Fizzing Italian Escape
Only an hour from Milan, the vine-clad L’Albereta hotel is a luxurious retreat in Italy’s other sparkling wine region
The sat nav failed on our journey to L’Albereta. It couldn’t find the hotel in the Lombardy hills just outside the village of Erbusco. After much doubling back and asking, ‘Is that it?’ at every turning, we realised it must be behind the modest security gate we’d already passed three times.
Later, this unostentatious first impression seemed apposite, because it sums up this unique five-star hotel. Everything that might at first glance seem small and discreet about the hotel gives way to a much grander space, vista or experience to be savoured at every turn. L’Albereta seems like a secret revealed only to those who persevere. And it’s certainly worth sticking at it.
Even once you enter through the gate and drive up a tree-lined path to its mini forecourt, the full glory of this 19th-century vine-wrapped villa isn’t immediately apparent from its modest front door. It’s a handsome glass and wrought iron portal that leads to a tasteful Italian country house-style reception area, with comfy sofas and luscious plants. But then the Tardis-like quality of the building unfolds before you – behind reception the villa stretches back into beautifully appointed common rooms, a chic bar and restaurant, eventually opening onto an outdoor terrace with glass-fronted fire that afforded the most glorious view over Lake Iseo and snow-dusted Alps. And that’s even before we entered the maze of hallways that led to our room and the spa and the Greeneige Lounge.
The same principle held true for L’Albereta’s grounds. We crossed the forecourt to follow a path behind hedges and were immediately transported to vast gardens. A narrow stone staircase spiralled down onto an impressive bar and deck area flanked by rows of outdoor sofas and umbrellas, an eye-catching modern sculpture of flowers and a rose-clad gazebo that oozed wedding glamour. Tucked around the corner is a flower garden and around another a tennis court; up an unmade track is a grassy plateau that is transformed in summer into sunbathing terrace. A well-signposted nature walk takes guests past intriguing modern sculptures, through woods and acres of vineyards. We are, after all, in Franciacorta, home of the sparkling bubbles made by the méthode champenoise – L'Albereta's guests can enjoy fizz from the wineries Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi that makes most supermarket prosecco taste like lemonade in comparison.
Staff escorted us to our room through a labyrinth of passages with occasional curved ceilings that brought to mind an ancient convent, although the villa is 19th century. Our room, one of 57 at the hotel – each one different – embraced relaxed country chic with a neutral colour palette and wooden parquet floor. We bundled up against the chill to enjoy the balcony with elegant wicker chairs that overlooked lush woodland. Nature envelops this vine-clad villa and provides a calming backdrop.
The bathroom of blush and cream tiles was so roomy I could have cartwheeled in it, were my gymnastics days not long gone. Showering was practically beyond me due to a space age Jacuzzi shower with more buttons than a cockpit. Thankfully a laminated instruction card helped me negotiate its bells and whistles. Of especial delight to this guest was the provision of swanky hair straightening irons, which ensured I could re-style my coiffure after frizz-inducing sauna trips.
For those in the know, the L’Albereta is also a world-renowned health retreat. Its Espace Chenot Health Wellness SPA is a magnet for the well-heeled in pursuit of rigorous regimes for weight loss, anti-ageing procedures, detoxing and more. I’d have been happy to hand myself over to its dream team of beauticians, dieticians and massage artists, who oozed authority in their white coats, but I was here to indulge in simple pleasures like a bliss-inducing massage by expert hands before collapsing next to the pool with a book.
And L’Albereta’s spa pool is a work of art. A collaboration between the Fornasetti Collection and renowned Bisazza tile designers, it’s a mosaic of blues and pinks that’s dazzling in its beauty and more diverting than my Kindle. It’s complemented beautifully by an indoor water wall and greenery and windows overlooking an outdoor terrace and pool. A Turkish bath, saunas and hydrotherapy pools are also on offer.
Although the Chenot Spa gets results, personally I’d find it soul-crushing to visit Italy and deny myself its world-class cuisine: when in Rome and all that. The hotel’s Leonefelice Vista Lago is a treat, with a vibe of Italian retro-chic– a bit James Bond, a bit Fellini – where chef Fabio Abbattista, who’s worked under Michel Roux and Alain Ducasse, dreams up sumptuous dishes based on Mediterranean cuisine. We feasted on passatelli with white truffle, grilled lobster and a Fassona beef fillet from Piedmont cooked on charcoal with lard that my partner declared out of this world. To complete this belt-loosening experience, we ordered the Pear Tarte Tatin with salted caramel, a dessert that’s only for two – wisely. It prevented envy from ruining our dinner, since we both were able to savour its delicate sweet and salty flavour.
Unusually for a five-star hotel, L’Albereta also has its own pizzeria, La Filiale, housed in a modern bistro. The finest ingredients used in its fluffy Neapolitan-style pizzas – including olive oil and buffalo mozzarella from Caserta in southern Italy – transformed the everyday dish into a gastronomic sensation. But La Filiale needs no other recommendation than that it was packed with locals on the night we visited.
And although every five-star hotel should provide attentive service, L’Albereta’s staff deserve a special mention. It’s a family-run place that embraces guests (and their dogs) from the moment they walk through the door to be greeted by Guest Relations Manager Roberta. She took us on a mini-tour, organised our spa appointments and was generally a delight to have around. The reception staff were also incredibly efficient when calling out a mechanic to jump-start my rental car. L’Albereta’s emphasis on friendliness stood out in a hotel bracket that can feature rather impersonal service.
And L’Albereta is a short drive from Milan Airport and situated in a grand setting of rolling hills dotted with lakes and the sight of snow-capped Alps. Tuscany may be an annual pilgrimage for thousands of Brits seeking la dolce vita and fizzing glasses of prosecco. But our stay at L’Albereta convinced me that Lombardy and its superlative sparkling bubbles are the way to go.
This vine-clad bolthole offers a stylish, luxurious retreat… to those who take the time to find it.
L’Albereta is the perfect tonic to city life – just 30 minutes’ drive from Milan. Rates start from €260 per night based on two sharing a double room on a B&B basis. See albereta.it or call +39 030 7760550. L’Albereta also houses the Espace Chenot Spa, which has a highly qualified team of over 30 professionals, including doctors, therapists, dietitians, osteopaths and beauticians.