Luxury Sustainability In Italy’s Dolomites: Hotel De Len
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, is about to get its moment in the winter sun. It’s a main site for the 2026 Winter Olympics, and big-name hotel development is already underway: Mandarin Oriental has announced that it will upgrade and take over the Cristallo hotel, and other super-luxe brands are said to be nosing around in Cortina and other Dolomite Mountain towns. But for now, it’s still a place of smaller, more independent and soulful hotels. Places like Hotel de Len.
The year-old Hotel de Len, whose name includes the word for “wood” in one of the local Ladin languages, reflects the traditions of its region–a region that has long been known to mountaineers for its outstanding jagged peaks, to skiers for its some 75 miles of trails, to Italians for its appearances in cinepanettoni (lightweight movies for Christmas viewing) and to a growing number of adventurous North Americans.
That starts with the materials, with wood–old fir and Swiss pine, almost all recovered from other buildings, as the developers have a strong commitment to sustainability–as the primary one. Much of it is unpainted and unvarnished, making the 22 rooms redolent with the scent of the forest.
They say the woods are “capable of rebalancing the psychophysical state” and “improving the quality of sleep.” Having slept quite well and felt reasonably balanced, I can’t dispute either claim. I’m less sure about the Magma 13 technology from the Swiss Optimal Living Society, including the “Sleep Radiance Panel” and filters for electromagnetic environments, but the intention is certainly a good one–as was the participation in a university study into what they call the InnoRenew CoE. (Read up on it here if this interests you.) Tech terminology aside, they want guests to feel as well as possible,
As far as I know, I was not a research subject, but I did feel relaxed there, and also inspired by the usual things: a design that marries Alpine tradition with contemporary simplicity, comfort and quality of every material I touched, and jaw-droopingly gorgeous views of one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in the world.
Those views are best taken in from the top floor. There, they used valuable hotel real estate not for penthouse suites but for the spa, which is accessible to all guests. Mountain peaks and church spires are visible from the large open-air hot tub, the relaxation area and one of the saunas. (Yes, there’s more than one.)
The view from the spa
Of course, the hotel offers that other balm for the soul: uncomplicated delicious gastronomy. It’s managed by San Domenico Hotels, owners of the beloved Borgo Egnazia (and its Michelin-star restaurant0 and several masseria around Puglia, and a number of staff from the southern hotels have been imported to the north to prepare and serve the food. The result is a gastronomy that’s very local but still feels very Italian, in a border region where nearby villages lean more toward the Teutonic.
It also has one of the most important qualities there can be in a small hotel: a commitment to being more than food, interior design and wellness tech. Along with the usual, knowledgeable front desk staff, Hotel de Len employs an experiences manager. Francesco Masiero grew up in Cortina, is more than a little fed up with cinepanettoni, and is now on a mission to show guests that there’s more to the Dolomites than skiing and shopping.
He is particularly enthusiastic about the artisanship of his region, eagerly pointing out the hotel’s antique, hand-hewn hinges and door latches during a hotel tour. (He has a point–once visitors get accustomed to the sweeping vistas outside, it’s nice to notice something that was made with care, many generations ago.)
A guest room
Masiero’s uncle is part of one of the valley’s guilds (for lack of a better word for this uniquely Italian idea–but here it’s helpful to remember that Cortina was once a main stop between Venice and Austria, and artists thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries), which gives him unusual access to traditional craftsmen, who lead workshops in the hotel for candle-making, a specific type of stained glass art, wood carving and tarkashi (an antique technique consisting of strings of metal inlaid in wood objects).
He’s also cultivating a relationship with one of Cortina’s most interesting gastronomic endeavors. A short way up the mountain from the hotel, San Brite is an innovative restaurant that holds a regular Michelin star and one of the increasingly important green ones, for sustainability or, in the chef’s words, “regenerative cooking.”
Chef Riccardo Gaspari took over his family’s dairy farm–“our barns, our animals are the memories of my grandparents,” he says–and now operates the fine-dining restaurant along with a significantly more casual sibling, El Brite de Larieto with his wife and restaurant director, Ludovica Rubbini. They are fiercely committed to local ingredients, starting with milk from their cows.
The dining room at San Brite
El Brite is a quintessential mountain refuge, warmed by an enormous stove and serving traditional dishes like beetroot ravioli drenched in fresh butter and poppy seeds, and gnocchi with yogurt sauce. At San Brite things are fancified, but the same commitment to purity of tastes, connection to the mountain and essences of ingredients shines through. The roughly ten-course Sentiero menu begins with a plate called Herbarium, tiny tastes of the celery root, white currant, elderflower, mugo pine caper, wild juniper, spruce bud and celery leaf that will feature in the dishes to follow.
The bread and butter course is a highlight. And that it’s one of those places where the recipe for the whipped butter changes throughout the year, as the cows’ different diets (pasture vs. barn) result in summer milk and winter milk with distinguishable characteristics.
Of course, going to Cortina only to sleep, learn and eat is missing the point: You want to play on the mountain. Hotel del Len offers complimentary transfers to the ski lifts for Faloria, Cristallo, Tofana and Cinque Torri. It also has a partnership with the adventure travel company Dolomite Mountains, which organizes excellent guides for snowshoeing, mountain biking, via ferrata climbs and other sports. And coming back to the wood-filled sanctum of the hotel is its own reward.