Franciacorta, Italy — A Country Holiday

by Valerie Summers

Vineyards, castles, medieval towns with outdoor cafes overlooking a peaceful lake and one of the most romantic hideaways in Italy, awaits visitors to the region of Franciacorta. Just an hour outside of Milan, nestled between the Alps and Lago de’Iseo, L’Albereta hotel provides a countrified escape into the elegance of days past. In this region where tantalizing wines are produced, where golf is practiced in an unhurried setting, where the landscape is magical and the climate mild, the hotel provides a starting point for a country holiday.

L’Albereta still offers the same warmth and elegance as the 19th century villa which it once was. Guests experience a trip into the past, surrounded by original frescos and exquisite objects d’ art. The lobby’s conversation areas emulate a gentrified, comfortable living room decorated in warm colors of ochre and burnt orange, enhanced with cozy fireplaces and glistening Murano chandeliers. The 44 guest rooms and suites, all furnished with antique furniture include spacious modern bathrooms with oversized Jacuzzi tubs, double sinks and marble floors and counters. Several rooms feature canopied beds covered in rich satiny fabrics of warm corals and icy greens, and blond wood floors accented with colorful Persian rugs creating the ultimate romantic setting. The best of the old is preserved in the 125 year old frescoed ceilings and the best of the new is obvious in the bathroom facilities.

The gardens and vineyards which surround the property create a peaceful scene for a stroll or sipping a glass of the regional wine next to the bubbling fountain which fronts the hotel. Nothing could be finer than breakfasting in the garden edged with violet and yellow pansies and sheltered by red Japanese maple trees with nary a sound save the splashing of the fountain and the chirping of the birds.

Guests need only to venture a few steps past the lobby for an exceptional dining experience at the Michelin starred Ristorante Gualtiero Marchesi, one of the country’s finest restaurants. In this formal bastion of Epicurean cuisine, traditional Italian dishes are presented with aplomb. Exceptional service is delivered by a professional waitstaff. The gracious surroundings features a wall of windows overlooking the lush gardens. But the star of this show is the heavenly, creative cuisine where two of the favorite dishes are black squid risotto and lobster in red wine. The exquisite formal service paired with fine wines and beautifully served and imaginative cuisine could easily be used as a promotional picture, but it’s just the way they do things at Ristorante Gualtiero Marchesi.

In less formal surroundings, La Mongolfiera dei Sodi, (hot air balloon) a charming, rustic, converted 16th century stable just minutes from the hotel, serves up hearty county style cuisine. Their signature dish is an unbelievable three to four pound charcoal grilled T-bone steak which easily serves three people. The wine selection includes 150 labels from the areas of Brecia, Tuscany, Lombardy/Franciacorta and Piedmont. The atmosphere is upbeat and relaxed and there are usually several tables of large parties in the restaurant’s four spacious rooms. It’s a family operation with Mom in the kitchen and son hosting.

After all the eating many guests are eager to participate in some activities. The hotel features an enclosed swimming pool and Jacuzzi, edged with marble columns, facing a glass wall overlooking the vineyards which surround the property. Guests enjoy the use of the tennis court, billiard room, games room and reading room.

For those with a penchant for more activity, hotel guests have access to nearby golfing at a choice of four different courses, wine tastings, horseback riding and mountain bike riding in the vineyards, trips by motor boat and ferry on Lake Iseo, sailing, and wind surfing. Castles, abbeys, monasteries, and ruins dot the perimeter of the lake. At the center of the lake, stands Monteisola, the largest lake island in Europe.

Wine buffs will enjoy “A Walk In the Clouds” at the Bellavista Winery where the recent movie, starring Keanu Reeves, served as one of the filming locales. It does remind one of a movie set. Since ancient times, the wines produced in the hills surrounding the lake have always been well known. Evidence for this is found in some quotations by Latin classics , the most famous is the fundamental text written by a Bresccian doctor Named Geronimo Conforto who wrote in 1570 of a wine “with sparks” being produced in Franciacorta.

At the end of the 1950’s, a new era of wine and wine production in Franciacorta was born out of a centuries old wine making tradition, particularly apt for the production of dry sparkling wine. During the past 50 years, acres of land have become filled with orderly rows of vines, replacing fields of grain and orchards. A visit to Bellavista guarantees a delightful and enlightening experience.

Franciacorta, not only famous for its wine, also became renowned as the favorite country retreat of nobility in centuries past. The mansions and country residences built in the hills by the noble families all bear witness to their love for this area. The mansions, dating from different periods mark the passage of time and the cultural changes that have taken place from the Renaissance period to the neoclassic. Taste and styles change but there remains a perfect balance between architecture and nature.

Vineyards, orchards and woods envelope the surroundings providing a peaceful rural atmosphere. Modern city life rarely intrudes on the tranquil environment of Franciacorta where commercialism and tourism have not overtaken it. It remains a place of unspoiled beauty untouched by time.

For information:

L’Albereta Hotel
Via Vittorio Emanuele,11
25030 Erbusco (Brescia)
(030) 77 60 550

Ristorante Gualtiero Marchesi
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 11
25030 Erbusco (Brescia
(030) 77 60 562
Bellavista Vineyards

Via Bellavista 5
25030 Erbusco (Brescia)
(030) 77 60 276

La Mongolfiera dei Sodi
via Cavour, 7
Erbusco (Brescia)
(030) 726 830 3451