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This spring was my first visit to the Franciacorta region in Northern Italy and I’ll be honest I knew little of what to expect. My only knowledge of the region was basic at best, and most of it through Instagram friends and having a few tastes at Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri in Chicago earlier this year. Located within the Province of Brescia in Lombardy, Franciacorta, officially a DOCG since 1995, is a small wine region southeast of Lake Iseo producing high-quality sparkling wines.
While many of us know Italy’s Prosecco (and Prosecco related cocktails), Franciacorta differs greatly in that it is made in the traditional Champagne method and produced in a variety of styles from zero dosage to demi-sec. The grapes used are also similar to those used in Champagne, with Chardonnay and Pinot Niro as the primary varieties. The greatest difference comes in the time spent on the lees, which ranges from 18 months to an astonishing five plus years! I was certainly intrigued. I mean who doesn’t love bubbles! So, on this recent trip to Italy, I figured it was time to explore this fine wine region.
How to Get To Franciacorta
Now as many travelers know, most flights from the states to Europe are overnight journeys and you often don’t arrive to your destination until morning or mid-day – and often exhausted. However, with time of the essence, it’s important to get adjusted to the new time zone as fast as possible. For me, that means keeping active until my usual bedtime in my new locale. On this trip, I flew into Milan’s Linate airport on a transfer from Dublin. Many domestic and European airlines also fly into Il Caravaggio International Airport. Malpensa Airport offers many direct flights from the states as well.
Both Linate and Malpensa are within a 45 to 60-minute drive to the Franciacorta region, while Il Caravaggio is within 30 minutes. Upon arrival, I grabbed my bags and made my way to the nearest espresso counter to order my latte (although if you want to look less like a tourist, order an espresso or doppio if it’s past breakfast time), before making my way to the rental car station. Trust me the added caffeine will serve you well as you begin your adventure.
Speaking of rental cars, this is really the best way to navigate the Franciacorta region. Many of the wineries and hotels are in remote locations and will require a car. Guides and drivers are also available, but I still find it easiest and most rewarding to take advantage of the freedom your rental car will allow you. Numerous well-known rental car brands serve the area including Hertz, Sixt, Alamo, Avis, Auto Europe and Europcar.
For navigation, use your phone’s data plan or request GPS in your rental. It’s an easy shot to Franciacorta, but once there the roads are winding and less direct.
First, Stop in Bergamo
If you’re like me, you arrive in the morning or mid-day. I highly recommend taking a swing through Bergamo on your way to Franciacorta. Bergamo is a beautiful, artistic city with an ancient, walled medieval town-center set atop a hill known as Città Alta. Now, it’s important to note, you won’t be taking your car into Città Alta. But there is a convenient and inexpensive covered public parking garage available at the Hotel Excelsior San Marco. From the underground garage, walk up to street-level and around the block to the funicular that will take you directly into the Città Alta.
Once you’ve arrived, I recommend wandering the streets and taking in the sites. The fresh air will do you good and it’s a beautiful welcome into the cobblestoned romanticism of Italy. You’ll find a university, numerous piazzas, including Piazza Vecchia and the remarkable Duomo. Make sure to poke your head inside the Duomo – it’s nothing short of breathtaking.
After your initial walk through the city, it’s time for a Winetraveler’s favorite thing to do – enjoy a glass of wine! And since you’re near Piazza Vecchio, why not enjoy a late lunch while dining al fresco. I recommend Lalimentari Ristorante Bar & Enoteca for its authentic cuisine and local wine list. After soaking in the sun and enjoying your first tastes of Italy, you’ll want to do some more walking to stay energized. So before heading back down to your car, make your way to the city wall. This Venetian wall encircles the Città Alta and offers extensive views of Bergamo, Milan and the mountains in the distance. Take a leisurely stroll, sit along the wall on the overlook and take it all in for a few moments. It’s a view and a day to remember.
Next, Drive To Franciacorta
Where to Stay in Franciacorta
After a leisurely afternoon you’ll want to make your way to your lodging in Franciacorta, and if possible before sunset. The region offers numerous hotels, rentals and agriturismos available for your stay. Or, if you’re looking for a particularly romantic stay, I recommend Colletto AgriBioRelais just north of Lake Iseo and Franciacorta. While you can certainly stay here with friends or on your own, I for one will be going back with my special someone because it absolutely exudes romance.
From the moment of arrival, I was greeted by Graziana, the proprietor and winemaker (as well as the designer of the very chic facilities). It is a family-owned and run relais and everyone on staff will instantly make you feel at home. I can’t tell you how at ease, relaxed and in my element, I felt within minutes of arrival.
The main building hosts the reception, restaurant, breakfast area and features numerous sitting areas, a cozy fireplace and an expansive deck with views of the surrounding valley and mountains. Colletto’s orientation on the hillside makes it the perfect place to take in the sunset with a welcome glass of sparkling wine!
I really can’t say enough about the hospitality and accommodations at Colletto from the fresh breakfast array, to the outstanding sparkling wines and dry reds made on premises. Plus the beautiful, comfortable and fully equipped rooms with some of the best hotel pillows and linens I have encountered at an agriturismo. (However, don’t expect to find any televisions here – as I said, this is a romantic getaway and the sunset alone will be entertainment enough!)
I would be remiss not to mention the evening dinner service with some of the best meals I have had in my life. The kitchen is led by a Michelin Star chef and each dish is not only a work of art, but incredibly flavorful and unique. Local ingredients and recipes like risotto with local fish and cucumbers, ossobucco Milanese, roast duck, bacalao and freshly made pastas shine under his tutelage. I’m not joking when I say that I ate here three evenings in a row and was mesmerized each time. You don’t need to eat anywhere else!
Franciacorta Itinerary – Where To Taste Wine
As for your itinerary in Franciacorta, I would spend a few days visiting wineries and getting to know the various styles of Franciacorta, cruising on Lake Iseo and hiking in the many hills and woodlands around the region. Regardless of your intended style of travel, be it leisurely and romantic or solo and active, the area offers plenty of opportunities to explore. Below are a few recommendations to get you started on your sparkling excursion!
Winetraveler Tip: Make appointments in advance for the wineries listed below and if an English host is needed, make sure to request one upon booking.
Wineries – The Big Houses
Conti Ducco – The wine excellence of Conti Ducco is the result of the harmony between natural and physico-chemical conditions, latitude and climate, and the natural soil fertility. This is a specialized production of high-end Franciacorta wines, which are stored for years in the caves beneath the historic family villa.
Ca’ del Bosco – Ca` del Bosco brings together modernity and the past. What was once a small house, became one of the most trailblazing wineries in Italy. Since then a single principle has been defining the essence of Ca’ del Bosco: the quest for excellence.
BellaVista – BellaVista offers a timeless style and class, the fruit is approached simply and there is an artisanal attention to even the smallest detail in this renowned Franciacorta house.
Contadi Costaldi – The vineyards of Contadi Costaldi are capable of producing a vast range of aromas and flavors indicative of the Contadi Costaldi style which is both dynamic and deeply indebted to its roots.
Wineries – The Boutique Producers
Colletto (although technically outside of Franciacorta) – As mentioned above, the AgriBioRelais is also a winery where you can taste an outstanding array of sparkling wines from a Blanc de Blancs to a rosé of Pinot Noir. The winery also offers two dry red wine blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – one barrel aged and one stainless aged.
Castelveder – The Castelveder estate produces 80,000 bottles with grapes from vineyards that still retain their name: Ronco del Castellotto, la Madonna della Rosa, the Palazzina and the Cilinder, the Nulli and the Guast and Capelét. Bunches of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced in the Monticelli Brusati region of Franciacorta with its soils of silt, clay and mineral deposits, allow Castelveder to have a raw material of the highest quality.
Il Pendio in Franciacorta – Michele Loda – Located at 420 meters above sea level with an east-south-east exposure, the vineyard and the olive grove rest on dark earth, stingy and proudly mixed with a sea of limestone. For the Black Label and Classic Method the Chardonnay is the protagonist, but Pinot Bianco contributes in some wines giving a characteristic freshness.
Rizzini – The Rizzini farms positioned at northeast of the Franciacorta territory, at the foot of the Monticelli Brusati hills, have been cultivated since 1985. All the processing is done directly by the Rizzini family and only in the years where the grapes are at their best.
Restaurants in Franciacorta
Attractions & Activities
Plan Your Getaway
I don’t know that I can accurately put into words the beauty and hospitality of this incredible region in Northern Italy. I was impressed by the quality of the Franciacorta wines, many on par with Champagne, their affordability and accessibility. It’s a perfect getaway for a long weekend, or for a few days as part of an extensive tour.