Halfway between Trieste and Venice, Modern Traveller stopped for some rest and exploration in one of Italy’s lesser-known – and truly intriguing – regions.
WORDS & PICTURES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
“We’re neither a hotel nor an agriturismo,” owner Loris tells MT. “We like guests to be comfortable and relaxed – but we are also here if they need us.”
Welcome to Il Milione: a converted farmhouse in the north-east of Italy, nestled neatly between Trieste and Venice, where those ready to relax and listen can discover a region rarely trumpeted, in surroundings disposed to a calming of the soul.
Surrounded on all sides by land upon which the bearers of precious wine-producing grapes set their roots, this is not a country house as the traditional nomenclature suggests.
Rather, this is a farmhouse made modern: restored in the early noughties before opening in 2006, Il Milione is a rest-stop for the traveller in need of serenity, where wooden walkways adjoin a host of rooms – from romantic doubles to kitchen-equipped suites – in view of a landscape flat until the mountainous horizon.
Though you wouldn’t know it, an autostrada passes by just minutes away – an artery bringing road-goers from neighbouring Slovenia to Venice and beyond. In this sense, Il Milione – named in homage to Marco Polo’s collection of worldly travels – is truly a place for those on a journey: safe parking, free breakfast and a welcome of such warmth that one finds only in independent establishments.
But there’s more to Il Milione than a one-night stay would reveal. For, whilst the generous breakfast would see many a journey-maker ready to face their next leg with courage, having slept soundly in any one of the spacious rooms, the true secret to a superb stay here is to seek advice from the proprietors.
Northern-born Loris, together with Tuscan partner Eliana, have made Il Milione their livelihood (they live on the property, meaning whatever the season, low or high, they are around to assist), and their passion is evident.
From restaurant suggestions (there’s none on-site) to day-trip thoughts – with a host of maps and guides at their disposal – you’ll find no better font of local knowledge than the one waiting in the foyer.
There’s no question, of course, that this is laid-back living: reception closes at 8pm, so if you’re back late and need ideas you’ll need to turn to Google – which will mean sitting at the outside terrace downstairs to use the free Wi-Fi, unless you pay for in-room internet.
Provided you’re prepared for stillness complete, though, Il Milione could be exactly the escape you’re looking for. It might not offer the luxury some seek, but for simple serenity there are far worse ways to spend a few days.
What’s more, the highlights of Friuli Venezia Giulia are never more than an hour’s drive away: Venice is one hour away by car, whilst the walled city of Palmanova is just half-an-hour to the northeast. Alternatively, Grado is a quieter, quainter lagoon-based conurbation a mere 45-minute drive from the property – with the Roman ruins at Aquileia situated on the route.
Whether you venture further afield or choose to stay close – sampling the local cuisine at Loris’ suggestion – odds are you’ll rest in comfort come the end of the day.
Rooms are very much reminiscent of the traditional Italian agriturismo: wooden floors, comfortable, four-poster beds and bookshelves lined with reading material for quiet afternoons – together with spacious bathrooms and, in some cases, balconies offering views across the strikingly level landscape.
As the lovely Luna, Il Milione’s resident pooch, weaves and wags her way between the swaying shrubs, it’s hard to imagine the everyday drama of life just along the lane that leads to and from the property.
Quiet – isolated, to some extent – Il Milione does not suffer the same fate as many a more-remote residence. In part thanks to its unique design, with rooms situated in the building connected by external walkways, one has a sense of privacy without losing the reassuring sense of company.
In the off-season, visitors will come and go quietly, and there’s every chance you’ll miss them at breakfast. Ninety percent of guests between October and April are on business, either in the area, or passing through.
Things are busier in the summer months, as ever, with the pool open and families and couples – from Italy, Germany and Austria, mainly – paying often repeated visits to Il Milione, which tells you something about its unique appeal.
With 25 beds, the Country House also plays host to the occasional residential course, with large groups travelling down from Switzerland and the Netherlands to make the best of Loris and Eliana’s hospitality.
Whenever you visit, and whatever your purpose, you’re unlikely to find frustration waiting – unless, of course, you’re a fidgety sort of soul, or one unable to leave emails unchecked for more than an hour.
Some might puzzle at the middle ground Il Milione occupies: it’s neither a hotel experience nor apartment living. Rather, rooms are your own to occupy, whilst attentive service remains yours to make the most of.
For many, though, this will be the ideal blend of blissful calm in the Italian countryside, with the on-hand advice only a local could offer.