Wellness Retreat With a Winery in L’Albereta

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Italian luxe 

A wellness weekend with a winery attached? Why not? Absolutely visits L’Albereta in northern Italy

“Not only are we at the epicentre of some of Italy’s best vineyards, we are also in the presence of Italy’s greatest pizza chef, and therefore probably the world’s”

la piscina nel verde

L’Albereta is a romantic retreat an hour north of Milan that has a dual focus: on one side there’s wellbeing, with the Chenot Spa hosting a variety of punishing and results-focused retreats, while on the other there’s a focus on lavish dining, excellent pizza and lots of local wine. While most guests in one camp or the other, but it’s an intimate place and possible to sample both.

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From Milan it’s about an hour’s drive north to Lake Iseo, a lesser-known sibling to Como and Garda, but no less beautiful. L’Albereta is an ivy-covered 19th century villa set in lush countryside in the wine region of Franciacorta, and it’s a stylish retreat with lake and mountain views, individually designed rooms and a real focus on gastronomy.

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We’re here for the weekend of the hotel’s 30th anniversary and there’s a celebratory feel. As a family-run place, there’s a friendly, cosy vibe and the fact that the family owns the neighbouring vineyard, Bellavista, adds a shine to the place. Everyone seems ready to be popping corks. Because here we are in the heart of Franciacorta, where the combination of a microclimate and the region’s particular soil creates an environment that’s particularly conducive to the white grapes that create this Italian sparkling wine. Don’t mention Prosecco here: the mass-produced soapy fizz is a world away from Franciacorta, which is strictly methode champenoise: two fermentations, the second in the bottle and many months of ageing during which the bottles are rotated manually at regular intervals to expel all sediment. Just as the 17th century French monks devised it. The area has produced wine for hundreds of years but it wasn’t until the 1960s that local wine pioneer Franco Ziliani wondered whether it might be worth trying to create a rival to Champagne and travelled to France to learn exactly how to do it. And thanks to fortuitous geographical conditions, his region’s grapes transpired to be perfectly suited to what could otherwise have been a failed experiment – but the result is a relatively new tradition of fantastic sparkling wines.

albereta complex from vineyards

Sampling Franciacorta’s many varieties of fizz entertains us for an afternoon after touring the impressive winery. Bottles are rarely exported, since production is so limited, but they’re highly regarded throughout Italy (I have spotted them on a few restaurant menus in London since). But not only are we at the epicentre of some of Italy’s best wine, we are also in the presence of Italy’s greatest pizza chef, and therefore probably the world’s. With his main base just outside Naples, Franco Pepe has a restaurant at L’Albereta and happens to be here in person while we visit. This is a man who has travelled to the Middle East with pizza dough in his luggage (because really, the water needs to be Neapolitan) and been subject of a Netflix documentary about the world’s best pizza. His signature pizza is a deconstructed margarita where the tomato sauce, radically, is added cold and in stripes when it comes out of the oven, accompanied by splashes of basil extract. It is undeniably delicious, as is the unlikely-sounding fried pizza, which has a brilliant, doughnuty crispiness without the blackened crust of the wood-fired version. We visit the kitchen, but there’s an air of secrecy. It’s all about the dough, special flour and special water, is all he’ll reveal.

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People who aren’t here for pizza and wine are here for the spa. The Chenot Method dates back to 1970, when it was founded in Switzerland as a means of slowing down the aging process. According to Chenot, we have the potential to be fully active at 120 years old, as long as we abide by certain principles (including mostly abstaining from pizza and wine). Programmes range from a few days to a week or two, where you can shuffle between treatments and carefully constructed meals in your robe and emerge as a better version of yourself. It’s possible to sample the detox menus without signing up for the full experience, and they are delicious, but anyone not on a strict improving regime will probably prefer the main restaurant. Overlooking the lake, Leonefelice Vista Lago serves high class regional specialities and excellent pasta, and of course, a selection of Franciacorta wines.

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Chenot Restaurant External Entrance

One of the lesser-known Italian lakes, beautiful Iseo is home to Monte Isola, Europe’s biggest lake island, as well as several smaller islands. (George Clooney is trying to buy one of them, we’re told; there’s always a George Clooney story in the Italian lakes). The lake is home to long-standing boat manufacturer Riva, and Bellini Nautica offers lake tours in vintage 1970s Aquarama speedboats, all polished teak, turquoise leather and James Bond style. This is without a doubt one of the most glamorous things we’ve ever done. Cruising the lake at speed, the wind in my hair, and returning to more excellent food and wine, is definitely my idea of a fabulous weekend.

the garden of albereta

L’Albereta, Franciacorta, offers double rooms from €360 per night based on two sharing on a B&B basis


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