The best country hotels have a strong sense of place. As soon as you arrive you understand why they are where they are, and you quickly become addicted to that special location. At the Relais San Maurizio the reason is perfectly clear.
To get there you ascend a narrow road that winds its way slowly up one of the many hills in the Langhe Valley. Once you’ve reached the top the air and light feels gentler, everything slows down, it’s quiet and peaceful. That should come as no surprise, the setting is a former monastery, built in the 16th Century. It’s a series of a welcoming stone and stucco buildings including a former church.
There are extended gardens, immense ancient trees, winding paths, a comfortable patio where you can watch the sun come up and another where you can watch it set. The property occupies the entire top of the hill, with views in every direction. A hotel like this becomes its own world, a true retreat, and you know you won’t want to leave for a while.
This area of Piedmont is known for its legendary wine (the towns of Barbaresco is nearby). As a reminder almost every open area of every steep hill is planted with grapes—they come so close to the road you can almost touch them driving by. It’s also known for its food—it’s a primary producer of Italy’s rice. But it’s really celebrated for white truffles from Alba, that you want to shave on everything from eggs at breakfast to salad at lunch to pasta at dinner. So it’s no surprise then that Guido da Castigliole, the one-star Michelin restaurant in the stone-lined lower level, is a highlight of any visit. In the winter a fire warms the long, dark atmospheric room while you enjoy impressive contemporary versions of regional dishes.
The wine list has a vaunted roster of aged Barolos and Barbarescos, as you would expect, and it’s a great opportunity to try some rare bottles. But there are also more modern interpretations of those classic wines and an engaged sommelier to help you find some exciting new producers. After dinner you might enjoy an aged grappa (one is enough!) or a cigar from their collection and you’d be correct to think you had a very fine day (though you undoubtedly drank more than the monks did when they lived here).
Fog rises slowly up from the valley each morning. You might start your day with a trip to the spa and take a few laps in the pool. There’s a deck outside with lounge chairs and you can have some tea and look down into the valley. This area is known for the healing power of its water and the spa is a popular destination.
The hotel that’s open year-round. There’s an outdoor pool with a terrace and there are endless walks and settings with terrific views. I was there in the winter and it was also lovely. We enjoyed lunch by the fire in the café and it was warm enough to have coffee outside.
Strolling in the night air and enjoying the peace of this very specific place it was no surprise that the monks found their way here. They showed the way, and it was inevitable that some lucky travelers have made the pilgrimage to the San Maurizio ever since.