This month, Lynne Coates, one of His & Hers Magazine’s favourite travel writers and photojournalists, shares her experience of life at a luxury vineyard retreat…
The sun was setting as we drove up the mountain road, casting glorious hues over the vineyards of the Gavi hills. By the time we reached La Raia, it was bathed in the orange glow of sunset, giving the rows of lavender in front of the villa the appearance of a beautiful painting.
We had flown into Genoa and taken a train through to Gavi, (in the Piedmont region), around an hour’s journey. From the station in Gavi it was just a short drive to Locanda La Raia where we were warmly greeted by the hotel manager. As soon as we checked in I knew we were going to love this luxurious retreat filled with ambient aromas from freshly cut flowers, lavender and scented candles.
The twelve rooms and suites are furnished with traditional Piedmont antiques, paintings, and fabrics that reflect the colours of the surrounding countryside, creating a sophisticated but homely feel. The ground floor lounge is filled with iconic pieces of Italian contemporary design and cutting-edge artworks. Comfortable sofas face stunning panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards. No retreat is complete without a spa, and, like most things in this villa, it was discreet. Steps lead down from the hallway to a heated pool (indoor through to outdoor), Turkish bath and treatment rooms, so quiet and peaceful that unwinding would be effortless.
After settling into our suite it was time for dinner, though it was hard to tear myself away from the breathtaking sunset views. The bijoux restaurant with its small round tables dressed in white cloths, with fresh flowers and candles, is charming. The menus are signed by Michelin-starred Tommaso Arrigoni, who creates amazing dishes using fresh ingredients from La Raia’s biodynamic farm. Because of its unique location Gavi’s cuisine has influences from both Liguria and Piedmont. We were looking forward to trying the estate’s own Gavi wines, and they certainly did not disappoint. As we were to learn, they are uniquely produced and entirely organic, but more on that later. Dinner was sensational, I had melt in the mouth goat’s cheese with asparagus to start, followed by the most delicious pasta with a fresh celery sauce, and creamy home-made ice cream for dessert. The flavours were astonishing!
After a good sampling of the wines, all in the name of research, we slept well, and the next morning we were ready to explore the estate. The Rossi Cairo family have been managing the biodynamic estate of La Raia since 2002. The farm extends to 180 hectares, and produces Gavi DOCG and Piemonte Barbera DOC wines, as well as ancient cereals and organic honey. The family are passionate about art, and allow The Fondazione La Raia, to have their headquarters on the estate, devoted to arts, culture and landscape. Sculptures and artworks by international artists can be seen throughout the estate discreetly blended into the surroundings.
We followed a track from the hotel, walking through vineyards and farmland, up to the estate’s man-made lake, where we sat awhile to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of the surroundings before visiting the winery. I love visiting wineries, but this one is really special. The method of biodynamic production was explained to us by one of the technicians. Crop rotation naturally enhances the soil’s fertility, and the yeast used in the fermentation is produced biologically without any chemicals. The location of the vineyards on steep slopes, plus the perfect microclimate, is ideal for the Cortese and Barbera grapes used in the production of the estate’s award winning Gavi and Piedmont Barbera wines.
It was tempting to spend our entire visit in the hotel and spa just chilling, enjoying the ambience, and drinking wine, but we had never visited Piedmont before so we set off to explore. We had a guide for the day and soon discovered that the area of Serravalle has plenty of interesting sites to visit. We were first taken to the old Gavi fortress, a vast, sombre, grey stone building overlooking the town. Originally built by the Romans, as a military stronghold, it was used in both world wars as a prison. You can take a guided tour and learn about its dark history. Back down to the town of Libarna, we visited the recent excavations that have revealed an ancient Roman town. The project is ongoing, but is being hailed as a great archaeological discovery. Having a local guide is a great way of finding out those little secrets that guide books don’t tell you. Ours took us to the oldest bakery in Libarna where we met the baker, Francesco Carrea, a great character famous for his ‘Colomba Pasquale’ (traditional Easter cake) which, of course, we sampled. The other great find, as far as I was concerned, was the nearby Serravalle Designer outlet, where many of the iconic Italian designer brands can be found at outlet prices – now that’s worth knowing!
Piedmont is perhaps one of the lesser known Italian destinations, but it is well worth discovering, especially for wine lovers. Gavi has a lot to offer. Locanda La Raia is an idyllic oasis, a luxurious retreat with wonderful cuisine. The perfect place to escape the pressures of modern life, for a while at least.
We flew from Manchester with Easy Jet www.easyjet.com to Genoa and took a train to Gavi, you could just as easily fly into Milan. La Raia is 98km from Milan and 60km from Genoa.
For Locanda La Raia: www.locandalaraia.it
Follow Lynne’s travels on Instagram: @lynnecoatesphoto