After long periods of neglect the small medieval town of Asti in northern Italy, and the Venetian island of Mazzorbo, are witnessing a renaissance in local gastronomy, culture and sophisticated hospitality that is putting them on the tourist map. Where they deserve to be.
A short boat ride from Venice lies the small and semi-deserted island of Mazzorbo, connected to neighbouring Burano (the island famous for the colourful houses) by a charming 60m footbridge.
In the shadow of its handsome bell tower, Gianluca Bisol has been busy bringing the island’s abandoned historic vineyards back to life.
Bisol belongs to a family that has been making premium prosecco since the 1600s so knows a thing or two about grapes. His aim was to create a place that celebrates, promotes and researches the food and wine heritage and culture of the Venetian lagoon.
It took eight years to research and re-plant the old walled vineyard (Bisol opted for the ancient Venetian white grape variety called Dorona), and almost three to restore the old farmhouse and outbuildings, but he didn’t leave it there. The estate has been transformed into an oasis with the aforementioned vineyard, an orchard, a vegetable garden and a fish pond, home to typical lagoon species.
Central to the project is the Ristorante Venissa where chef Paola Budel, who trained under the famed Gualtiero Marchesi and Michel Roux, serves up fine food using produce from the estate or the nearby islands such as Sant’Erasmo and Lio Piccolo.
Last but not least the main villa now houses six hotel rooms furnished with iconic Italian furniture and lighting by the likes of Fontana Arte and Driade and offering views over the vineyard and the famous Venetian lagoon.
If you’ve ever dreamt of a romantic weekend a deux in a medieval tower, travel to the elegant, cobble-stoned northern Italian town of Asti (just 40 minutes north of Turin) where a charming local architect couple have carefully restored a mid-14th century tower and turned it into a one-suite hotel.
Rotarius offers impossibly high ceilings, original ornate arched windows, an eclectic mix of antique furnishings and objets d’art and fine views over the city’s rooftops (they plan to install an open-air Jacuzzi on the rooftop terrace next year) – it’s a bit like living in a fairytale.
If Rotarius is booked up try the recently opened Relais Cattedrale where the seven rooms are tastefully done up with sculptural beds, designer lighting and vintage furniture.
Book the exotic Zingiber suite if you can (it has original 17th century frescoes on the walls) and spend time in the hotel’s courtyard, which hosts a delightful bar and music space in summer.
During your sojourn in Asti make sure you visit the striking Diocesan Museum complex, located next to the town’s Cathedral, the first part of which has just opened and shows sculptures, frescoes and ecclesiastic objects found during lengthy restoration and excavation work.
Dine at the newly opened Al San Giovanni for traditional interiors and an innovative tasting menu, or the ultra-chic Angolo del Beato for perfectly executed classic Piedmontese cuisine. Catch a cabaret show or concert at the Diavolo Rosso, a unique arts centre housed in a deconsecrated church. Spring and Autumn is the best time to visit but go in September if you want to catch the annual Palio, the oldest existing Palio in Italy.