A panoramic trip on Monte Orfano, a vineyard cycle or a day of chestnut hunting? Three itineraries with wine estate visits for a Franciacorta autumn foliage experience
Carpets of golden leaves are finally starting to fill up the streets, stripping trees’ branches of their most attractive garments. There is a greyish tinge to the sky and woollen scarves are making their way to the front of our wardrobes, ready to give us their first welcome hugs. Whilst a cosy home fire is especially attractive at this magical time of year, autumn merits open air celebration too, for an up-close experience of its colours, aromas and flavours. And where celebrations are concerned, the Brescia DOCG is second to none, bestowing the gift of prestigious wines and variegated landscapes.
Our first Franciacorta weekend experience is for lovers of walking. It winds along a circuit route which starts from the Santuario della Madonna di S. Stefano in Rovato. Around forty minutes into the walk, it’s worth stopping off for a first break in Coccaglio to visit the Castello Bonomi wine estate and try a glass of its wine. On the southern slopes of Monte Orfano, this castle is set in a spectacular natural amphitheatre surrounded by thirty two hectares of terraced vines encircled by a nineteenth century dry stone wall. The special features of Monte Orfano’s terroir turned out to be ideal for growing Erbamat, a native grape variety which Castello Bonomi decided to invest in before it became an official part of the 2017 regulations. Cuvée 1564 Brut Nature Castello Bonomi was the first Franciacorta across the whole denomination to be produced with the maximum percentage of Erbamat permitted by the regulations (10%).
After passing the town of Cologne, a short detour takes you to restaurant Cucina San Francesco, at Hotel de Charme Cappuccini Resort whose anything but traditional menu focuses on local land- and lake-based raw materials, without ignoring foreign ingredients, recipes and preparation techniques. Anyone not in a rush to finish the walk and get back to Rovato might want to treat themselves to a relaxing spa at the hotel and even stay the night at the Franciscan convent converted to luxury hotel.
The second itinerary is a circuit tour for fit cyclists starting at Clusane d’Iseo and continuing along the lake in a westwards direction in the direction of Paratico, Capriolo and Adro, through fields planted to crops, vines and chestnuts, before returning to its starting point. The rich reward for this sporting feat can only be a delicious dish of baked tench with polenta at Trattoria al Porto, a historic family-run restaurant overlooking the port of Clusane.
And after a fish lunch and a long stroll along the lake front promenade, the afternoon ends with a tasting visit to Azienda Agricola Monte Alto, a local estate set up in 2014, farming three hectares of Pinot Noir grapes as well as other red grapes for red wines. The decision to use primarily Pinot Noir for the cuvée is the core of the winemaking style of an estate whose maximum expression is Franciacorta Blanc de Noir Monte Alto.
Anyone wanting to spend the evening on the banks of the Sebino river might consider Relais Mirabella Iseo, for a dinner on its panoramic terrace and a well-deserved overnight stay in the heart of Franciacorta.
Gussago’s chestnuts are the stars of the third itinerary proposal: boiled with bay leaves or roast on hot coals, they’re even more delicious when they’ve just been harvested. The best areas are Quarone and Civine, but be careful not to stray onto private property. Very few of the area’s many chestnuts groves – often grown for use as vineyard posts – are now harvested and mostly more out of passion than need. But there is always some fruit around and hunting it out can be a fun way of exploring the Gussago hills. In the neighbouring town of Monticelli Brusati, the sixteenth century wine estate of Villa Franciacorta welcomes in chestnut hunters celebrating their finds. Since 1978 Franciacorta Millesimati made exclusively from their own grapes is what marks out the philosophy of the Bianchi family, which began restoring the medieval village to its former glories in the 1960s.
At the end of the tasting visit, Éla Osteria in Villa’s contemporary cuisine is a perfect way of recharging tired cyclists’ batteries, with the yesteryear welcome of host Andrea Marenzi as an extra touch. And if you need a longer break, the Villa Gradoni apartments – carved out of the sharecroppers’ houses of the past – could not be more comfortable.