Your Guide to a Perfect Vacation in Franciacorta—Italy's Secret Lake-Side Wine Region

Heaven is a place on earth, fact.

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(Image credit: Archives)

You know how you've always dreamed of going to Lake Como and spending your days lounging on a sail boat, glass of wine in hand, preferably making small talk with George Clooney? Cool, same, but I'll do you one better: Franciacorta. This breathtaking region in Italy, nestled on the shores of Lake Iseo, is famous for its wine and just about an hour from Milan (*buys one-way ticket immediately*).

Enchanting vineyards dot the hills—where grapes have been growing since Roman times—and towns straight out of a storybook line the shores. Just south of the snow-capped Alps, no trip to Northern Italy should be considered complete without a side-trip to Franciacorta, and if you don't believe me, here's everything I just said summed up in one photo (not pictured: me, barely fitting into my jeans due to cheese and wine consumption):

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(Image credit: Ca Del Bosco)

I recommend spending about three days in Franciacorta to really enjoy everything the region has to offer (by which I mean: visit as many vineyards as possible and drink all! the! wine!), but you could easily spend longer. Here, where to stay, what to do, and what to eat and drink on the vacation that just shot to the top of your bucket list.

Where to Stay

Relais Mirabella (opens in new tab) is one of the most romantic and unpretentiously gorgeous hotels I've ever been to. The grounds—complete with tennis courts, a swimming pool, and olive trees (because yes, they make their own oil)—are situated right above Lake Iseo, meaning your views are all like this:

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(Image credit: Archives)

Like most European hotels, Relais Mirabella (opens in new tab) has a mouth-watering breakfast that I tried (and failed) to not binge on. Unlike most European hotels, the rooms have private balconies with lake front views.

Book Now (opens in new tab)

Vineyards to Visit

Franciacorta has a mixture of larger and boutique vineyards. I definitely would visit both—starting with Ca' Del Bosco (opens in new tab) because their tour gives real insight into how the area's sparkling wines are made. (In other words, you get to see all the cool machines do their thing.)

Majolini (opens in new tab), on the other hand, is a smaller vineyard with incredible sparkling wine, and their location basically qualifies as Instagram bait, so wear your favorite outfit while you sip on their BRUT SATÈN (opens in new tab) and fantasize about quitting your job and escaping to Italy full-time.

The most gorgeous vineyard in the area, in my opinion, is CorteBianca (opens in new tab), an oasis of charm situated at the edge of a forest inhabited by diverse wildlife. The catch? The winery doesn't do regular visits and is run by a couple who aren't always in town, so you definitely need to call ahead. If you do make it to CorteBianca, though, this is what will greet you:

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(Image credit: Archives)

What (Else!) to Do

Two words: boat ride. As I've mentioned about a thousand times, Franciacorta is next to a lake, which has three tiny islands in it: Monte Isola, Loreto, and S. Paolo. You could honestly give over an entire day to exploring the lake's towns, so hop on a boat, take your time, and stop for ice cream along the way. You can also opt for the ferry if you're on a budget, but either way, please make sure to grab a treat at Leon D’Oro (opens in new tab), a restaurant and pizzeria known for their homemade gelato.

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(Image credit: Archives)

If boats are very much not your thing, there are several gorgeous walking paths around the lake. Start with what's probably the most famous route around the water, which begins at a town called Provaglio Iseo and passes by vineyards, castles, monasteries, and villas. And because burning calories deserves a reward, swing by La Foresta (opens in new tab), a lovely hotel restaurant that serves fresh local lake dishes, and is located right along the path.

Want to venture out even further? Check out Torbiere del Sebino (opens in new tab) nature reserve and wetland. Or rent a bicycle and cycle along the Strada del Franciacorta—a route that takes you past some of the region's most gorgeous villas, like the historic Palazzo Monti della Corte (opens in new tab).

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(Image credit: Palazzo Monti della Corte)

Of course if you're incredibly lazy (hi, me) and into doing absolute nothing, you can always while away your days at Cappuccini Spa (opens in new tab), which just happens to offer wine treatments and is located in an ancient former monastery.

Where to Eat

In addition to the lake-side spots I've already mentioned, I have a few more can't-miss favorites with various levels of fancy-ness.

La Filiale (opens in new tab) is a casual(ly stunning) pizzeria with stained-glass windows that serves Napoli-style pies. Try the famous "Margherita Sbagliata"—it's a perfect accompaniment to Franciacorta's sparkling wines.

Meanwhile, Locanda al Lago (opens in new tab) is a sweet family-owned spot that's known for its fish freshly caught from the lake. Legit, look how charming:

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(Image credit: Locanda al Lago)

If you're looking for something a bit more upscale (read: Michelin-starred), Due Colombe Restaurant at Borgo Antico (opens in new tab) is located in an ancient hamlet and serves up incredibly tasty local food (try the "psychedelic eel"), and Da Nadia (opens in new tab) has exceptional desserts.

Travel Tips

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Mehera Bonner is a celebrity and entertainment news writer who enjoys Bravo and Antiques Roadshow with equal enthusiasm. She was previously entertainment editor at Marie Claire and has covered pop culture for over a decade.