San Lorenzo, the name conjures up visions of an arid landscape, somewhere in Spain or Mexico, possibly a small whitewashed village with a church. Well the reality is much more exotic, this San Lorenzo is a picturesque town and Luxury 16th Century Lodge high up in the Dolomites of Italian South Tyrol, and, so I am told, with mountain golf.
Stefano is waiting for me as I arrive at Verona Airport. He and his wife Giorgia are the owners and as I am soon to learn, an integral part of the San Lorenzo experience. It’s raining and Stefano is not happy with the weather report, but as we head north and into the mountains, things improve and the sun manages to peek out from behind the clouds.
This part of Italy is not so well known to us Northern Europeans who generally either head to France to ski or further south for sun, well, we are missing out because this region is a treasure trove for anyone clever enough to visit.
But I am not here just to play golf, to miss out on the other delights on offer would be like going to Naples and just eating pasta. No, this trip will also include mountain walks, wine, speck (traditional cured meat) and a Jacuzzi’ on top of a mountain, oh and lots of amazing food.
As we approach the end of the valley, Stefano points out the lodge and accompanying house that he and his family reside in, perched like an eagles nest on the side of the mountain. We wind our way up and soon reach our destination. Now, if you happen to be the sort of person who likes to look at car brochures, it’s just possible that you may recognise the lodge as it has been used by both Aston Martin and Ferrari for photo shoots.
San Lorenzo, with its panoramic views over the Pusteria Valley, was, back in the sixteenth century, a hunting lodge owned by the local Bishop, (rumours are that it was more of a party pad). After years of neglect, Stefano and Giorgia have painstakingly restored it to its former glory and added a touch of their own. Giorgia, who is an accomplished and passionate chef, not only prepares all the food but also offers visitors the opportunity to come into the kitchen and learn some of her wonderful recipes.
Entrance to the lodge is through a beautiful arched door and into the flagstone covered main hall. Doors lead off into various rooms, including the kitchen and a traditional Tyrolean-style Stube parlour (living room).
On entering the main Stube, your eyes are immediately drawn to the spectacular view over the valley below as well as the large oven that protrudes into the room and with a seat/bed above. Apparently this is the perfect place to sleep on a cold night. Upstairs is another large hall/ seating area with doors off to three double bedrooms and another with four bunk beds. Another door leads to a steam room, sauna and a whirlpool bath.
Golf on a Mountain
Stefano takes me for a short tour of the grounds while Giorgia prepares one of her many mouth-watering dishes. I am keen to see just how he has set up a golf course on the side of a mountain and all soon becomes clear.
With the guidance of Jack Nicklaus and the design on Ron Kirby, what is possibly one of the world’s most unique 18 holes has been created. More exactly three holes and six tees which are spread around the circumference of the mountainside. A shot to each hole can be taken from each tee, making a total of eighteen Par3 holes. The green even has the Jack Nicklaus logo.
This course is going show me just how accurate (or inaccurate) my short game is, but I am looking forward to testing my mettle in the morning. For a lefty such as myself there is a bank on the left hand side of the green so my slice may actually come in handy. But for right handers there is only a drop into the valley. Luckily Stefano supplies the golf balls otherwise you may find that you run out quite quickly.
Missing Golf Balls
“Each year when we cut the grass below the green” says Stefano, “we expect to recover at least some golf balls, but that has not been the case. As it turns out, a type of crow is apparently mistaking the balls for eggs and stealing them! The trouble is that this particular bird does not nest and so the golf balls could be anywhere within a radiance of several kilometres”, something that is going to confuse anyone coming across them.
Another strange occurrence which has had the valley talking is the case of the dead deer, which was found with no obvious wounds or disease in the valley below. After scratching their heads the locals decided that the only possible explanation for its untimely demise was due to being struck by a wayward golf ball. I suggest to Stefano that he look into offering this unique method of hunting as an additional sport for his guests. The thought of hunters in tweed jackets shooting golf balls as the local wildlife break cover is something that is going to be hard to shake off.
Before we head back inside, Stefano asks if I would like to see his Ferrari. We walk over to a low single door at the base of the lodge where Stefano proudly announces his Ferrari is to be found. Now I am confused! How could he possibly fit a Ferrari through a door so small? All soon becomes clear as we step into what is obviously a well stocked wine cellar with a long table and chairs. Stefano’s Ferrari is actually an antique Berkel meat slicer, built in 1938. This model is aptly called 41 because the blade is 41cm in diameter.
I have the honour of slicing some local Speck while Stefano picks some wines for the meal and also opens a bottle of local sparkling wine to drink with the meat here in the cellar. The Speck and Wine are fantastic and I am in danger of being full before we have even begun our meal.
And it’s good that I do have space, as Giorgia has prepared an incredible feast for us which includes local white Asparagus with surprisingly, a sweet wine to accompany. This is followed by strips of beef in a delicious sauce, vegetables and accompanied with an excellent local red wine. We finish the meal with finger sized strudels.
That evening I relax in the outdoor Jacuzzi with a glass of wine and look out over the valley. The last rays of sun are reflecting of the snow on the mountain tops and the lights are twinkling into life in the valley below. Wine,warm water and the most amazing view, this could possibly be the most perfect way to end a day.
A Par 3 like no other
The next morning I awake and after breakfast head out to try my hand on the golf course. It soon becomes apparent just how hard it is to hit the green, particularly from the furthest tees and I find myself overshooting so that my ball disappears into the valley below.
If you want to work on your short game, look no further as every shot is a challenge. A day or two of this could seriously lower one’s handicap. There’ nothing like a large space in-between you and the target to sharpen your game.
Other activities available are many and varied, but to my disappointment, my time is far too limited to try most out. On offer is a trip up to the top of the mountain to spend a night in a traditional Alpine hut, a tour of the local vineyards and Speck makers and a lesson in how to make butter among countless others.
The Golf Helicopter
A little further on from the green is the helicopter pad offering connections to and from Innsbruck and Verona airports and trips to Verona, Venice and all golf courses or ski runs in the region. Now this is where San Lorenzo really comes to prominence. To have a luxurious base from which to make your trips from is really something else.
Golf Club St Vigil Seis
A short helicopter ride away is Golf Club St Vigil Seis. This 18 hole course it truly spectacular and well worth the visit. If you want to play golf with the perfect mountain backdrop, it does not get much better than this, the only problem being that the scenery is so good, you may forget to take your shot.
Open from March and on though until November, you could play here in the morning, hike in the afternoon and be back at San Lorenzo for dinner and a soak out in the hot tub.
Pustertal Golf Club
Pusteral Golf Club is just short distance down in the valley near the picturesque town of Brunico. Now, I happen to be quite a fan of 9-hole courses, even when on holiday. It fits in well with being able to play a round and then do something with the family in the afternoon without the need for crutches or an oxygen tent! And Pustertal is a real gem of a course.
Georg the Manager informs me that the fairways are not quite up to scratch yet, but to me they look fantastic. The surroundings are breathtaking with the mountain peaks and ski slopes on all sides. The tree lined fairways with the odd water feature and well placed bunkers just cry out to be played and I and Stefano soon find ourselves happily working our way around the course. As it is, it is an absolute joy to play, but plans are already underway to add another 9 holes very soon.
We take a detour into Brunico to soak up the atmosphere of this traditional South Tyrolean town. It has a distinct Austrian feel due to the fact that up until 1918 the area was actually in Austria and most of the locals here still speak German as a first language.
In the main square we sit at a cafe and order some Spritz, which is a traditional drink for early evening containing white wine and Campari. For those looking for culture and ambience, they will not be disappointed. The town has a relaxed and charming feel.
The return home
All too soon, I am heading back to the airport, passing castles precariously perched on the sides of the mountains and delightful picturesque villages.
For those looking for that little bit extra from a golf vacation I cannot say enough about the Lodge and the possibilities it presents. If you want the perfect base to explore this stunning location, then look no further than San Lorenzo in South Tyrol.
Good to know
Soon to be offered on Great Golf Holidays, keep an eye out at www.greatgolfholidays.net to book this unique experience.