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This hotel sanctum of aesthetic cool in Arco near Lake Garda sits harmoniously alongside an inhabited nuns’ cloister – testament to both of their calm demeanours despite offering a widely different scale of accommodation.
And even more calm and at ease are Monastero Arx Vivendi owners Steffi and Manuel, who talked to us at the Aficionados about their astonishing restoration project and the gorgeous hotel they’ve created.
“We didn’t choose the monastery; the monastery chose us.”
These are Steffi’s words when she reminisces about the first time she saw the monastery, its thick chunky walls peeling and dusty, cavernous rooms empty and unused and a wild garden overflowing with two-metre-high grass. At that time, they weren’t looking for a project, or to even run a hotel, and simply came to look at it on a whim.
However, when they ducked inside the cloistered walls, felt the surprising light stream in from huge windows and admired the airy space from high ceilings, they were touched by its special atmosphere and with little experience, they decided to take on its restoration.
Always in awe of the building and its previous life as a monastery, Steffi and Manuel’s ethos was one of deep respect to the structure and they wanted above all to find a way to bottle its unique character and charm. Working side-by-side with Italy’s Cultural Heritage meant strict rules had to be adhered to, that it was a difficult stop-start process, while they grappled with regulations and planning including restrictive fire protection, making the steps to modernisation tricky at times.
Wanting to keep to the rulebook, the couple had an on-site conservationist to help, which was lucky when Roman remains were found buried in the garden alongside some ancient vases. They also had to be patient with cultural heritage experts who needed their say on everything from colour palettes and light switches to the roof and exterior walls.
Bringing on board Studio Noa* from Bolzano made the process easier, especially when it came to interior design. The structure was in place, but it needed softening and adapting for the modern palette – and Noa* were able to build on the brief for aesthetic calm, using a muted colour scheme, creating space solutions for bedrooms made from the small nuns’ quarters and designing bespoke shelving and open wardrobes for the rooms to allow space and freedom.
Although the colours are desaturated in line with the original monastery, a beautiful fresco over one of the arches gave the duo inspiration for their colour accents. Taking their cues from the pomegranate tree fresco, you’ll find accents of sage-green, terracotta and ochre scattered on cushions – the only colour against a sea of grey, black and beige.
In the walled garden, the newly built spa brought the monastery firmly into the now. With an outdoor pool, airy indoor/outdoor cabanas, sauna, hammam and a light-filled uplifting atmosphere, it’s a world away from the overgrown wilderness they first encountered.
As they opened in 2022, it was the happy guests who gave Steffi and Manuel the greatest reward of all and showed them to be the natural hosts they hoped they would be. Although Steffi admits the blessing of the neighbouring nuns who came to visit was probably the best compliment of all.