Luxury Hotel Review: Palazzo di Varignana Resort & Spa, Bologna, Italy

I felt my shoulders drop as our taxi pulled into the grounds of Palazzo di Varignana. The lush greenery and panorama of the Po Valley washed over me like the warm waters of a Jacuzzi I hoped to soon bask in. I had booked a long weekend at the lavish Italian resort and spa after deciding it would take more than a goblet of wine on a Friday night to reduce the stress level brought on by daily routine. I decided to go for a full R&R in Italy, where I could access the killer combo of posh pampering, cypress-filled vistas, and pasta like I imagine my Italian great-grand-nonna made.

Palazzo di Varignana is a chic retreat in the hills outside Bologna. The region, Emilia-Romagna, hasn’t caught the eye of British tourists looking for the Chiantishire experience, but that’s what they’ve forgotten: Emilia-Romagna has many of the charms of Tuscany and of Umbria, like historic towns and velvety greenery enough to conjure up images of Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love.

More specifically, its centerpiece is the city of Bologna, the hub of Italian gastronomy, known as “Il Grasso” (“The Fat”) due to its status as the gastronomic capital of the country. Only half an hour by car from Bologna, the kitchen of the Palazzo offers the best of Bolognese and regional cuisine. For starters, the hotel’s exceptional charcuterie of mortadella, prosciutto and deer bresaola comes straight from Bologna’s famous butcher, Macelleria Zivieri.

why come here

We’ll get to the food later, but back to the resort… It’s an upscale oasis set on 30 hectares, a modern mini-village sympathetically arranged around its centerpiece, the glorious Palazzo Bentivoglio. The 18th century castle dominates the landscape and, like the rest of the resort, offers stunning views down the valley to the Alps.

The calm of the station was immediately perceptible and welcome for this city dweller. Accommodation is spread over seven blocks built in a traditional style which blend into the landscape rather than dominate it. It offers 146 large rooms, from standard to presidential suites.

Our room was in The Terrace, two buildings built into the hillside to maximize the use of the land. I was impressed with the size of the room and its wow factor with the high ceilings and the cool minimalist decor that mixes wood and neutral colors. The bed was big and the lighting high tech but so easy even a baby boomer like me could figure it out. Floor-to-ceiling windows with a sliding door flooded the room with natural light. A particular treat was sitting on our private terrace in the early evening watching the swifts whiz maniacally around the grounds as the sun set and the valley turned into a carpet of lights.

The white marble bathroom contained a double sink as well as a gigantic rain shower that could accommodate a family of four. Best of all, heavy doors and thick walls kept noise from reaching our luxurious oasis, enveloping me in the peace I had come for.

Take a dip in the Terrazze infinity pool

Relaxation facilities

Residents of The Terrace are doubly lucky in that they have the added bonus of not one, but two private pools, one at each end, providing an antidote to the busier communal pool complex. We oscillated between them, according to our desire for calm. I preferred the relative bustle of the main pool and the allure of its bar serving delicious mozzarella salads for lunch. In a relatively compact space, the aquatic area cleverly arranges five outdoor pools, including a swimming lane, an infinity pool and a large pool. I took up residence in the jacuzzi pool, savoring the soothing effect of its warm, sparkling waters, emerging from time to time to order a glass of prosecco or an ice cream from the bar. Sun loungers and umbrellas were plentiful so there was no need to claim territory with beach towels. It looked like a very friendly common area.

When the sun was scorching us, we headed to the compact but stylish indoor spa, with a jacuzzi pool connected to a small outdoor pool. A selection of steam rooms, Kneipp bath, bio-sauna, Finnish sauna and Jacuzzis offer all the water-based wellness you could ask for.

Like many high-end Italian resorts, the spa offers detox and weight loss regimens, but they wouldn’t suit an indulgent pasta lover like me. I treated myself to a relaxing massage with Irene, whose expert hands relieved the tension in my back and shoulders. Another afternoon, we took advantage of the excellent Ars Vivendi private spa, a two-hour experience that selects the best spa traditions. The first room is a private hammam with mini-pool and hammam, the second an Ofuru, a very hot Japanese whirlpool bath in a dark and comfortable setting. After an hour in each, we were treated to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Other than when I mistakenly put a menthol body scrub on my face which temporarily blinded me as it migrated into my eyes, the experience was an ultra-relaxing stay.

The main restaurant Aurevo overlooks the swimming pool and the valley

Eat and drink

Food is one of the Palazzo’s main attractions, with three restaurants offering distinctive culinary offerings. Il Grifone, located in the Palazzo, is a gourmet haven. The main restaurant, Aurevo, on a terrace overlooking the pool and the valley, offers a mix of classic Italian dishes (try the Bolognese schnitzel) and fusion dishes, using a host of local ingredients like Varignana wildflower honey and mortadella.

Be sure to dine at least one night at Marzoline, the resort’s traditional trattoria located a short walk from the residences. It puts a spin on traditional Italian dishes like cold roast beef served with creamy Parmesan rather than horseradish which my dining partner swooned over. I was floored by the ravioli filled with buffalo ricotta cheese and fava beans, although perplexed by my first course. It was Fritto Misto, a typical Emilia-Romagna dish of tempura fried vegetables, which were gorgeous, until I got to the fried sweet cream cubes, which were like a dessert delivered two courses too soon. But it was a learning experience, enjoyed in the ultra-Italian setting of a terrace overlooking the olive groves.

Explore the lands of the estate

What to do

The Palazzo’s 350-hectare estate produces much of its own ingredients, including olive oil and wine, which we sampled during a fun tasting session at the estate’s wine bar. The intricacies of the more subtle flavors of olive oil were beyond our heads; we were on safer ground with the estate’s excellent sangiovese and chardonnay, although the most pleasant surprise was the sparkling wine, produced by the champagne method and a fantastic alternative to the ubiquitous prosecco.

After several days of indulgent gliding between swimming pools, spas and restaurants, I felt ready to rediscover the urban bustle. The tranquility and luxury of this elegant seaside resort had exerted their calm on me. Call it the Varignana effect.

The Palazzo di Varignana offers rooms from €230 (£194) per night, based on two adults sharing a B&B plan;

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