Wellness and peace of mind are two prized goals for travelers, especially after two years of turmoil. Palazzo di Varignana in the Italian hillside outside of Bologna is the ideal place to find both. While many Americans may not exchange jet lag for a short wellness break, this foodie and spa resort is worth considering as part of a larger European vacation. A few days here to recharge will have you ready to go for the rest of your trip. Here’s what to expect at this stunning countryside retreat where you can reboot your diet, rekindle romance or refresh your mindset. Let these five reasons to visit Palazzo di Varignana be the first introduction to the new you.
Set on a hillside just 30 minutes from Bologna, this property is surrounded by nature. There’s nothing but rolling hills with rows of grapes growing in the vineyards and olive trees. Public pathways allow guests the chance to wander between them on daily walks or through the hotel’s own botanical gardens. There’s a labyrinth for self-reflection, plenty of gardens growing flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits used in the hotel’s restaurants, and paths for biking and jogging. Trickling and splashing fountains add to the ambiance, and the only sounds you’ll here are birds, water and the breeze.
The serenity is all by design. Fully restored almost two decades ago, Palazzo Bargellini Bentivoglio is now an expanded vision for people to enjoy nature, good food, personal interaction and some much-needed wellness pampering.
Next up, as it should be, is the excellent range of cuisine here. If you’re going to base yourself in the countryside, you want to eat fresh ingredients without trading top-notch recipes or presentation. Palazzo di Varignana ticks both boxes. The hotel has numerous dining options for all tastes, price points and times of day. Executive Chef Davide Rialti has done an amazing job of designing menus that present traditional Italian recipes in creative and enticing ways.
Il Grifone is a formal dining room in the main palazzo split into several smaller rooms. Each is elegantly styled with beautiful wallpaper or wall paintings, the finest china and starched linens, and service delivered with precision (often from a beautiful cart to present wines or the property’s own olive oils with bread). The menu varies between lunch and dinner, but includes the option to follow a more wellness-minded approach.
Le Marzoline is tucked away into a distant corner of the grounds giving it the feeling of a private inn. This trattoria serves excellent Italian fare from an open kitchen with many traditional Bolognese dishes from the famous tagliatelle alla bolognese to the hearty friggione (a side dish prepared with tomato and onion). At Aurevo, you can also tuck into tasty pizzas fresh from the oven in addition to other homemade pastas.
Light food is also served by the pool, and there are numerous bars around the property (all of which serve both international wine as well as the estate’s own vintages). Perhaps the most exceptional experience, however, is Treno Reale, the fully restored historic train car on the grounds. Dinner here is a formal affair (jacket and tie required), and the multi-course menu comes with historic detail about the many stops the train route had over the years.
The wellness focus
Varsana Spa here is incredible and draws a huge amount of locals for its holistic approach to wellness. The massage and beauty treatments use products with the extra virgin olive oil produced (and soon to be pressed) onsite. In fact, the signature massage uses the olive oil that you may taste in the restaurant.
All guests get access to the expansive spa facilities, which include wellness rituals in the pools with different temperatures, underwater music and massaging jets. There are also saunas, steam rooms, salt rooms, an ice waterfall, hammam and Japanese onsen baths. During the summer months, there are five outdoor pools to enjoy, and many of these are covered during the winter months for uninterrupted use. If you want to meditate alone in the water, try one of the two infinity pools in the gardens overlooking the vineyards and roses.
The property also counts a driving range, putting green, tennis courts and biking paths (there’s even an app to serve as a guide) among the many amenities. Kids have plenty to explore, too, including a playground.
Wellness is a key component of the experience here, and the resort’s own specialist and author Dr. Annamaria Acquaviva created her own scientific method to help guests live longer. She is available for personal sessions to provide recommendations for guests and often hosts wellness retreats, a favorite of locals or small groups. Her methods are based around five pillars, “inner harmony and balance, a well-balanced diet, adequate exercise, quality sleep and micro-nutrition.” Many of her nutrition recommendations are clearly marked or can be suggested by staff on restaurant menus.
A stay here will refresh your whole being. It’s hard to describe without having been there, but the endless hills with the Alps occasionally peaking out of the horizon on a clear day are inspiring. Come here to read, to relax, to reset your diet plan or to detox. It’s all possible.
Majestic art pieces and sculptures are dotted around the property, and luckily, there is a map that helps visitors spot them all. The property is also home to historic artifacts from the ancient Roman city of Claterna. Don’t miss the famous Claterna mosaic, which is on loan from a nearby museum. If it’s a bit of self-reflection you’re after, there’s also a small chapel.
This is also the reason why many corporate groups choose it as a destination for meetings and events. There is traditional meeting space, but then attendees can enjoy receptions in the gardens, take part in wine and olive oil tastings, and benefit from the spa amenities.
There is also the option to stay in the new Country House Oliveto sul Lago on the Agrivar farm where guests can open their window and be amid the vineyards. This is popular with wedding groups or small gatherings as well as individual guests.
Spread across the grounds in various buildings, the guest rooms are modern and elegant. They feature comfortable seating areas (including balconies or terraces in most), beds with easy-access power outlets and plush linens, ample storage space and robes to use for the spa. Bathrooms have Sicilian-born Ortigia beauty products to enjoy during the stay. All guests receive free access to the wellness facilities.
The newest addition to the resort are the six multi-bedroom villas that are ideal for those wanting maximum privacy. They feature living areas, kitchens and outdoor terraces with plunge pools. These are ideal for families, friends traveling together, wedding parties or small groups. These can be booked with the option to visit the wellness facilities.
No matter where you sleep (or even if you just come to dine in the restaurant and have a treatment in the spa), you will leave with a greater appreciation for the mind and body as well as the natural surroundings for which Emilia-Romagna is so well-known.
Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.