Franciacorta is a region in Northern Italy near Milan that's known for its delicious sparkling wine. The area includes Lake Iseo, a scenic lake nestled between nearby Lake Garda and Lake Como, and the bustling, historic city of Brescia. While many travelers come to Franciacorta to taste its wines, the region is also an excellent alternative to the busier tourist destinations around it, offering fewer crowds and restaurants that have a rustic, local feel. There's a lot to do for those who aren't interested in touring the cellars, as well, from horseback riding to boating to learning to make fresh pasta. The region is vast, so it's best to visit with a rental car and an open mind. Look for a hotel or vacation rental along Lake Iseo to take full advantage of the views.
Learn About Wine-Making at Guido Berlucchi
Franciacorta's sparkling wine has its origins at Guido Berlucchi, a winery that launched in 1955. It was created by Franco Ziliani and Guido Berlucchi, who set up the winery and cellars in Berlucchi's historic mansion Palazzo Lana Berlucchi. Today you can tour the cellars and learn more about the double fermentation process that makes Franciacorta's bubbles and even taste some of the different wines. Tours and tasting experiences can be booked in advance online (children under 18 are free), and tours are available in Italian or English. Be sure to wear a coat or sweater as the ancient cellars can be chilly.
Boat on Lake Iseo
The best way to see Lake Iseo is on the water, which you can do via private boat rental or on one of the public ferries. For a private rental, look into Nautica Bertelli, a company with several types of boat available to take out on the lake. Monte Isola is the lake's largest island, where visitors can stop for a meal or even stay overnight. Don't miss Isola di Loreto, a privately-owned island that looks like a castle. You can't stop there, but it's worth circling to glimpse the ornate towers (and wish you could afford your own island). Ferries are available to and from several towns surrounding the lake, including Iseo and Tavernola.
See Roman Ruins
In the heart of Brescia, visitors will find a group of ruins that date back to ancient Rome. Once the forum of town, the ruins include the Capitoline temple and the Republican sanctuary, which is a set of rooms located under the temple. The temple, which remains mostly intact, was built by Vespasian in 74 A.D. and has been partially restored over the years. It costs a small fee to enter the museum, but the ruins are open to the public if you want to take a quick look. Brescia also has a Roman theatre, situated east of the temple, which was built during the Flavian era and once housed 15,000 spectators.
Go Horseback Riding in the Vineyards
There are several ways to explore the picturesque vineyards of Franciacorta, including via bicycle, Vespa, or on foot. But one of the most fun is on horseback. There are several companies in the area that will put you in the saddle, including Crazy Horse Scuderia, which offers riding lessons and treks through the countryside. The company, which has been around since 1980, will tailor the trek to your skill level (i.e., shorter, more leisurely rides for beginners) and interests, stopping by historical sites or different winery cellars.
Visit the Ferghettina Winery
Franciacorta has over a hundred wineries, many of which are open to the public, but one of the prettiest is Ferghettina. Nestled at the top of a hill with views of the surrounding vineyards, the expansive winery hosts special events and guided tours and tastings. The family-owned winery is unique for its trademarked square bottle, which has an actual use in the fermentation process, and tours reveal a behind-the-scenes look at how the wines are created and aged. Tours are available twice a day (and once on Sundays) and can be booked in advance online. Additional tastings are available for those who want to compare and contrast the different types. Ferghettina recommends booking at least three days ahead of your visit.
Shop (and Eat) at Bohem
Head to Paratico to discover Bohem, part cafe, part flower shop and part boutique. It's a great spot to buy a few gifts (especially if your loved ones like candy) or to just sit with a coffee. The restaurant serves classic Italian dishes like cacio e pepe and ravioli, with a focus on Mediterranean flavors. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available, as well as cocktails and aperativos, but note that Bohem is closed on Mondays. Don't forget to grab a cookie (or six) before you leave.
Cook at Trattoria del Gallo Franciacorta
It may seem impossible, but you can learn to make restaurant-quality fresh pasta to wow your friends back home. The best place to learn is Trattoria del Gallo Franciacorta in Rovato, a rustic eatery that also hosts intimate cooking classes. The classes are hands-on and available year-round for individuals or groups. And not only will you get to roll out your own ravioli, but you'll also get to eat it too. If cooking isn't your thing, stop by Trattoria del Gallo for lunch instead.
Dine at Al Maló
Head to Rovato to find Al Maló, an impossibly cool new restaurant and cocktail bar that reimagines classic Italian dishes in modern ways. Think cold spaghetti and tiramisu served in a miniature pot with espresso foam. It's great for couples or groups (but maybe leave the kids with a sitter), and it's worth trying as many dishes as possible. Bonus: you'll want the restaurant's vibrant wallpaper for your own home.
Relax at the Spa Espace Chenot
Located in the chic L'Albereta hotel, the Spa Espace Chenot is Franciacorta's best place to relax and unwind (don't be fooled by other spa options in the area). The spa features an outdoor and indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath with aromatherapy, gym, and numerous treatment rooms. The list of treatments is vast, from wellness to medical procedures, and you can opt for a full day of relaxation with a day spa package. Stay for lunch at the Wellness Restaurant, which serves healthy, detoxifying dishes.
Hike Through Torbiere del Sebino
Torbiere del Sebino is a nature preserve south of Lake Iseo in Brescia where visitors can find a 2.5-mile trail that begins and ends at the Monastery of St. Peter. The circular walk passes the wetlands surrounding San Pietro and several beautiful waterfalls in Monticelli Brusati. Wear waterproof shoes since there can be lots of mud and don't forget binoculars to spot wildlife and local birds.