By Maxine Albert
Looking out upon the rolling hills of lush greenery and wildflowers that stretched to the blue Adriatic against a crimson sunset, I was afraid to blink lest this mirage disappear forever. A poet’s delight, certainly, to drink in the glory of nature here – and a traveler’s delight as well, at least for one who relishes splendid surroundings, good food and fine wine. This is the Albergo Magnolia - located on and overlooking the vineyards of the Domodimonti Winery. I was invited to the grand inauguration of both the winery and the hotel. The occasion called for a glass of the fabulous grape and a swim in the pool – at the very least.
Just over two hours east of Rome, Domodimonti is in Montefiore dell’ Aso in Le Marche province. With its gorgeous countryside, tree-clad slopes and charming medieval villages perched atop mountain peaks, this region has yet to be discovered by the tourists who crowd neighboring Tuscany and Umbria.
A boutique winery situated between the sea and the mountains, the Domodimonti Vineyard has the perfect climate for sustainable agriculture. It’s the brain child of Dr. Francesco Bellini - biotech–scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, visionary – a true Renaissance man who developed the AIDS drug 3TC that saved Magic Johnson’s life. In 2003, he went from his home in Montreal with his wife Marissa to visit their native town Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche. He became so enthralled with the landscape that he bought 100 acres and enlisted his wife and their sons Carlo and Roberto in a family project to produce their own wine in the area they grew up.
With international renowned winemaker Carlo Ferrini at the helm, their goal is to make the highest quality natural wines with the least amount of additives. The vines are sustainably grown, with a strict regimen of water conservation, soil improvement, and erosion control, and hand picked with no sugar and minimum sulfites added. The grapes are aged in French oak barrels in the wine cellar of this state of the art facility. The result: delicious tasting wines and, as promised by Dr. Bellini himself, no headache, no hangover - ever. I was skeptical at first – not that I’m a big drinker. We’ve all had those evenings when a bit too much libation requires an aspirin or such and makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. So I put it to the test and can say conclusively that the doctor with a Ph.D in organic chemistry knows his stuff. I was impressed.
Dr. Bellini earned the highest distinction awarded by the Italian government for his contribution to Italy, the Onorificenza Di Grande Ufficiale. When asked what’s the secret to a great wine, he replied “A lot of love, a lot of care. ” He talks about his wines as a proud father.
Piccolo Principe, a salmon colored Rose made from Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon is fruity, delicate and pairs well with fish – better than its French counterpart. Deja V, a soft and silky white made from the region’s passerina grape, is excellent with seafood and risotto. Picens, an elegant blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, complements pizza, cheese, veal and pork. My favorite, Solo Per Te, translated “Only For You,” is a deep ruby red well-structured 100% Montepulciano – great with steak.
What better place to enjoy fine wine and cuisine than outdoors atop a hill at the Magnolia Hotel with its breathtaking vista. Seven unique suites each with views and balconies overlooking the magnificent terrain of Montefiore dell’ Aso make up this pastoral paradise, with swimming pool, Jacuzzi, chef, spa services and “a staff dedicated to fulfill your every request.” You can dine at a restaurant in a nearby village, or have the hotel’s chef prepare a romantic candle-lit dinner of local delicacies – of course, paired with the best wines. To awake with the sun rising from the Adriatic to the east and casting its golden rays on the peaks of the Sibillini Mountains to the west was unforgettable.
Le Marche’s beautiful landscapes of vineyards and olive groves, hilltop towns with monasteries and castles, is the perfect place for a drive. In the summer you can catch operas performed outdoors. The seaside town of Grottamare has lovely beaches and amazing fish. I feasted on the freshest salmon, calamari and ceviche. The restaurant Conero in the capital and port of Ancona has views of the coastal cliffs and the sea from its veranda as you lunch on succulent prawns and specialties du jour.
Ascoli Piceno is utterly charming with its medieval and Renaissance buildings and piazzas. It was here that I was introduced to the addictive regional specialty of fried olives stuffed with seasoned cod or pork filling. Sitting at Anisetti Meletti, the historic café where Dustin Hoffman appeared in the film “Arturo, Arturo,” I watched the friendly people talk, bike and stroll by as I sipped my espresso and smiled. It’s not surprising Le Marche was just named one of the 10 best places in the world for Americans to retire.
When I headed back to Rome for my flight, I treated myself to a dinner at Les Etoiles, the roof garden and terrace on the top floor of the Hotel Atlante Star. With its 360 degree view of the city, superb food and wine, it was the perfect way to say “Arrivederci, Roma” www.atlantehotels.com
Getting there: Airlines fly to Rome from major cities, 2 plus hour drive to Le Marche
For information about the Domodimonti winery and hotel
For information about travel to Italy