I’m not a big drinker (here’s one reason why). But when I was in Italy, that didn’t stop me from exploring Veneto, an area just north of Venice, where they make the classic bubbly Italian white wine known as Prosecco. (It didn’t stop me from tasting some, either:)
Hugo, the man of my dreams
Prosecco is an Italian aperitivo (pre-meal cocktail), but it’s selling like crazy in the States, too. One of my favorite Italian drinks made with Prosecco is the Hugo. It’s a combination of Prosecco (obviously), elderflower cordial, fresh mint, and lime (although I prefer it with lemon). It’s incredibly light and refreshing. (Check out the Hugo recipes at the bottom of this post.)
One reason this nondrinker was drawn to Veneto is because it reminds me of my hometown of Napa, California, but before the tourists descended. Its rolling and steep hills are covered with vineyards and the little medieval towns peppered throughout the region are picture perfect. It’s so charming you can’t believe your eyes. And the best part is, there aren’t a lot of tourists, unlike Venice. So if you go, don’t tell anyone. Mum’s the word, right?
PROSECCO FUN FACTS
Prosecco is made from the Glera grape.
Prosecco doesn’t have to be sparkling. It can be made semi-sparking and even still.
The original Bellini was made with Prosecco and peach purèe, not champagne. It was invented at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice in 1948.
Prosecco comes from a Slovenian word, prozek, or “path through the woods.”
The best Prosecco in the world, Prosecco Superiore, comes from the province of Treviso in the Veneto region.
THE PROSECCO ROAD
The reason to come to Veneto is to travel the Strada del Prosecco, or Prosecco Road. The mountain road is a 31-mile loop that circles between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobiaddene. Its official name is Strada del Prosecco e Vini dei Congeliano Valdobbiadene (“the road of Prosecco and wine of the hills of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene”).
Strada del Prosecco was one of the first wine routes created in Italy. Originally called La Strada del Vino Bianco (“the road of white wine”) back in 1966, it is now the oldest wine road in Italy. It winds through vineyards, churches, 15 towns, and 15 castles.
Veneto is only an hour away from Venice by train, which makes it a really fun adventure. I thought about visiting just for the day, but decided to stay overnight. And I’m so glad I did because it was heaven to wake up to those views, and you really need at least two days to take in all the sights.
IT STARTS IN CONEGLIANO
Conegliano, in the province of Treviso, Italy, is where the Prosecco Road starts. We were there during harvest, in early September, and it was really fun to see all the big trucks loaded down with grapes.
OUR FIRST SIP OF PROSECCO AT CA’ VITTORIA
Ca’ Vittoria is a small, family owned winery. The tasting room is attached to their living room in a stunning Italian villa. The road to Ca’ Vittoria reminded me of going to home to Napa, only I was in Italy.
We tried three Proseccos at Ca’ Vittoria. The brut was our favorite. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene is number 5 on the Independent’s “11 best Proseccos” list.
SORELLE BRONCA: AN ORGANIC PROSECCO
I had to stop at Sorelle Bronca because they make organic Prosecco. Sorelle Bronca is a family-owned winery; two sisters, Antonella and Ersiliana (Elisa), manage every stage of the Prosecco-making process.
Elisa was gracious enough to give us a tour of their facility in spite of the fact that our visit was right in the middle of their harvest. One of those big trucks full of grapes literally pulled up while we were there.
Sorelle’s Prosecco-making process starts with the grapes, of course. Once picked and pressed, the cloudy grape juice is referred to as “must.” The must is held in stainless steel containers for two to eight months and stored at 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows time for the sediment in the grape juice to fall to the bottom of the tank and keeps the must fresh.
Typically, Prosecco goes through two separate fermentation processes (grape juice to still wine and still wine to sparkling wine), but the sisters use only one. It’s a bit more costly that way, but the Prosecco retains more of that distinctive pear aroma.
When it’s ready to be converted into sparkling wine, yeast is added to help the natural sugars in the grapes convert to alcohol. When the alcohol (11%) and residual sugar content is just right, it is filtered and bottled.
Our favorite was Sorelle Bronca “Particella 68.” The grapes from parcel 68 are grown on a very steep hill in ideal growing conditions. I asked Elisa what makes parcel 68 so special. Here’s what she said:
It is the best vineyard for the exposure to the sun, and there are stones in the soil, so it’s rich with minerals. And because they are the oldest plants, they produce less, but are very high quality.
After Sorelle Bronca, we turned off Prosecco Road to go to Salis Ristorante for a late lunch, but by the time we got there, they were closed. We had planned to go back to Venice first thing the next morning, but after I saw the view from the restaurant, we made lunch reservations for the next day. One of the best decisions EVER!
The vineyards around the restaurant were breathtaking. As long as I live, I will never forget the view. I’m not sure any photo could do it justice.
We continued along the road, taking in the sights, and decided to go for an early dinner since we missed lunch. We showed up at Ristorante La Corte in the pouring rain, but they weren’t open yet. The maître d’ suggested we walk across the street and check out the abbey.
Abbey of Santa Maria of Follina
The abbey is perched on a hill near the central town square in Follina. It was founded in 1146 as a Benedictine monastery, and in the 12th century it was converted into a Cistercian abbey. The architecture is Romanesque, with a bit of the Gothic style. It looked a little spooky with the dark clouds looming over it. Watch me make myself disappear.
Dinner at La Corte was good, but not mind-blowing for a one-Michelin-starred restaurant. The array of bread they serve is pretty special, though. Next time, I’ll try one of the down home Italian restaurants in the area (a few are listed at the bottom of this post).
Our second day, we woke up, had breakfast at the hotel, and continued down Prosecco Road.
As we drove along, I spotted a picnic table under a canopy of grapevines. I had to get out and investigate.
Who makes something like this? The coolest person in the world? I wanted to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there every single day.
The next stop was Col Vetoraz winery. It was supposed to have stunning views (as if anything could be better than what we just saw). I was not going to drink Prosecco first thing in the morning, so I walked right past their tasting room, down the hill, and to the back of their private parking lot. Watch the short video below to see the view. (Sorry, for the camera work. Take some Dramamine before you press play.)
Just across the tiny dirt road from Col Vetoraz is one of the most charming places on Prosecco Road. Osteria Senz’Oste (“tavern without a host”) is a self-serve, grab-and-go pit stop that is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Inside a tiny little room with walls lined with business cards from people who have visited from all over the world, they “sell” salami, bread, and cheese. You take what you want and pay what you want.
The grounds are absolutely breathtaking. The owners thought of everything, including a scarecrow…
…and two Prosecco VENDING MACHINES!
We hung out at Osteria Senz’Oste for about an hour and then it was time to go back to Salis Ristorante for lunch. It was one of the best meals of our entire stay in Italy. The pasta with shrimp was so fresh and the dessert, homemade sorbet with local ingredients and meringue, was delicious. But the view was the best part.
After lunch, we drove around the hills and explored a bit more of the area.
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE TO PROSECCO ROAD
As heartbreaking as it was, we had to return the car and catch a train back. One hour later, we were in Venice, just in time for the “magic hour.”
PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO PROSECCO ROAD
First, you must know what you’re tasting. Italy has a formal wine classification system, and the highest is DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin). DOCG means the winery has complied with the strictest government standards and each bottle has a numbered government seal. There are three classifications to look for in the Veneto region.
DOCG Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
This means the Prosecco was produced exclusively in the hills between Conegliano Valdobbiadene. It’s the very best region to grow the Glera grape for Prosecco.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG
“Rive” is the local way of saying, “hillside vineyards planted on steep slopes.” The hills are so steep the grapes must be picked by hand.
DOCG Superiore di Cartizze
The very best Prosecco is produced on the Cartizze hill.
It’s all about the hill’s particular exposure to sunlight, its height (1,000 feet), its incline, and the unique soil composition (limestone, clay, and sandstone). A hectare of land costs more here than the equivalent in Champagne – about € 1.8 million in Veneto compared to € 1.2 million in France. — Europe Up Close
If you’re looking for Prosecco from Cartizze, the label will say DOCG Superiore di Cartizze. You may not even see Prosecco mentioned on the label. But never fear, you’ve got the best.
NOW IT’S TIME TO TASTE PROSECCO
Many of the wineries on Prosecco Road offer tastings for a small fee. But it’s important to know that some require a reservation made in advance. If you’re a Prosecco lover, do a little research before you go. Find the wineries you want to visit, email them, and request a reservation.
This link provides a list of all the wineries in the region, and there are a lot to choose from. Here are a few I tried, and several I wanted to try, but couldn’t because they were in the middle of their harvest.
Strada Delle Caneve, 34
31015 Conegliano (TV)
39 0438 63851
Nino Franco is one of the oldest wineries in Valdobbiadene. Founded in 1919, its owner was one of the first winemakers to export Prosecco.
Via Garibaldi 147
31049 Valdobbiadene (TV), Italy
39 0423 972051
Call or email in advance to book a visit.
This winery claims they have been in the Chartice (Cartizze hillside) since the 16th century. They make some of the best Prosecco on the market today.
Via Follo, 33
Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene
31048 Treviso (TV), Italy
39 0423 900138
The Adami family has been producing high quality Prosecco for over 90 years.
Via Rovede, 27
31012 Vidor TV
39 0423 982110
Gabara makes some of the best Prosecco money can buy. It’s the highest quality DOCG Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze.
Via Menegazzi, 19
31049 S. Stefano di Valdobbiadene, TV, Italy
39 0423 900155
Tastings by appointment only.
A small, organic family-run winery.
Via Martiri, 20
31020 Colbertaldo di Vidor
39 0423 987201
HOW TO GET TO PROSECCO ROAD FROM VENICE
TAKE THE TRAIN
From Venice, take a water bus or walk to the Venezia Santa Lucia, the Venice train station, and buy a ticket to Congeliano. The trains run about every hour and there are 50 per day. The tickets range from $6–$10. The train ride is just under an hour. Here’s a link to the train schedule.
TRAVELING ON PROSECCO ROAD
Bicycle — unless you’re an experienced cyclist, I wouldn’t recommend biking the entire road, especially if you’re planning to taste Prosecco. The hills are steep and the roads are narrow. There is, however, a very popular biking trail that isn’t as intense as biking the entire Prosecco road. It’s called L’Anello dei Prosecco. It takes about 45 minutes to bike and 2.5 hours to hike.
Vespa — You can rent Vespas, but they won’t hand over the keys if you don’t know how to drive one. Also, it can rain on and off in Italy, even in the summer. A Vespa sounds very romantic until there’s a deluge. You can rent a Vespa here, or arrange for a guided tour.
Rental Car — this is what we did. I ordered the smallest car, but when we arrived, they upgraded us to a midsized station wagon, which I loved. We took a cab from the train station (it’s a just a few minutes away) to the rental car company. And when we left, the very nice agent gave us a ride back to the train station.
Locauto Car Rental
Vai Immacolata di Lourdes, 111
31015 Conegliano TV, Italy
39 0438 411437
NOTE: Technically, you need to have an international driver’s license to drive a car in Italy. I went to my local AAA office, filled out a form, handed over my license and two passport pictures, paid $20, and ten minutes later I had an international driver’s license. The Italian agent said she would have rented the car to us without one, but if we got pulled over, it could have been an issue. Better safe than sorry.
Rent a driver — If you’re planning to taste a lot of Prosecco, you might want to hire a driver so you’re not navigating the curvy roads tipsy. If you tip over the side of this road, it’s a long way down. Oriana Balliana is a local. She knows the area quite well and can make reservations at wineries for you. You can reach Oriana at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @orianaballiana or via her website: http://www.orianancc.it
Rent a chauffeur — If you really want to live it up, rent a chauffeur.
WHERE TO STAY
A beautiful inn housed in a gorgeous Italian villa with great views.
Via Molinetto, 18
Localita Pecol d’Arfanta
31020 Tarzo (Treviso)
39 0438 933861 or 933862
Maso di Villa
This 3-star hotel is charming on overload. The grounds are covered with climbing roses and irises. They cook with locally sourced ingredients and make homemade jams, bread, biscuits, and cakes. Most of their fruit comes from their organic garden.
Via Col di Guarda, 15
31058 Susegana TV, Italy
39 0438 841414
Hotel Villa Abbazia Relais & Chateaux
You’ll find very traditional décor in this lovely 5-star hotel in Follina. You won’t get a view of the vineyards here, but it is centrally located in Follina, and it’s home to La Corte, a Michelin star restaurant.
Piazza IV Novembre 3
31051 Follina, TV, Italy
39 0438 971277
Relais Dolce Vista (beautiful view)
The view is heavenly from these rustic rooms in a renovated farmhouse.
Via Masare, 4
31049 Valdobbiadene (TV), Italy
39 0423 900408
Il Follo Bed and Breakfast
A farmhouse converted into a B&B. The rooms are simple and rustic and the rates are very affordable.
Via Follo, 36-31049
Santo Stefano, Valdobbiadene TV, Italy
39 0423 901092
If you want a no-fuss, authentic Italian accommodation in a 3-star hotel, check out Da Lino. The website is in Italian, so reach out via email to check rates and reserve a room.
Via Roma, 19
31053 Solighetto, TV
39 0438 82150
WHERE TO EAT LUNCH
Our lunch was delicious, but go for the view.
Via Strada di Saccol, 52
31049 Valdobbiadene, TV, Italy
39 0423 900561
Osteria Senz’Oste (tavern without a host)
You absolutely must visit, even if you don’t want self-serve salami, bread, and cheese. The view is STUNNING. Walk up the path and you’ll find two Prosecco vending machines.
Str. Delle Treziese
31049 Valdobbiadene, TV, Italy
Open 24 hours
Trattoria Fos da Marai (no website or Facebook page)
This restaurant offers down home cooking in a very casual environment with beautiful views. Call ahead and reserve one of the tables on the terrace overlooking the vineyards.
Via Santo Stefano, 20
31049 Valdobbiadene, TV, Italy
39 0423 900292
Locanda da Lino
Copper pans hang from the ceiling at this authentic Italian spot.
Via Lino Toffolin, 31
31050 Solighetto, Pieve di Soligo, Italy
39 0438 82150
Via Castella, 5
31010 Farra di Soligo TV, Italy
39 0438 987038
WHERE TO EAT DESSERT
Gelato and sorbet made local ingredients.
Via Cima, 5,
31050 Miane TV, Italy
Hours: 3:30–10:00pm, closed Tuesday
Note: she sells gelato out of her house. It can be hard to find her, especially before she puts her sign out around 3:00pm.
Via IV Novembre, 85
310 Ponte della Priula-Susegana TV, Italy
39 0438 27486
WHERE TO WALK
If you’re a nature lover, and want to get out of your car and see the beauty of the region close up, try the L’Anello Del Prosecco (The Prosecco Ring) walking trail. The trail is about five miles and takes about two hours to walk or 45 minutes to cycle.