Do you have to travel to Scotland or Ireland to play golf and stay in a castle?
I found the ultimate castle and golf experience in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy.
Set among the rolling hills of the Collio DOC wine region near the town of Cormons, about 15 minutes from Gorizia, is the Castello di Spessa, a golf and wine resort. The castle dates back to 1200. While a succession of nobles and colorful personalities have resided in the castle, its most famous resident guest was Giacomo Casanova, the legendary ladies man, who hung out there in 1773.
Casanova was also a writer and adventurer and he’s earnestly celebrated throughout the property.
While the Castello di Spessa is often called a resort, the accommodations element is better described as a boutique hotel. There are 15 bedrooms and suites and a variety of Medieval rooms and a wine cellar in the castle. The hallways are wonderfully appointed with artwork and the lush, garden-like grounds are peppered with beautiful trees and statues.
Now, it’s time to talk golf, wine and dining…
Dominated by views of the castle from just about every hole on the course and holes framed by vineyards, the par 71, 6,000 yard course is a joy to play. The front nine is hilly and has two holes that require tee shots over the vineyards. Flat and parkland style, the back nine is adjacent to the castle. Designed by Giacomo Cabrini, the course opened in 2005. I was impressed with the course conditions, especially the greens, which were in excellent condition.
10 Little Things I Liked
1. The opulent breakfast room is wonderfully appointed and you get the sense the aristocratic types who used to live in the castle many years ago were living large each morning.
2. The bountiful breakfast buffet is teeming with fresh fruit, yogurt and fresh baked pastries and breads. The helpful attendant will fix you a sunny-side-up egg, get you a cappuccino or fulfill just about any reasonable request.
3. Walking through the beautiful vineyards is a great sedative and superb way to clear your mind.
4. Strolling through the grounds of the castle, which has signs marked with quotes from the legendary Giacomo Casanova, who used to frequent the castle.
5. Maurizio at their upscale restaurant, La Tavernetta. He’s a very helpful and well informed manager/waiter who has the panache and professionalism of a top notch NYC maitre’d.
6. The crisp and delicious Pinot Grigio I enjoyed for a long, leisurely, Sunday lunch at La Tavernetta. (Castello di Spessa Pinot Grigio Friuli DOC Isonzo).
7. The proximity of the castle to the town of Cormons, which is only a 5-minute drive from the resort. The town has lots of inexpensive pizza restaurants and trattorias.
8. The driving range with its fabulous view facing the castle.
9. The train that rolls by in the near distance while you’re playing golf.
10. The on-site wine shop where you can buy and taste Castello di Spessa wines.
The wine produced at Castello di Spessa is excellent and moderately priced. Vineyards around the castle encompass about 70 acres in the Collio region and there are also 150 acres in the Isono area. Both vineyards date back to the 16th century. Whites like Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon are very impressive. They also produce three reds–a Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like something a bit stronger, try their high quality brandy and grappa. You can get an excellent bottle of Castello di Spessa wine for as little as 15 Euro.
I recommend savoring a bottle of wine (or two) while dining at La Tavernetta, a fabulous, upscale experience with al fresco dining in the warmer months and a fireplace in the main dining room that makes things nice, cozy and romantic during the cooler months.
After your round, you can dine and relax (I suggest a glass of chilled Friulano) at the Hosteria del Castello at the clubhouse. It has a beautiful outdoor dining area overlooking the golf course.
At the castle, the cozy Bistrot Del Castello, which is dedicated to Giacomo Casanova, is where a plate of regional ham and local cheeses will put you in a great mood.
The Guru’s Take
If you want the personification of the Italian good life with superb wines, an excellent gourmet dining experience and a picturesque golf course amid the vineyards, the Castello di Spessa is for you. Far from the maddening tourist hordes in Tuscany and Veneto, this is a special resort where you can kick back with a chilled glass of pinot grigio and toast your amazing surroundings.