Franciacorta, the Slow taste of Spring
Walks, biking and horseback rides, wine trekking and picnics in the vineyard are among a whole host of unforgettable experiences to be enjoyed with the arrival of spring when discovering the Franciacorta region and the Franciacorta wine
A magical combination. Maybe it is the sparkle in the wine, the charm of the hills and lake, or the imaginative, dogged nature of the people who live here, but in recent years this corner of northern Italy has managed to invent a unique brand which encapsulates the beauty of the landscape, the elegance of the architecture, ancient and modern art, the history and delicious food and wine. Above all, it has understood how to communicate and present these features to the most demanding and inquisitive travellers, by offering authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences to be enjoyed at leisure, while taking in every aspect, in perfect Slow Travel style. You set off on foot or take one of many different means of transport (on a bike, a horse or even a Vespa or in a vintage car) to discover the wine cellars and the quality of the wines, abbeys and monasteries, ancient mansions and art collections, medieval villages and unforgettable views over Lake Iseo and you inevitably end up coming into contact with the local people and taking the occasional break to sample delicious traditional dishes and learn the secrets of and discover all the flavour, charm and art of the Franciacorta area.
The ancient “franchae curtes” The name Franciacorta and its prestigious sparkling wines might well make you think of some kind of connection with the other side of the Alps. But neither of them has anything to do with either the country or champagne. In the Middle Ages, the villages among these morainic hills were royal properties which, with the arrival of the Benedictine and Cluniac monks (the latter hailed from France), could count on special privileges and exemptions from taxes. Over the centuries, abbeys and castles, palaces and patrician villas were built in the rich “corti franche” (tax-free zones), hence the name Franciacorta, which today still testify to all the aristocratic elegance of the history of this countryside. As in the French region, vines have always been grown here too and the method of production, the classic method, is the same one for Champagne and Franciacorta. But the similarities end here: sparkling wines, just like red and white wines, are not all the same. The terroir, the methods of cultivation and the history of these two prestigious wines (the first 300 years old and the second a little more than half a century old) are completely different. And it is the absolute uniqueness of Franciacorta wine and the Franciacorta area which ultimately represents their strength and appeal.
Eighty kilometres of fascinating, unexpected routes Along the eighty kilometres of the Franciacorta Wine Route – one of the first wine routes to be established in Italy – there are fascinating, unexpected itineraries which, from Lake Iseo to the city of Brescia, firstly bring together all the best features of wine-making excellence, and secondly the artistic, tourist and gastronomic specialities of the region. On just one route, in the space of a day or a week-end, you can discover the Renaissance cloisters of the Abbey of San Nicola at Rodengo Saiano and the secrets of the second fermentation in the bottle while visiting one of the most fascinating wineries in the area. You can admire the seventeenth century frescoes of Villa Orlando within the medieval walls of the Bornato Castle and the wonderful private collections of contemporary art and genuine open-air museums, immersed in nature. You can observe the magnificent baroque decorations of the elegant Palazzo Torri and stop for a picnic in the surrounding vineyards and an unforgettable tasting of Franciacorta sparkling wine. And then again, by setting off in the direction of the lake, you can step back in time by visiting the Cluniac monastery of San Pietro in Lamosa, an authentic Romanesque jewel, and by venturing into the unspoilt, unique natural reserve of the “Torbiere del Sebino” (peat bogs), with its lakes and paths among the tall grass and fairy-tale landscapes.
Wine and art There are no less than one hundred and sixteen wineries where Franciacorta wine is produced with passion and the utmost care. A deep-rooted bond ties wine producers to this area and their pursuit of excellence is not just a commercial enterprise, but, above all, a vocation and a gesture of love. Travellers will realise this when they step inside the wine cellars and are greeted, not with the impeccable, cold, standardized welcome of places rolled out as tourist attractions, but with the authentic charm of the history and present-day life of Franciacorta and the warmth and enthusiasm of those who have dedicated their lives to these vineyards with the spirit of sacrifice typical of the Brescia people. Historic patrician residences, ancient renovated farmhouses, futuristic architecture designed by well-known architects or modern, unadorned facilities, every winery has a unique story to tell that makes the wine tasting experience all the more complete and rewarding.
The most successful wine producers owe everything to the hills of Franciacorta and to pay back their debt to this land, at least in part, many of them have actively set out to support, propose and share amazing art projects in their vineyards. The best known is the collection of contemporary art in the Ca’ del Bosco winery, a place where art and the excellent of wine flow together and blend seamlessly into the landscape. Here, in the vast park, as in the production areas, works of art are displayed and blended in with skill, like the gate entitled “Inno al Sole” (Hymn to the Sun) by Arnaldo Pomodoro, the sculpture “Eroi di Luce” (Heroes of Light) by Igor Mitoraj, the surreal puzzle of the “Codice Genetico” (Genetic Code) by Rabarama, as well as the giant suspended rhinoceros by Stefano Bombardieri. Another open-air museum where art and nature are combined in a constant dialogue is the “Parco delle Sculture” (Sculpture Park) of Franciacorta: thirteen sculptures by young contemporary artists, winning works from the Third Millennium International Sculpture award, set in the park which combines the resort, L’Albereta, with the Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi wineries, all owned by the Terra Moretti Group. Lastly, the Museum of Contemporary Art, located inside the La Montina estate, is dedicated to the artist, Remo Bianco. Here, four hundred works by the eclectic Milanese artist are displayed in rotation, one of the precursors of Nouveau Realisme, including several of the famous Tableaux Dorès.
Bubbles from start to finish Anyone who still thinks that sparkling wines can only be drunk as aperitifs will find a myriad of reasons in Franciacorta to change their minds. The wide choice of delicious, traditional local food can be ideally matched with the different types of Franciacorta wines, from starters to first and second courses all the way through to the desserts: Clusane-style stuffed eel needs Franciacorta Extra Brut; ravioli with tench, caught in Lake Iseo, go hand in hand with Franciacorta Brut; the delicious beef in oil, a traditional recipe with a long and complex preparation, goes perfectly with Franciacorta Pas Dosé; and the “sbrisolona” cake with Franciacorta Demi-Sec is a match made in heaven. If the gastronomic tradition wins over lovers of good food, then the creations by the top-class chefs who run the best restaurants in the area will surely satisfy even the most demanding and inquisitive gourmet visitors. In the land reigned over by Gualtiero Marchesi for many years, young and talented chef are now reinterpreting tradition by proposing creative, but always authentic, cuisine: from Stefano Cerveni, of the Michelin-starred restaurant, “Due Colombe”, to Piercarlo Zanotti of the restaurant, “Cucina San Francesco”, in the Resort, “I Cappuccini”; from Fabio Abbattista, who at L’Albereta, in the new restaurant, “Leone Felice”, has the onerous task of taking up the mantle of Chef Marchesi (whose famous restaurant was here until 2013) to Lorenzo Tagliabue, overseeing the kitchen of the restaurant, “Barboglio De Gaioncelli”.