Wylde World: Hotel Meisters Irma
Report by Leanne Bracey
I’ve got a soft spot for a family run hotel; it’s the small touches that set them apart from chains, perhaps, such as the warm greeting upon arrival from one of the family members, or the way they take time to really chat to guests. Hotel Meisters Irma in Merano, South Tyrol, is a fine example of an establishment not only still very much in the Meisters family, but one where the day-to-day duties are expertly carried out by the current owners, Claudia and Alex Meister. The hotel was initially inherited by their great great grandmother, Irma Meister in 1924, when it was known as Villa Ludwigsburg. This pretty building was originally built in 1898 and the Meister family has, over the years, turned it from a simple 20 room guest house to a military hospital during the WW2, and now to this glorious hotel. It’s clear that running hotels are in the Meister family’s blood, so in 2015 they built San Luis, a stunning 5-star forest hideaway where wooden tree houses and cottage-style accommodation surround a serene lake, spa and sprawling main hotel. It’s a world away from Hotel Meisters Irma, but an entirely different kettle of fish and shouldn’t be compared; a definite review for another time but I point this out just to really illustrate that this family know how to ‘do’ hotels.
WHERE IS IT?
Just over an hour’s drive from Verona airport, Merano (not to be confused with Murano in Italy) sits within a mountainous basin, an elegant spa resort town in South Tyrol where people speak part Italian, part German and architecture is typical of this area – Art Nouveau, modern contemporary and Romanesque fuse in a melting pot of old-meets-new. Hotel Meisters Irma is slightly outside of Merano town, which makes it feel calm, but still with the convenience of the shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries that make Merano such a lovely place to spend a weekend.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
For a 4-star hotel, this really feels like a 5-star. Throughout my stay at the hotel, I kept thinking of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and although nowhere near as kooky or wacky, it did have that 1930s understated, glamorous feel; quite vintage, like an undiscovered, beautiful old ring in a jewellery box. But it’s cosy, warm and it felt like home-away-from-home, due to the really relaxed and friendly manner of the staff, many of whom have been here for quite some time. Think super-relaxed, genuine… and trust me, you won’t want to leave.
WHAT’S ON OFFER?
The hotel has quite a few dining options; the serene breakfast room at the top of the hotel, an outdoors-in feeling, drenched in natural light, the breakfast buffet impeccable in its offering and quality. There’s the outdoor terrace, where a light Italian lunch can be served overlooking the valley, and downstairs, a sophisticated dining room with another top-notch buffet offering, or the choice of a menu. Not forgetting the beautiful garden room; a glass aviary, where the greenery from outside makes it feel like it’s within, where a special dinner can take place. In between all of these offerings, you’ll most likely see Claudia Meister hands-on, picking up your plate or taking your order.
Indoors there’s a really, really relaxing pool area, a place where I spent hours reading, falling asleep and staring at the fire at the end of the pool. Cosy is not the word. There’s a small gym with just a few pieces of equipment, but functional and all you really need. Some treatment rooms are also available for some great reflexology or massage, perfect after a day cycling around Merano or wandering the streets. Outdoors, there are stunning landscaped gardens and, what they call, a ‘water world’ which is a variety of outdoor pools, from the warm ‘brine’ type to those heated, and whirlpools. At Hotel Meisters Irma, you’re encouraged to just let go, either relaxing in one of many cosy lounging chairs and sofas in the spa area, or delving into plenty of books and magazines, whilst reclining in a huge puffed-up sofa in the bar or lounge.
HOW ABOUT THE ROOMS?
The cosy theme continues with large, plump beds complete with exquisite linen . What’s more, there are fabulous views out on to the immaculate gardens below and further stunning views of the local area, with generous balconies containing comfortable sun loungers and chairs so you don’t have to mix with others if you don’t want to. Rooms are huge, with cupboards built into the walls (depending on which room you get) so furniture almost melts away, giving a sense of space. My room had a small bathroom with a walk-in shower but sadly, no bath, but it was still beautifully decorated.
IS THERE ANYTHING LOCAL TO DO?
Yes, plenty. At the time of my arrival, the cool new joint in town was a design shop, art gallery, trendy new bar and cafe in one called Imkult. It’s not walkable from the hotel, but a short taxi ride away, and well worth it for a snack, local wine and to get the feel of what modern, cool Merano is like. If you’re lucky enough to visit in October during the midst of autumn harvest, then be sure to book Gloggl Keller, a place that only locals and those ‘in the know’ are privy to. This one-month-only wine cellar in the foothills of the mountains is a must. It flings open its doors for just a short period of time during the year but it’s the place to sample the local food in the most brilliant and authentic surroundings. Try the typical wine of this time and region, ‘Suser’ or ‘Federweisser’ young wine that’s sweet, cloudy with a little bit of sparkle. Also try the ‘Paarl’ bread and the ‘Schuttelbrot’ with fennel. They really lay on a spread, so come hungry. During the day, and evening too of course, the streets of Merano are super safe to explore with high end shops. We had a fabulous Michelin-star meal at the acclaimed Sissi restaurant where chef and patron, Andrea Fenoglio, treated us to a fantastic, mostly traditional, Italian feast with some more unusual things thrown in. Finally, the best way to see the area is to hire the hotel bikes with a guide and view the valley of Merano by climbing and descending in the surrounding region. Over in the hamlet of Marling is the brilliant modern vineyard, Kellerimeran, built by a local architect and home to vineyards owned by many families. You can book a tour and a tasting which I’d strongly recommend if you love wine and make sure you take back a bottle of Kerner, a Riesling style of wine that’s not so well known.
WHAT I LOVED...
The hotel vibe, one of complete relaxation, cosiness and cocooning. It goes without saying that I love the family-run aspect, and that Claudia Meister is always around with her super helpful and friendly manner. The whole place is so inviting and I imagine there’s a lot of repeat custom. The food was incredible too.
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE...
Personally, there’s nothing like a restorative bath after a long day sightseeing or cycling but sadly, my room didn’t have one. If you’re like me, mention you’d like a room with a bath.