The Genteel
August 12, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

The grounds of Terme Murano (Photograph courtesy of Terme Merano).

Merano is an idyllic Southern Tyrolean town surrounded by mountains that sits at the mouth of the Passeier Valley. Over the past few centuries, Merano became a popular destination for health and leisure, favoured for a mild climate that was reputed to have positive health effects.

Famous visitors included Richard Strauss, Franz Kafka and Empress Elisabeth of Austria who, in 1870, began one of her many visits to the town thereupon defining Merano as a well-loved resort and attracting many visitors from around the world. Merano's history as a spa town began relatively recently when in 1933 a geologist discovered radon springs in nearby Monte San Vigilio. Radon is believed by some to have therapeutic properties, including positive effects on the respiratory system.

(Photograph courtesy of Terme Merano)

Terme Merano officially opened in 1972, offering mud baths, hydro-massages and radon inhalations, among other things, but by 2003, the spa was in need of a comprehensive renovation. South Tyrolean authorities decided to launch a competition for the re-design of the spa, and local designer Matteo Thun was awarded the project together with German architectural firm Baumann, Zillich, Müller & Wehberg. In December 2005, Terme Merano officially reopened on a sprawling 56,300m2 property on the banks of the Passer river and is now Italy's largest public spa.

Terme Merano's new grounds is comprised of the Piazza Terme, indoor spa facilities, outdoor pools and a luxury hotel, Hotel Terme Merano. The spa facilities, which include radon-infused pools and fitness, medical and beauty centres, are enclosed in a breathtaking glass and steel structure surrounded by a 51,000m2 landscaped outdoor park nestled in the surrounding mountains. Thun enthuastically stated that, "Terme Merano is unique in the whole of Europe and beyond. Nowhere else will you find such an oasis of green in the middle of a town. We are creating the thermal baths out of the DNA of the Passer river and the mountains. We are working for visitors of the 21st century, who see the thermal baths and water as a source of relaxation and wellbeing." 

Thun was born in nearby Bolzano in 1952 and earned his degree in architecture at the University of Florence in 1975. Thun opts for long lasting solutions and takes a holistic approach to his work; he views "architecture" as a means to designing the soul of the place. In 2010, he received the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2010 in the categories of Best Bath (for Raspel) and Best Cook's Kit (for TVS), follow ups to his Wallpaper* award in 2004 for his work on the Vigilius Mountain Resort, also in South Tyrol. His many projects include Hotel Missoni Kuwait and the design of a modern KFC restaurant in Munich.

(Photograph courtesy of Terme Merano)

In Terme Merano, Thun combined function and technology with environmental consciousness design by using wood, natural stones and others sustainable materials. The spa utilizes equipment designed to economize on water and energy, conserving approximately 8 million litres of water each year. Despite its size, the entire compound feels light and airy, blending in to - rather than imposing on - the natural surroundings. The structure gracefully engages with the elements in a symphony as conducted by Thun.

Thun's design concept for lighting was to use the natural light as an architectural component. The glass and steel cube structure is softly illuminated by day, whilst by night, the decorative globes and coloured discs that hang from the ceiling capture light and project colourful reflections of a sunset onto the walls and water.

The two main indoor pools allow for a seamless transition to the outdoor pool, allowing one to swim between both worlds, even while snowflakes are gently falling from the sky. One may literally watch the passing of each season while bathing. Not everyday can one be swept away in a thermal bath, enchanted by pure and beautiful minimalism and enveloped by warm rays of light - but that is what architect Matteo Thun has achieved. 

Matteo Thun: interior design, lighting design, styling, signage design

Architect: Baumann, Zillich, Müller & Wehberg 

Landscaping: Luetzow 7

Terme Merano: Piazza Terme 9, 39012, Merano, Italy,



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