, and who am I to stifle his enthusiasm.
There can be fewer fruits finer than the blueberry in my book. So when I received blueberry cake, cream pear toffee, cream of dried herbs on fake hay, it was the perfect end to an epic dinner.
Having said that, there were more fun and games to be had. I’m joined by front Office Manager Orlando for a round of traditional Coppa dell’amicizia. Or in other words, drinking from the Aosta Valley Friendship Cup.
This is quite a contraption; a round wooden vessel filled with potent alcohol and numerous drinking spouts emanating from it.
” Grappa, sugar and coffee, with some orange peel, juniper, cloves and cinnamon” Orlando tells me as he glugs first. The ritual is to never put the Coppa down until it is finally empty. I vainly try to remember which spout is mine until the alcohol takes over and nobody cares anymore.
I manage to survive the night; my initiation into Aostan Valley drinking custom, while not exactly making me an honourary local, gets me local brownie points.
La Thuile has a gem of a luxury hotel in its midst. The Nira Montana stands head and shoulders above anything else in the area and for me is a first choice if you want to explore this delightful section of the Aosta Valley, a short drive to Courmeyeur and the Piccolo and Grand San Bernardo Passes.
Now where did that Coppa dell’amicizia end up. I feel another round of friendship coming on.
All food and drink images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Nira Montana Hotel in La Thuile
Nira Montana Hotel Frazione Arly, 87, 11016 La Thuile AO, Italy
Tel: +39 0165 883125
Nira Montana is open for the winter season and selected months in summer.
Deluxe double rooms from £164 per night including breakfast,
For more information on La Thuile
More information on Skyway Monte Bianco
Nearest airports are Turin and Milan with frequent flights from London Gatwick.
Getting to London Gatwick Airport:
Gatwick Express, the non-stop rail-air service between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departs every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. Gatwick Express is the fastest and best way to travel between central London and Gatwick Airport with return tickets starting from £27.40. With an ongoing 10% discount, it is always cheaper to buy your ticket online at www.gatwickexpress.com