Where to Frolic After the Venice Film Fest
The Sonoma County of Italy has gorgeous countryside, top cuisine and copious Prosecco just two hours north of the canals.
Think of La Strada del Prosecco, or Prosecco Road, as Italy's Sonoma: a rustic winemaking region without the hucksterism that has Napa over a barrel. This 20-mile or so stretch of winding roads is hidden in the mountains just two hours' drive north of Venice, yet most Venice-bound tourists never realize it's there. "Because of its small-town intimacy and somewhat remoteness, it was quite special," recalls Sara Risher, executive producer of In Love and War, which shot there. "We would drink Prosecco every night after we were done working -- Richard Attenborough, Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock. It was so beautiful; we all talked about coming back."
Fizzy, unfussy Prosecco is the casual answer to Champagne. Two towns bookend the production of this hardy grape: 19th century Conegliano to the east and the tiny, charming hillside Valdobbiadene to the west. Marcello Mastroianni loved the area around Conegliano, where he stayed at Locanda da Lino (locandadalino.it). Still, these days, the best getaway is in and around Valdobbiadene.
Rent a small car because streets get narrow on the mountain edge, and look out for the black-yellow or brown-yellow signs that indicate a family-run vineyard is nearby. General tips: Tastings are gratis, and buying direct keeps prices at less than €5 (about $6) for even the toniest bottles. You can easily haul home some of this bargain booty: Like Champagne, Prosecco comes in pressurized bottles, making it suitable for transport in airplane holds.
Standout vineyards include Arturo Vettori's homestead, with his barn tasting room; he also speaks superb English, a rarity in this region (vinivettori.it). Fluency is hardly necessary for fiery Antonella Bronco, who often leads enthusiastic tastings at Sorelle Bronca (sorellebronca.com) that communicate all you need to know about Prosecco. Charm Giovanni Matte, a hands-on producer who operates a high-tech facility (vignematte.it) tunneled into the hillside like an alien spaceship, and he might invite you in for a caffe corretto (an espresso "corrected" with a slug of local grappa). For the grands crus of Prosecco, try the products of family-owned Bisol Winery (bisol.it) in its centuries-old cellar tasting room.
Follina is another great base for a long weekend of exploring: Hole up like Bullock did at the Villa Abbazia hotel (villaabbazia.com, doubles from $309) -- it resembles a gloriously floral antiques store. Don't miss a Veneto-style supper at Al Casteletto (alcasteletto.com, about $49 a person). Locals call it Da Clemi, or Clemi's Place, for the lovably grouchy granny who makes the tangy radicchio risotto. Have an aperitivo at Al Milani (Piazza IV Novembre 22, 011-39-438-971412) and a splash-out supper at Da Gigetto (ristorantedagigetto.it, about $74 a person) in tiny Miane for specials like roast veal carved tableside. Wash it down with another glass of Prosecco. Just watch those winding roads driving home.
FINE ITALIAN REAL ESTATE
Palazzo Mula, Venice ($12.3 million) Owned by the Da Mulas for nearly 600 years and listed by Venice Sotheby's, this early 15th century house sits on the Grand Canal with private mooring and views of San Marco's palaces.
The Under the Tuscan Sun Villa (upon request) Diane Lane's dream house in Tuscany, listed with Michele Blackmon Estates Int'l, is a 16th century compound with 10.5 bedrooms, 9.5 bathrooms, pool, bocce court, lake and olive grove.
House of Pucci, Florence (about $12.3 million) Set in the hills just outside the city, this 14th century, 21,500-sq.-ft. estate, also with Blackmon, features trompe l'oeil frescoes, the family crest and 12 acres of magnolia, cypress and lemon trees.