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The world is a gentle place ‑ The Schgaguler

In the heart of lively Kastelruth there is a quiet hideaway: a gentle, cosmopolitan house that has placed zeitgeist and thoroughly essential architecture and design in front of the majestic mountain backdrop of the Sciliar. The timeless presence of the rock massif is omnipresent, the holiday concept is wholesome, warm and grounding. The Schaguler is - inside and out - a revelation.

by Britta Krämer in June 2023

Enchanted mountain.

A sea of densely clustered houses, alpine roofs, gables and geraniums: As if it had sprung from the scenery of a miniature railway, Castelrotto presents itself to all those who wind their way uphill via the major access roads from Bolzano or Bressanone. Most of the neatly white plastered residences look contemplatively in the same direction: towards the legendary Sciliar, which radiates pure peace.

The landscape around the mountain massif is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and up here the South Tyrolean municipality is pretty much playing all the tricks to beguile mountain lovers: The Alpe di Siusi and the Sciliar-Catinaccio Nature Park are a paradise in summer and winter, alpine huts invite you to savour local products and culture enthusiasts may want to explore the castle of troubadour Oswald von Wolkenstein or stroll through the narrow maze of alleys in historic Castelrotto, past venerable buildings with painted facades all the way to the magnificent Baroque Church of St. Peter and Paul and its towering steeple.

The name of the pretty Dolomite village is no longer just a place for yodelling sparrows, for Castelrotto is open for young and visionary projects, too: Not far from the village square, for instance – the stone giant always in sight – a transformation has taken place that shows that tradition and zeitgeist, roots and cosmopolitanism, Zen and loden can make a dream team. Even better: when reduced to the essence, they unfold their deepest impact. And that is truly wonderful.

Landmark.

The long-established hotelier family Schgaguler and the Milan-based firm Peter Pichler Architecture have set a silent but unequivocal statement with the radical redesign of the traditional residence from the 1980s, which was carried out in just three months in 2018. Everything superfluous has disappeared, giving space to the very essence. The new Schgaguler now resonates with light, airy architecture that embodies a mindful, contemporary approach to building and holidaying in a local context with clear forms and well-curated content.

You don’t have to look for it for long: The hotel stands compact and with a bright façade on a steep slope before the church tower, immersed in its quiet dialogue with the Sciliar mountain. Like a child’s drawing, the angular contours of the three monolithic elements sketch the archaic shape of local roofs and echo the silhouettes of the rocky peaks.

To the south and towards the mountain, the house appears as a five-storey building sitting on a broad plinth. Here, a honeycomb structure of glass fronts and deep, shady loggias with transparent balustrades define the view. The entrance side, which opens up towards the town, plays on three levels with all degrees of insight and intimacy.

41 rooms and suites open onto the mountain landscape, the huge city suite faces the iconic church tower. The reduced architecture stands out and yet blends modestly into the context. The longer the gaze hovers on it, the clearer it gets: The building is a visual haven. When night falls, the Schgaguler becomes a warmly glowing “lantern house”, as the locals refer to it benevolently, because they know: Their village has gained a quiet landmark.

Metamorphosis.

Today’s tripartite complex is based on a structure that was built by Gottfried and Lisi Schgaguler in 1986 as a residence with holiday apartments. Over the years, it underwent a constant evolution until the family decided on a consistent redesign as part of the generational transition. The sceptre was handed down and Martin, Sandra, Tobias and Peter Schgaguler were given carte blanche to lead the house into a new era with young and fresh ideas. The intention was not just to modernise the rooms and wellness area; above all, the family wanted to establish a new approach to hospitality and make the hotel itself become a destination.

The new Schgaguler is indeed much more than just a base camp for mountain adventures. It is a place of inspiration that for the harmonious ménage à trois between architecture, nature and man contemplates the legacy of the Dolomites: the sleek aesthetics of their alpine huts, the authentic simplicity of the mountain people and stone in its purest archetype. In the quiet dialogue of these realms and in their careful, contemporary interpretation, the soothing essence of the Schgaguler unfolds.

The hoteliers found the appropriate architect by means of an open competition. The tricky challenge was a time limit of three months for the construction, which was the maximum granted by Kastelruth’s tight season calendar. In the end, Peter Pichler’s purist design got the go-ahead, opting against demolition and for a contemporary transformation of the existing building. Pichler’s holistic planning approach provided a contemporary answer to the demand for a respectful dialogue with the heritage and essence of the site. The intervention envisaged ridding the old structure of all unnecessary adornment in order to bring calm and clarity to the spaces and contours: Alpine minimalism – far away from the “Stadel” look.

© Peter Pichler Architecture

The concrete structure of the three existing buildings was retained, the rest was completely gutted and a level of lightweight concrete and wood was added so as not to overburden the existing structure. Pichler opened up the traditional house in order to bring daylight, warmth and nature to the inside.

The expressive exoskeleton façade is emblematic of the identity of the Schgaguler: its light grey lime plaster is inspired by the rock, its glass surfaces reflect the sky and the stony timelessness of the Dolomites. The same aura of this unpretentious, natural grandeur and elegance also characterises the interior of the hotel. It recalls the simplicity of alpine lodgings and yet serves the modern, discerning guest requirements with style and in subtle tones.

In this way, the Schgaguler also becomes a mirror of the people and talents who act here: its character is just like that of the host family itself: Discreet, present, gentle, sophisticated and welcoming.

Nuances of silences.

The very moment of arrival becomes the first ritual of relaxation: at check-in, the full, unhurried attention is given to the guest – not to the ID papers. Like during a gentle head massage, tension dissolves into ease and the senses align themselves in the puristic, pleasant ambience.

These first holiday moments are celebrated with a wildflower-herb drink on the panorama terrace or in the splendid hotel bar, the bright, casual heart of the hotel. Depending on the time of day and the vibe, it may be a cosy fireside lounge, a casual chill-out lounge or a quiet library. Here you sit with a far-reaching view and all the time in the world, your eyes full of joyful anticipation, in your gut the pleasant feeling that everything is fine and familiar. The reception desk in the foyer is a simple block of grey gneiss, more of an altar than a table. And indeed, the serene space that welcomes you here has an almost sacred feel.

The Schgaguler is a sanctuary that fills every moment, every corner of the house with soothing tranquillity. This in no way means that you have to sneak in quietly and speak in whispers, rather you naturally feel the longing and need to hold on, to become still and to listen to your inner self. The fact that the thick, grey wool carpeting softly and silently cushions every step and transforms the path through the stairwell and corridors into a contemplative promenade is a small but pleasant detail. One of many.

The interior, co-designed by Peter Pichler and Martin Schgaguler, is a timeless homage to the essence of the Dolomites. The purist furnishings were custom-made by local carpenters and complemented by iconic chairs by Takeshi Nii, Santiago Roqueta or Hans J. Wegner. The focus is on the haptic and emotional perception of materiality and turns every room – bathrooms included – into a sensorial experience.

The transitions between the sleek rooms with open floor plans and their private loggias are fluid, inside, a soundless choreography of subtle light and colour plays out on warm chestnut wood, textured plaster and synthetic resin in matt, earthy tones. Rays of sunlight caress the bed, the freestanding bathtub becomes a steaming Belvedere. The visual, zen-like calm creates resonating spaces that vibrate softly and confer a ritual touch to every single moment: Gazing, resting, bathing, reading, walking barefoot, being. Like a soothing balm for the soul to dwell in.

Saxum.

The healing, enigmatic essence and audible silence of the mountains also permeates the hotel’s interiors thanks to the large-format photographs of Martin Schgaguler’s Saxum series. He is the only one of the siblings to have left his home village and, after detours via Lausanne and London, arrived in Switzerland, from where the designer and photo artist regularly comes to the Schgaguler to guide a small group of guests on a three-day adventure that has a powerful effect: a photographic excursion through the barren “lunar landscapes” of the Dolomites for a contemplative introspection.

The Saxum images are so pure and striking that it is impossible to escape their magnetic aura. They are able to transfer the essence and silent presence of the rocks to the viewer and at the same time reflect the mood of the photographer, the alpinist.

With this series of photographs, taken over a period of 3 years, Martin Schgaguler explores a phenomenon that many hikers experience: The fading of the self-concept through the feeling of complete oneness with nature. Since this reaction usually occurs in moments of extreme physical exhaustion, the Saxum pictures were also taken in a state of utter fatigue, often at the end of a high-altitude tour:

“The physical effort of hiking in the high mountains leads to a kind of transcendence. In such moments we perceive nature differently, it is as if we merge with the landscape and feel – for a moment – as a tiny part of the universe. In the midst of the sublime mountain landscape, this state can change our perspective on the world and our own existence. The mountains thus also give me spiritual impulses and their remoteness makes them an ideal place for self-reflection and meditation.”

Balsam.

The basement of the Schgaguler is another source of contemplation: the holistic approach of the hotel is particularly soothing in the spa area. Down here, closest to the earth, it is the pure elements of the Dolomites that have a deep and tangible effect: Water, steam, mud, hay, heat, herbs – and expert, gentle hands.

Yet the Schgaguler is not a classic wellness hotel. Guests rather love the finely balanced spectrum of traditional and holistic treatments and, after active hours in the open air, they descend into the healing depths of the hotel, detoxify and regenerate in the dry heat of the sauna or in the mud bath, inhale the steam of herbal infusions, reactivate their spirits in the ice room or in the bubbling whirlpool on the sun deck.

Early birds take quiet swims in the large indoor pool – with or against the current – , greet the day on a sunrise hike or complete The Five Tibetans® against a movie-like mountain backdrop. Daydreamers and night owls indulge in relaxing massages and the healing sound of Tibetan singing bowls and then lounge, wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, in the warm silence of the relaxation room or on the panorama terrace and let their gaze wander into the distance or upwards into the evening sky whose stars are within reach. The Schgaguler gives you both, a sense of grounding and wings.

If you’re in the mood for even more peak bliss, let senior host Gottfried Schgaguler guide you through his fabulous mountain world. He knows every stone, path and breeze in this high alpine terrain. As a trekking and adventure guide, he accompanies the guests of the Schgaguler through the impressive landscapes of Sciliar and Alpe di Siusi, Catinaccio, Sella Group, Gardena Pass and Sassolungo. In winter, the glittering snowy landscape inspires skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing tours, at your own pace and in the all-pervading silence… white noise.

Epicurus.

Shortly after arriving, the guests of the Schgaguler oscillate somewhere in the middle between a stoic rhythm of the day and the Epicurean philosophy of indulgence. After a tough via ferrata and a gentle steam bath, pure reason dictates how a marvellous day in the mountains should be brought to a grand conclusion: with a delightful dinner.

Sandra Schgaguler sets the scene in the puristically designed restaurant. Here, the sommelière with a penchant for excellent wines from the Eisack Valley, Überetsch and Bolzano, together with the crew de cuisine, orchestrates gourmet delights.

The cuisine of the Schgaguler is a blend of Italy’s most beautiful aspects: recipes from South Tyrolean tradition are reinvented with zeitgeist and Mediterranean gusto to transform the fresh, genuine products of the region into poetry for fine palates. Naturalmente, with the right wine to go with it.

It is not surprising that a new love for the half-board formula has sparked among the guests of the Schgaguler: the idea of a long, cosy breakfast with a view of the mountain and the gourmet treat every evening are just too wonderful. So what’s still missing? A good-night Negroni from bartender Peter Stauder. Legendary, made with mountain pine. Stirred, not shaken.

Fluffy clouds.

The whole, full truth is: the Schgaguler tingles soul, gut and senses. Everything here – in the most pleasant way – is profound: rest, movement, discovery, relaxation, enjoyment, dialogue and retreat. It offers small moments with a long lasting effect and great adventures that lift you up from within. All the while, you feel at ease in the atmosphere of a house that has space, sense and sensibility for the needs, wishes and hesitations of its guests. Of all guests. This openness reflects in the growing community of “homecomers” who regularly come to the Schgaguler: Home to friends, for a good chat, broad views and some fine, heartfelt moments.

Only a few years after its reopening, the house has become much more than a popular hotel. It is so much more because it intentionally needs so much less. It shows what architecture in its purest form is able to inspire in us: the luxury of living the present moment – to experience it with all our senses. A holiday at the Schgaguler is like walking barefoot on fluffy clouds, because the world here is a gentle place.


Text: Britta Krämer, June 2023

Photos: Martin Schgaguler, Rene Riller

The Hotel

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