Monte VeritàAt the beginning of the 20th century, a hilltop in Ascona, Switzerland became a center for unconventional idealists and reformers. Theosophists, writers, visual and performing artists–kindred spirits seeking a simpler lifestyle and unfettered pursuit of their craft–came together in a community that offered both. Last week, Tom and I were thrilled to spend a couple of nights soaking up the vibes of those early free-thinkers, along with some incredible views. 

A place of power

Monte Verità, the ‘mountain of truth’ in Switzerland’s canton Ticino, is a place of special energy and an architectural landmark. The Ascona region and Monte Verità in particular have been defined as ‘power places’ by researchers and scholars, as well as by the founders of the colony, who gave the hill its name.

Long before counter-culture winds swept America’s university campuses in the 1960s, a small group of well-to-do naturists established a colony here, upending social norms in pursuit of a common ideal. Ida Hofmann, pianist and feminist leader, Henri Oedenkoven, the son of an industrialist, and the brothers Karl and Arthur Gräser considered their cooperative an alternative to Capitalism and Communism–a new, individualistic way of life that included vegetarianism, sun-bathing and eventually a sanatorium. The community in its initial form lasted just twenty years, but it hosted some of the best-known artists and writers of the early decades of the last century.

Early residents came to Ascona and the wooded mountain to escape the perils of industrialism. This two-room chalet is being restored as an example of the simple lifestyle of the colonists.
The naturists who lived at Monte Verità in the early 20th century took salt baths and outdoor showers, as part of their health regimen.
This circular painting by Elisar von Kupfer, The Clear World of the Blessed, is a monument to the tolerance–if not understanding–of local citizens for the colony and its members. The work is mounted in its own building in a wooded glade, and can be visited on guided tours of the property.
The complex comprises a number of buildings, several of which are being restored as part of the Monte Verità museum. This is the Russian House, so named because of a possible connection with Lenin.
One hundred years ago, Rudolf von Laban created his ‘New Dance’ here. Mary Wigman, Katja Wulff and Suzanne Perrottet became his students, and Isidora Duncan visited Monte Verità. Today, a multi-part sculptural installation by Miki Tallone, ‘Laban’s Training Area’, celebrates Laban principles of movement.
Artists flocked to Ascona in great numbers at the end of the First World War: among them, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexei von Jawlensky, Arthur Segal, the Dadaists Hugo Ball, Hans Arp and Hans Richter. An Arp sculpture fronts the entrance to the Bauhaus building.

An exhibition, Le mammelle della verità (“The Breasts of Truth”) was created by Harald Szeemann in 1978 to present the history of Monte Verità. Szeemann’s installation will be the centerpiece for a new Monte Verità Museum housed in Casa Anatta and other buildings on the property.

An architectural landmark

In 1926, Monte Verità was acquired by Baron Eduard von der Heydt, banker to German Kaiser Wilhelm II. The baron was a colorful character: a Nazi party member who eventually became a Swiss citizen, he was a passionate collector of non-European art (the brilliant Museum Rietberg is built around von der Heydt’s bequest to the City of Zürich).

Upon his death in 1964, the baron left the entire complex, including about 500 works of art, to the Canton of Ticino. Ownership was later transferred to a foundation, which still manages the property.

The main building of the hotel complex is the Bauhaus Hotel, by architect Emil Fahrenkamp, built in 1928. It was commissioned by Baron Eduard von der Heydt, who owned the property at the time.
Rooms are outfitted with original Bauhaus furniture, functional and comfortable: beds designed by Swiss architect Alfred Roth and Wagenfeld lamps, according to a design that is still winning prizes. Most have lake views and generously sized balconies.
Today, Monte Verità is a conference and seminar center for ETH Zurich, as well as a hotel. Works from the von der Heydt bequest are displayed throughout the hotel.
On the front lawn, an energy path created by Oppy De Bernardo follows the energy points of the mountain. ‘Chiara’s Rainbow’ is constructed of Venetian glass, and is said to radiate energy and mental well-being.
The Tea Park, with its planting of tea bushes and a Zen Garden makes the most of the microclimate of Monte Verità, as a cultivation center for green tea. The Tea House Loreley offers tea ceremonies, samplings and workshops, and a small shop.
Lorenzo Sonognini, CEO of the Fondazione Monte Verità, took us on a walk through the ‘Utopian Hills’, and was happy to recount the colony’s history and personalities for us. His enthusiasm for the ‘project’ of Monte Verità is infectious!

If you go

The Monte Verità museum is closed at present, its buildings accessible only on guided tours. Buildings on the property are scheduled to re-open over the next two years, with Casa Anatta as its centerpiece.

Albergo Monte Verità is often filled with conference-goers during the week, but also offers much for the individual traveler. Tours of the premises and nearby places of power, tea ceremonies, and evening events such as lectures are offered throughout the year.

Weekends are an ideal time for a Monte Verità getaway. It is possible to stay in the Bauhaus Hotel, or in one of several other buildings on the property. An open-air restaurant offers local produce, well prepared, and the breakfast buffet is generous.

The kitchen at Albergo Monte Verità makes liberal use of herbs from the hotel’s garden.

A Swiss Historic Hotel

Albergo Monte Verità became a member of Swiss Historic Hotels in 2008, and in 2013, was named Historic Hotel of the Year by Icomos.  The hotel is a unique destination–just a short way up the hill from Ascona, Monte Verità offers an escape to another time, as well the peace and balance of natural surroundings.

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Thanks to Switzerland Tourism and to Swiss Historic Hotels for hosting our visit to Albergo Monte Verità, and to Foundation CEO Lorenzo Sonognini and his staff for sharing their passion and knowledge of this special place with us!


    • Thanks for commenting, Aysha! I too was fascinated by the Monte Verità colony…and the luminaries who went there, from Hesse to Buber to Duncan. Quite a crew!


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