The exclusive mountain getaway first opened its doors in 1901, attracting the likes of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and Albert, King of the Belgians, until its first dark spell, when it was turned into a military hospital during World War I. History repeated itself during World War II, but the hotel rebounded both times. It re-established its place in the winter sun as a dormitory for Winter Olympics athletes in 1956, and prominent guests returned in droves. Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov visited with his butterfly net as his constant companion, to the amusement of fellow residents. When Frank Sinatra was filming Von Ryan's Express in Cortina and Calalzo in 1962, he hazed hotel staff with demands such as 200 fresh eggs served on a silver tray. (An egg fight ensued, and the wallpaper was ruined.) The hotel was also the setting for The Pink Panther with Peter Sellers and David Niven in 1963. But the rot gradually set in: wealthy patrons invested in their own chalets, and the Cristallo's owners sold it to a hotel chain, which closed it down in 1978.
Before the Gualandis reopened the Cristallo for business, they commissioned a painstaking renovation and added a heated indoor swimming pool, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, a sauna and a hammam as well as the hotel's Transvital Swiss Beauty Center, which offers treatments like chocolate-therapy massage and herbal wraps, and an Isokinetic Sport Reconditioning Center, equipped to accommodate injured or training athletes. The guest rooms' decor of oak flooring, pine wainscoting and silk plaid curtains doesn't challenge, but that's the point: visitors are here to unwind.
Three of the hotel's four restaurants overlook the jagged mountain range, but we sat in the Stube—a cozy, wood-paneled Tyrolean room in which Chef Luigi Sarsano serves up local cuisine. His menu features handmade ravioli stuffed with beetroot and spinach, a falling-off-the-bone baked shank of pork with sauerkraut, and fish shipped in daily from Venice's market.
The hotel's attention to detail is masterful: from the 16,000 handpainted roses on the ceilings and walls to the delectable handmade biscotti accompanying a sinful hot cocoa that my 5-year-old daughter dubbed "Willy Wonka's chocolate river in my throat." In 2005, the Cristallo won Italy's Leading Ski Resort at the World Travel Awards—like a rock legend, this hotel knows how to thrill, seduce and keep fans coming back for more.