Nestled high in the mountains and overlooking Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) in Italy's Lombardy region, the exclusive and luxurious eco-resort, Lefay Resort and Spa, is the perfect retreat for a family of weary travellers. We need to recharge our batteries after weeks of traipsing up Tuscan hillsides, wandering around galleries and pounding city pavements and this is perfect. Located in Gargnano in the "Riviera dei Limoni", an area renowned for its lemon, olive oil and wine production, the resort was opened in 2008 and has a strong environmental, sustainability and wellness ethos.
Spread across 11ha and protected by the peaks of the Monte Baldo, Lefay comes highly recommended. Its awards include Luxury Destination Spa, Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Tripadvisor's Travellers' Choice awards, World Health & Wellness Destination and Best Spa Facilities in Conde Nast's Johansens Excellence awards. And that's just this year.
Gargnano is easily accessible: Verona airport is only an hour's drive away.
We caught the train from Milan to Desenzano, the largest town on Lake Garda. A chauffeured Mercedes picked us up and we motored 40km around the lake through picture-postcard towns with their bougainvillea-adorned houses.
I confess to being a little concerned about the worthiness of going to a wellness resort or eco-spa - I've never loved yoga and prefer wine to chai. But any preconceptions I did harbour were unfounded. It was luxurious without being pretentious, serious about wellness without being preachy and I, my husband Mick and our 10-year old son Max absolutely loved it. The tone of the resort is set when you first arrive. The atmosphere is very relaxed - while we were checking in people were walking around in their togs or towelling robe and slippers. The comfortable vibe immediately put us at ease and only a few hours later we, too, were wandering through reception in our gowns.
Lefay's 93 suites are designed withanod to the lemon houses typical of the area and feature biocompatible materials, renewable energy, natural fabrics and materials, including Italian marble, olive-tree wood and walnut. Our suite was light, spacious, elegant and huge. Full-height sliding doors opened to our private courtyard with breathtaking views of the lake. Attention to detail is evident everywhere, from the handwritten welcome notes and gifts to the friendly staff, who pre-empt our every wish.
Lefay has an array of cuisine options - two restaurants, in-room service, bars and lounges, all subscribing to its "Vital Gourmet" philosophy, based on the Mediterranean diet of using only fresh, seasonal produce. There's even a light menu available for anyone watching their weight.
Needless to say, we didn't go for the latter.
We lunched at the Trattoria La Vigna and voted the ravioli the best we'd eaten so far on our trip, followed closely by the tortelloni I had learned to make at a cooking class in Bologna. Dinner was at La Grande Limonaia, Lefay's fine-dining restaurant and although lovely, we preferred the food and the informality of the trattoria.
Breakfast comes withapersonal chef and two rooms packed with food to choose from - everything you could possibly imagine to cater for any taste, culture or health regime.
We were able to only scratch the surface of what's available at Lefay. Along with 21 treatment rooms all offering different spa methods and health programmes, there are areas for relaxation and playing board games, a gym, "La Tisaneria" offering herbal infusions, a cigar lounge and a kids club.
For us, the pools were the winner on the day.
From the infinity one that precariously hangs over the mountain to the lit-up spas dotted around the resort, it was poolside that we really switched off and relaxed, enjoying the sun with drink in hand.
Lefay's spa therapies merge ancient principles of classical Chinese medicine with modern western techniques to help us "achieve body and mind balance" so reads my treatment menu.
Mick enjoyed his "Scambio nel vento", a relaxing energy-balancing massage and the three of us were also given the exclusive use of "La Luna nel Lago", a heated salt-water lake in an underground grotto where we floated, allowing our bodies to absorb the trace elements and minerals from the dissolved marine salt. Buonissimo!
The guest mix at Lefay is interesting. The majority comes from Italy, Germany and the UK, but I was surprised at the number of couples with new babies, perhaps on their babymoons. I wouldn't say Lefay is an ideal place for toddlers as there's an air of respectful quietness throughout the resort.
Our only complaint? The air system (not airconditioning, rather a bio-climatisation system) in our suite made it stuffy without the doors open.
Staying at Lefay wasaspecial experience and we have promised ourselves we will return. Reluctantly we checked out and were chauffeured back to Desenzano to catch our train to Venice. Relaxed, recharged and ready for the next chapter of our Italian adventure.
Emirates flies daily A380 services from Auckland to Rome or Milan, via Dubai, with return Economy Class fares starting from $1639 (Rome), $1949 (Milan).