When you arrive at L’Albereta in Franciacorta, in the Lake District of Lombardy, east of Milan, the peaceful setting feels almost like a secret. Passing through vineyards, you arrive at a refined, stately country villa, covered in vines, overlooking Lake Iseo in the valley below.
As the clouds roll down the trees into the valley and across the lake, it feels like a dream. Franciacorta is a dynamic dining destination. It received a lot of attention when Christo installed his orange docks in Lake Iseo in the summer of 2016. Well, it’s time to get to know Franciacorta even better, and L’Albereta is the perfect place to do it. For dynamic dining, a restful spa, a base for exploring the area, this is your next favorite retreat.
The patio, which sits in the shadows of the trees, is the easygoing center of life at L’Albereta. As soon as you sit down in the gentle sunshine, you’ll discover there’s no rush to leave. It’s also where you have breakfast—you might think you’re going to eat light, but there are wonderful house-made bread and diabolically good scrambled eggs. Then you say you’ll have a modest lunch, but the next thing you know you’re having pasta and a glass of wine and then maybe another. There’s a terrific Bellavista chardonnay from grapes picked right up the hill, and a variety of sparkling wines, all from the award-winning winery owned by the same family that runs the hotel. This is the easygoing good life the area promises.
In Italian hotels, I often prefer the simpler, trattoria-style restaurants to the fancy gastronomic ones. L’Albereta turns that idea on its head. The ambitious cooking at Ristorante LeoneFelice, by renowned chef Fabio Abbattista, is elegant and technically assured, without any fussiness or starchy formality. My meal included the small potato gnocchi (with a little caviar for good measure), which looked straightforward enough, but they were so light and transporting I just started to laugh. Grilled blue lobster is also memorable and a starter of cuttlefish was remarkable, as well. Enlightened wine pairings and some good aged grappa in the bar afterward had me in a golden haze as I returned to my room and watched the evening roll in across the lake.
The next night, I was in the mood for something simpler, so I headed down to the hotel’s celebrated pizzeria, La Filiale. The handmade dough is incredibly light and works well for more traditional pizzas – with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and local olive oil – or more ambitious ones featuring aged goat cheese and smoked bacon. Though don’t ignore the fried calzones, which inspire a cult following. It’s all offered with lively local wines that make for vivid pairings.
It’s not all eating and drinking (though I’d have no complaints if it was). There’s Spa Espace Chenot, relaxed but up to the standards of the spa experts (you know who you are!). You can swim laps, as I did, in the pool – the doors at the far end slide open to reveal a patio with lawn chairs, which is the perfect place to read a book. It’s also a good place to come back to reality after some time in the steam room or sauna, or after a spa treatment. One day, I went down to Lake Iseo itself, a twenty-minute drive, which is a sweet, sleepy town on the water. You can take a ferry out to Monte Isola, a small island at the lake’s end. Hills of trees descend to the lakeshore, with vivid blue water, giving the setting its fantastical atmosphere, where things move at a slower pace, probably because nobody wants to leave.
People celebrate terroir, a specific sense of place, and rightly so, thought it can easily sound grandiose. But when it works, it needs no explanation, it feels logical and inevitable. That equation has worked brilliantly for L’Albereta since it was a pioneer in this area. It’s drawn admirers, first from Milan and then further afield in Europe. Now it’s an international destination for a way of life so good you know the secret can’t last forever. Like all good dreams, you never want to wake up.