Franciacorta City Guide: Meet Italy’s Own Champagne Region
Hugging the southern end of Lake Iseo, about an hour and a half drive north of Milan, lies Franciacorta, one of Italy’s top DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine regions lauded for bubbles. Set amid endless rows of grapevines and picturesque water vistas, the district offers a unique wine country aesthetic that’s also rife with top-rated restaurants and comfortable places to unwind.
While France’s Champagne region might be the best-known player in the world of sparkling vino, oenophiles are slowly discovering Franciacorta’s mineral-rich gems which offer some of the best quality to price value in the realm of bubbly, especially when it comes to vintages. Just as accessible as California’s Napa Valley is to San Francisco, Franciacorta is an easy detour for those visiting the city of Milan. Below, two ideal days in Lombardy’s wine country.
Relais & Châteaux L’Albereta (rooms start at $275 to $715 based on the season) is the place to stay in Franciacorta. The stunning ivy-covered property, which boasts a medicinal spa focused on Chinese medicine, overlooks Lake Iseo and combines antique and modern furnishings throughout its 57 rooms. Also worth noting are the property’s eating engagements: fine dining haunt LEONFELICE, the more casual VistaLago bistro, and newbie Neapolitan pizza import La Filiale (more below).
Located in the center of Lake Iseo on its own island is Monte Isola, the largest inhabited island in Europe, accessible by a 20-minute boat ride. Start your morning off right with a bottle of bubbles for the road (Mirabella Satèn), and contact Barcaioli di Montisola to arrange a scenic water tour around the island. Once there, check out the village of Peschiera Maraglio, then grab a lunch of local lake fish at La Foresta, a hotel and restaurant overlooking the water.
Post lunch, head over to what might be Franciacorta’s prettiest wineries (but remember to make reservations in advance!). The organic and sustainably-minded Corte Bianca is part vineyard and part farm — and even houses its own bees! The dreamy, whitewashed stone property is owned by Mauro Franzoni and his wife Marina Tonsi, the architect behind the design. Here, you may taste through three sparkling options, each with its own clean, yet sophisticated taste of terroir, which pairs wonderfully with local cheeses. Additionally, depending on the season, Corte Bianca might have some of its excellent rose jam made from flowers right off the property — which coincidentally pair wonderfully with the Rosé Millesimato.
Whether or not you’ve chosen to lodge at L’Albereta, their several-month old Neapolitan pizza boite, La Filiale is a requisite stop. Helmed by Campania-based pizzaiolo Franco Pepe of Pepe in Grani (whom many believe could be the world’s best pizza-maker), he offers his cultish pies, both baked and fried. For dinner you’ll want to start with the Margherita Sbagliata, topped with buffalo mozzarella, basil and a rich tomato sauce alongside a glass of Contadi Castaldi SoulRosé. Then, move over to the LeonFelice, L’Albereta’s modern Italian fine dining haunt helmed by Chef Fabio Abbattista which celebrates local ingredients and regional dishes from both the north and south. If you can, snag the four-seat kitchen table for the best view in the house.
Begin your morning with a brisk walk or hike though Torbiere del Sebino, a wetland natural reserve that’s rife with wildlife (some of which are rare and endangered).
Afterwards, visit Villa Calini, a majestic mansion commonly rented as an event space that’s also home to Michelin-recommended Ristorante Alessandro Cappotto. Here, take a morning cooking class with the restaurant’s namesake chef, where you’ll source produce from the property’s onsite organic garden, then eat the outcome for lunch.
From there drive over to your reservation at Monte Rossa, a beautiful vine-covered villa that was built in 1400. Since 1972 the property has grown grapes (though not all plots are onsite), and over the years has acquired a roster of fancy friends such as Frank Sinatra. Of course you’ll want to try what Frank drank, and that’s the Cabochon Brut.
Follow with a quick aperitif at Darsena 21, an intimate lakeside patio lounge known for its exotic fruit cocktails. For dinner, pop over to Michelin-starred Due Colombe, located in Borgo Antico in an ancient hamlet of medieval buildings that have been restored over the past decade. Here, Chef Stefano Cerveni melds traditional regional dishes with modern technique for a menu of old-meets-new entrees and à la carte plates.