Sensational spa, sparkling wine and all the splendour of the Italian Lakes minus the crowds – L’Albereta is the perfect retreat for a blissed-out break
It’s easy to see why Italy’s lake district is so popular – the spectacular scenery, the fabulous food, the romance, George Clooney… But if you’re after somewhere less crowded than Como, add Lake Iseo to your travel bucket list. It’s quieter and more authentic than its busy neighbour, yet equally charismatic. And here, up in the hills and vineyards overlooking this little-known lake, stands L’Albereta, a blissful bolthole oozing with charm; a place to relax, rejuvenate, eat delicious food, and drink wine – unless you want to detox (and the hotel caters for that, too).
Location, location, location
Hidden between lakes Garda and Como, Lake Iseo (pronounced ‘ez-a-o’) has a secret, out-of-the-way feel, but the area is surprisingly easy to get to. We hopped on a 9.20am flight from London and, after an hour’s drive from Milan’s Linate airport, arrived at L’Albereta just in time for lunch – perfect!
This dreamy 19th-century villa all cloaked in ivy is picture-perfect. It’s a family-owned hotel that was once a private residence, and inside there’s still a homely, intimate feel, so expect grand open fireplaces and cosy lounges with plush velvet sofas. But there’s a stylish dose of classic Italian chic, too, as well as an eclectic mix of artworks and plenty of historical charm with its winding stone staircases and walls adorned with original frescos. Outside, among the peaceful gardens, flower-filled terraces and contemporary sculpture park, the pace slows to almost a standstill, and the vineyard and lake views are insanely idyllic.
Every single one of the 38 bedrooms and 19 suites has an individual style and most have balconies or terraces. My spacious bedroom has traditional decor – think vintage furniture and wooden parquet floor – a comfy king-size bed, and a large fresco on the wall beautifully depicting the surrounding countryside, which can be spotted in real life from the arched windows and pretty little terrace. The large marble monochrome bathroom is an added treat – hydro massage tub and walk-in shower, plus fluffy robes and slippers. For a room that’s totally unique, the swanky Cabriolet Suite has a roof that opens to reveal the sky, taking sleeping under the stars to a whole new level.
The high-tech spa
Calming and ultra-modern, the stellar Spa Espace Chenot specialises in the Henri Chenot method – aka detox and wellbeing. With a team of over 30 immaculately dressed beauticians, dieticians, therapists, doctors and osteopaths to take care of all your medical, diet and wellness needs, unsurprisingly, the treatment menu is extensive. There’s also a popular seven-day detox programme, which includes tailor-maid treatments and bespoke diets eaten in separate dining rooms. I opt for a reinvigorating Hydrotherapy Treatment – cue mud wrap and pressure jets – followed by a Chenot Energetic Massage, which uses suction cups to drain away toxins. Afterwards, my skin feels incredible; I’m relaxed, revitalised and ready to take the pampering experience to the max with a dip in the indoor pool and a stint in the sauna and steam room. Outside in the garden, the air is filled with birdsong, and plump loungers beckon on a lush green lawn – perfect for a post-spa snooze.
The hotel’s three superb restaurants. If you can drag yourself away from the spa, VistaLago Bistrò’s raised terrace affords panoramic views across rolling vineyards to Lake Iseo and distant mountains beyond. Some of the tables are shaded by large white parasols and all are decorated with cute little pots filled with lavender and herbs such as basil, chilli and sage. It’s a great place to while away a few hours with a cappuccino or a cool glass of Franciacorta fizz, the area’s sensational sparkling wine. The tasty menu consists of everything from fresh pasta, salads and paninis to beef steak and deep-fried squid. Breakfast is also served here – an extensive buffet of hot options, as well as pastries, yogurt and fruit. Next door, Leone Felice is a formal dining room with crisp white tablecloths and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The ingredients in the gourmet dishes are locally sourced and the wine list is extensive. We feasted on the mouthwatering ‘menu 21 days’ – cue pappardelle pasta in ossobuco sauce, citrus-flavoured monkfish and rich chocolate soufflè with apricot ice cream. For a more casual evening, follow the twinkly trail of fairy lights to La Filiale, an intimate pizzeria that’s tucked away in woodland in the hotel’s grounds serving pizza by top chef Franco Pepe – his ‘Margherita sbagliata’ (mistaken margherita) was recently awarded ‘best pizza in the world’, so not just your average cheese and tomato thin crust. Heading further afield? Be sure to visit Locanda al Lago on Monte Isola, a popular eatery in a scenic spot on the waterfront where you can lunch on salty freshwater fish caught from the lake washed down with a chilled glass of local vino bianco.
You really must
Drink wine, preferably the sparkling variety, which is famously produced in this Franciacorta region. The family-owned Bellavista winery is on the hotel’s doorstep and it’s open for public tours and tastings. A 15-minute drive from L’Albereta, enchanting Lake Iseo is a must-see. With shimmering blue water, closely guarded by mountains and forest, it’s prime Instabait, especially in autumn when the trees are a riot of colour. In the centre of the lake, you can’t miss magical Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Europe, and arguably the prettiest, with its green-forested mountain set against clusters of terracotta-roofed houses painted in pink, cream, peach and yellow. There are regular ferries to the island from Sulzano harbour, but if you take a boat tour, you’ll pass idyllic mini private isles, including the smallest, Loreto, home to a fairy-tale gothic castle complete with ramparts and turret. Monte Isola itself has 1,800 residents and is car free. Hire a bike and cycle along cobbles and through olive groves to sleepy villages, hike the mountain trail or simply sit in a sunny trattoria by the shore, order an Aperol spritz and drink in the view – salute!
Rates for a double room at L’Albereta, Franciacorta, start from €260 per night. For booking or more information, visit albereta.it or call +39 030 7760550.
We flew from London Heathrow to Milan Linate with British Airways. Flights cost from about £120 return, including taxes.