Before I booked my tipsy walking trip on the Prosecco Wine Circuit in northern Italy, I didn’t give much thought to this sparkling wine. (The Italians call it “bubbly wine.”) To the French, Prosecco is the poor man’s champagne. The Spanish consider it the cousin to Cava . . . and Americans devour it as the less alcoholic alternative to a cocktail at happy hour or the supporting ingredient when mixing a Venetian Spritz.
Wine lovers wax lyrical about visiting Tuscan vineyards to sample their Italian red wines. But here in Northeastern Italy, a hilly area 50 km from Venice and around 100 from the Dolomite, the star is Prosecco. Now the first thing I learn on this trip is there is no Prosecco grape. The name of this wine is derived from an Italian village called Prosecco. The wine is first mentioned in 1593 by an Englishman who notes that “Here growes the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny.”
“There is not a wine that is deemed superior to this for medicinal purposes”Pliny
From the University of Chicago’s online archive of Classical literature, Pliny (The Natural History) on the medicinal powers of Prosecco writes: “ . . . Livia Augusta, who lived to her eighty-second year, attributed her longevity to the wine of Pucinum, as she never drank any other. This wine is grown near a bay of the Adriatic, not far from Mount Timavus, upon a piece of elevated rocky ground, where the sea-breeze ripens a few grapes, the produce of which supplies a few amphoræ:”*
The type of grape used in Prosecco can vary depending on the region. But I am here to learn about Prosecco Superiore DOCG, which is “a white Italian wine with lively elegance and fruity and floral fragrances.” The DOCG is the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, the highest level of quality for Italian wines.
According to the DOCG, its production area covers 15 communes and represents the heart of the world of Prosecco. Conegliano Valdobbiadene, one of Italy’s historic denominations, was recognized in 1969.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
We will hike through the vineyards which cultivate the grape used to produce Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG. It can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns north of Treviso (Valdobbiadene and Conegliano).
What I didn’t know when I scheduled my trip is that Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene would be listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019. “Located in north-eastern Italy, the property includes part of the winegrowing landscape of the Prosecco wine production area. The landscape is characterized by ‘hogback’ hills, ciglioni – small plots of vines on narrow grassy terraces – forests, small villages and farmland. For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man. Since the 17th century, the use of ciglioni has created a particular chequerboard landscape consisting of rows of vines parallel and vertical to the slopes.
“In the 19th century, the bellussera technique of training the vines contributed to the aesthetic characteristics of the landscape.”UNESCO
Strada of Prosecco
This region is blessed with hilly land to plant terraced checkerboard rows of grape vines. And walking the circuit known as L’Anello Del Prosecco Superiore (nicknamed Strada of Prosecco) is a novel way to experience this rural landscape, touch the grape vines and taste a grape.
I was about a week late to see the vines bulging with plump yellow grapes. The harvesting typically occurs in late September but it can roll into the first week of October. I saw few grapes still hanging on a vine.
The typical thing is to schedule a tour of one or two vineyards—either booking a private sedan for the RT from Venice or renting a car. It is also possible to take a train to Conegliano and then hire a taxi to drive to a nearby vineyard.
But it is infinitely more exciting to walk through the rocky backroads and dirt-packed paths that wind through Prosecco Hills. Listen to the dogs barking behind fenced yards, which often creates a chained reaction.
I booked a week-long Prosecco Hill tour with Exodus Travels, after my solo vacation in Venice. I also visited the Island of Burano. Exodus is a U.K. company which specializes in small group adventures. We had 12 individuals hailing from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States. Our guide is Serena who leads the daily walking adventures in San Stefano, Pieve di Soleil and Treviso.
Our van drops us off in a small village where we will begin our walk. We pass the local bar which will be our final destination on this circular walk through vineyards. At 10 a.m. it is still chilly out so everyone is wearing light jackets, vests or sweaters. Hiking boots are de rigeur as we will climb some steep paths to reach a scenic panoramic view over the valley.
Back home it is Monday and people will be returning to work. But we feel like students playing hooky as we don our backpacks and march down solitary country roads lined with grapevines. I feel embraced by the mountains that hug the landscape.
As the sun grows hotter, we begin to peel off layers. I relish the heat of the sun on my scalp. A soft breeze ripples through the tree branches. You could lose yourself in this green maze of straight rows of grape vines.
Our first stop in a rest area where there are picnic tables and bees. There is a tiny white chapel. We get a sugar buzz by eating a banana and drinking water. It is important to stay hydrated. We can see all the way to the Pre Alps. They are curtained with a grey mist so they look otherworldly. The sky is painted with clouds that resemble daubs of white cotton balls.
We set off toward a self-serve osteria where we can expect lunch by 1 pm. Our Exodus walk follows a mix of man-made tracks and paths twisting through the vineyards. Some of the hamlets look centuries-old. The brick and stone homes are often squat one-floor residences. One beige stone home sports a sienna red front door and shutters.
Many homes have clay roof tile roofs. The imbrex and tegula often are typically reddish orange; the ancient Greeks and Romans used clay roofs as a waterproof and durable roof covering. I like the stone hut which boasts multi-colored brown, tan and red roof tiles that have been assembled like a puzzle.
The streets are oddly quiet. I keep expecting to see a cat sitting on a door step or hiding in a tree. But there are no felines anywhere on this winery walk. Occasionally, we pass a fenced home where a “guard” dog barks furiously at us while we past. Always the Pre Alps loom in the distance like a fairy castle.
In one little village, we see a family decorates the archway of a street to celebrate the nuptials. Red, orange and white balloons weigh down branches. A sign weighs down the branch of a flowery tree. It reminds the married couple that they can see goodbye to liberty “ciao ciao Liberta!”
Since the vineyards are built on the hillsides, we often have an incline and the exertion is hard. We have to climb what feels like our own hellish Alp to get to the osteria which is perched high up and offers panoramic views of the Italian villages below.
Day two of hiking means our joints are a little stiff and the ascent is hard. Everyone sets their own pace. Breathing is labored. Finally I reach the road where I am shocked to find cars which are dropping off the day trippers. No fair! All members of our group finally emerge at the top of the hill. The view of the hamlets nestled along the foothills punctuated by the geometric lines of bright green rows of vines are mozzafiato (breathtaking). I can see all the way to the Pre Alps.
We wander up to the Osteria Senz’Oste, a self-serve restaurant. Imagine a shepherd’s lodge where you can sit to relax your stiff legs, replenish physically and mentally. Hikers can refuel with simple food—country bread, cheese and ham—that are available for a small donation. There is an upstairs dining room with protection from the elements should it be raining. But the most scenic choices are the small tables and chairs situated on the terraces.
Our group gratefully sinks into chairs after we pull together three tables to make a makeshift family-style dining area. Serena pulls up the cork in the Prosecco bottle which burbs softly. We are all silent as we pull off chunks of the rustic bread and cover with the soft local cheeses and selection of ham and salami. The only annoyance is the bee which circles and dives into our plates of food.
Prosecco Vending Machines
After finishing my lunch, I decide to follow the signs for a vending machine that sells Prosecco but it causes great pain to my stiff knees to climb the steep staircase. The payoff is the astounding view of the countryside … plus the novelty of seeing three vending machines selling 750 ml bottles of chilled local Prosecco.
But come prepare with currency and a valid Italian drivers license! A group of Italians have spread a cloth on a nearby round table to indulge in Prosecco served in plastic cups.
It is worthwhile to schedule a minimum of 45 minutes for lunch at this plein air restaurant as it offers respite from hiking, fantastic views of the rolling hills and manicured vineyards.
I also enjoy meeting the resident black goat who loves all the attention and mugs for selfies. She is a soulful animal that gazes so longingly at me as if to ask why she can’t join us for our saunter through the countryside. Italian goats can be found in many rural areas, particularly the Alpine regions. I think like the British poet William Wordsworth that she knows that “sweet was the walk.”
I also explore a small room in the osteria which is stuffed with letters, cards, guitars and pictures have been left by grateful hikers on their wine pilgrimage. Don Romeo, the parish priest in San Pietro di Barbozza and Guia, expressed his gratitude: “Thank you, God, for the beauty of this beautiful view that enchants the soul and gives peace to the heart.”
“Thank you for the people I meet here, who like me beg for some quiet and serenity.”
Our journey is a five-hour circuit that ends back at the small village where our van will pick us up. Our next top is a family-run winery (San Gregorio) where we will enjoy a Prosecco wine tasting. Their Italian hospitality is legendary. It is no surprise that I leave with seven bottles of Prosecco. Ciao!
The Ring of Prosecco Superiore
Postscript: There is an association that can even book walking tours for groups with a minimum of 15: “The Ring of Prosecco Superiore is a naturalistic itinerary that leads through some famous hill towns of the Municipality of Valdobbiadene, such as: San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol, to discover the tradition and the wine and gastronomic culture of this land.”
*I am indebted to DR who sent me this quote about the medicinal powers of Prosecco after reading the blog.
Comments are welcome!
If you enjoy this article, you can subscribe to my weekly email: