News & Opinion

Northern Italy's secret hillside retreat
The Cappuccini Resort's courtyard is an ideal location for an afternoon respite — and aperitif. [Photo: Cappuccini Resort]

Only an hour’s drive east of Milan, Italy, at the top of a winding road, there’s a small, astoundingly good restaurant tucked away in a farmhouse-chic hotel called the Cappuccini Resort. The hotel was renovated by forward-thinking owners who also included a spa on the property.

After spending a few days sightseeing in nearby Milan or Brescia — or playing at Golf Club Milano — the Cappuccini Resort is a perfect place to rest, relax and eat well. But the best part is being welcomed by the family, and the feel of staying in a country house of long-lost relatives. 

The hotel is the creation of the Tonellie Pelizzari family, who purchased this 16th century, former Franciscan monastery about 30 years ago. They turned the walled estate into a 14-room hotel. Rooms are centered around a raised, grassy courtyard that is charmingly lit and big enough for café-style chairs, which are set out year-round, just waiting for aperitif time. The check-in area is a small living room, crowded with furniture, with a few chairs to perch on while getting oriented. There’s a little desk with a laptop at the entryway, and a cabinet of room keys on one wall; otherwise this might be a parlor in a family home.

Rosé, a lovely white cat, is in residence too. It’s easy to tell that she’s a favorite with everyone from family to workmen because her food and water are kept near the door, and everyone takes responsibility for filling her dishes. Rosé is a self-appointed greeter, and will also escort guests around the courtyard — if she isn’t too busy playing, catching mice, sitting in the sun, or otherwise occupied.

Somehow the combination of the informal check-in and family pet creates an atmosphere that is informal, yet service-oriented, and ultimately very welcoming. Co-owner Marco Pelizzari (who is also the sommelier) explains his family philosophy of blending respect for the establishment’s history with current hospitality: "There is a kind of natural charisma in the soil, also nourished by the activities that have been carried out for centuries, which is still clearly perceptible. Those who stay with us will benefit from it even if they do not realize it. Many people arrive tense, stressed. They leave relaxed, smiling."

[Photo: Cappuccini Resort]

Breakfast is an assortment of homemade breads and pastries, along with fresh-squeezed juices. [Photo: Cappuccini Resort]

The hotel's rooms are stylishly rustic, as if the decorators had a treasure trove of centuries-old local and ornamental items to choose from — which they probably did. Solid, antique country furniture is augmented with large, flat TVs, wifi, air conditioning and fireplaces. Bathrooms may be small, but are fully modernized. 

The full-menu spa is located in a separate structure down the lane from the hotel. Its yoga room has an incredible view over the countryside; and a hydro-massage and hot pool area are imaginatively carved into the hillside on the lower level, inside the building. 

Several of the spa menus include a glass of the regional Franciacorta sparkling wine, which is a high-end sparkler, intriguingly flavorful, made with the same grapes – and in the same style – as Champagne. Franciacorta is little known outside Italy, and it definitely deserves more attention worldwide. 

Franciacorta is also offered as an aperitif in the hotel’s Cucina San Francesco restaurant, which offers a surprisingly exceptional dining experience. Perhaps the informality of the décor makes the level of cuisine stand out. Each dish is meticulously composed with a balance of flavor and design, to delight the eye as well as the palate. The menu itself is extremely sophisticated and fully customizable, with a wine list to match. And the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows opening on the courtyard.

The 40-seat restaurant is open to the public for lunch and dinner. However, in order to enjoy the full dining experience it’s far better to arrange to stay in the hotel, where guests can catch a breath of fresh air while wandering a few yards back to their rooms — because the dining room also contains a tall, open cupboard full of appealing after-dinner drinks

Breakfast is elegantly abundant: teas, coffee, fresh-squeezed juice, a selection of home-made breads and pastries, farmhouse eggs cooked to order. Each table is also set with small dishes of perfect butter and local jams.

Becky Sue Epstein is an award-winning author, journalist and consultant in the fields of wine, spirits, food and travel. She has lived on both coasts of the US, as well as in Europe. 

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