"Never say never and never say always,” says Paola Beghini. “Everything is possible.” Beghini was talking about the history of Monte Rossa winery, set in a beautiful 15th century villa. But, really, that statement could also apply to the other 115 wineries in Franciacorta, an Italian region in the heart of Lombardy at the foothills of the Alps that, despite a small footprint and low production, are turning out some of the world’s best sparkling wines (sorry, Champagne).
As European wine denominations go, Franciacorta is a baby. It was in the ’50s when the idea of creating a sparkling-wine region was first discussed; the area already produced a number of excellent still wines. Although it wasn’t until 1995 when Franciacorta obtained the Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin—the first Italian wine to be produced exclusively using bottle fermentation, like Champagne, to do so. Combine that with its limited availability outside of Italy—although that is improving—and you’ll be forgiven for not being familiar with this elegant Italian sparkling wine, which is made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc estate-only grapes. Once you taste it, though, you’ll never forget it.
But if you want a truly unforgettable experience, why not go to Franciacorta? Its location an hour east of Milan in a roughly 77-square-mile area, bordered on one side by Lake Iseo and on the other by low mountains and sloping hillsides, means it’s not only easy to get to but, once you arrive, there’s plenty to do, visiting wineries notwithstanding.
For a home base, L’Albereta (room rates from $310 per night), a luxury five-star Relais & Châteaux resort, sets the perfect tone. Housed in a former villa, the family-owned hotel combines Old World charm with modern touches, including contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the lush property. Each of the 57 suites has a different look and some include a private outdoor area.
No matter your thoughts on breakfast buffets, don’t miss it here, and not just for the tartas, crostatas and bombolini (that’s cakes, fruit tarts and doughnuts, to you non-Italian speakers). The view from the outdoor deck is stunning. If you’ve gotten friendlier with the buffet than you intended or overindulged at the hotel’s wonderful fine dining restaurant, LeoneFelice—chef Fabio Abbattista’s toasted wheat cappelletti pasta stuffed with rabbit is worth every calorie—there’s Espace Chenot Health Wellness Spa on the lower level that includes a pool, a gym and access to personal trainers. Off-site activities include horseback riding, wind surfing and boat rentals. The latter is best enjoyed with a glass of Franciacorta in hand as you take in the dramatic scenery.