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):
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 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:
Like most European hotels, Relais Mirabella 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.
Vineyards to Visit
Franciacorta has a mixture of larger and boutique vineyards. I definitely would visit both—starting with Ca' Del Bosco 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, 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 and fantasize about quitting your job and escaping to Italy full-time.
The most gorgeous vineyard in the area, in my opinion, is CorteBianca, 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:
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, a restaurant and pizzeria known for their homemade gelato.
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, 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 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.
Of course if you're incredibly lazy (hi, me) and into doing absolute nothing, you can always while away your days at Cappuccini Spa, 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 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 is a sweet family-owned spot that's known for its fish freshly caught from the lake. Legit, look how charming:
If you're looking for something a bit more upscale (read: Michelin-starred), Due Colombe Restaurant at Borgo Antico is located in an ancient hamlet and serves up incredibly tasty local food (try the "psychedelic eel"), and Da Nadia has exceptional desserts.
- Bring (or buy) an extra bag. You're inevitably going to end up purchasing lots of sparkling wine to bring home with you, and carrying it on is not an option.
- Rent a car at the Milan airport. Unlike some other major cities in Italy—think Rome or Florence—that are easy to walk around, Franciacorta is an entire region, which means access to a car (and a designated driver!) is a must.
- You *can* try Franciacorta wines without visiting the area—especially if you live in a big city—so take note of the wine lists at your favorite dinner spots, fellow New Yorkers.
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