by Sean Hillen
Atop a hill overlooking lake and mountain, a stay at Casa Isarescu means inviting Mother Nature to spoon you in bed.
Located deep in verdant Romanian countryside, this elegant wine estate and traditional hacienda is the result of perseverance, planning and impressive creativity by members of the Isarescu family including 68-year-old Mugur, 27-year Governor of the Romanian National Bank, the longest serving Governor worldwide, former Prime Minister and Presidential candidate, and his talented son, Costin, a 30-year-old architect, the property’s CEO.
Heading upwards from the charming old town of Dragasani in the county of Valcea, a narrow road winds around 40 hectares of gently sloping Casa Isarescu vineyard, some plantings new, some old, producing an average of 150,000 bottles per year, of memorable white, rose and red. International grape varieties include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, the national tămâioasă Românească and locally-grown grapes, crâmpoșie and negru de Drăgășani. Table grapes include Victoria, created at Dragasani and now being planted worldwide, and Italia. Interestingly, the vineyard – like the region itself – once lay at the bottom of the sea, thus the presence of rich deposits of seashells in the soil.
Through an electronic gate is an exterior courtyard featuring two classic 1970s Renault and Dacia cars and an MZ motorbike and an elegant 19th century carriage with smooth, polished wooden wheels. The winery itself with spanking, shiny ultra-modern equipment from Italy is housed nearby, with a tasting room neatly arranged beside it. The smell of fermenting grapes in high stacks of Transylvanian oak barrels in the cellar tantalizes one’s nostrils.
Outside, meandering pathways lead one around segments of vineyard beside a decorative, multi-colored rose garden and assorted bushes and shrubs.
History is kept passionately alive here, with a modest, wooden ancestral wine storage shed now renovated, yet retaining some 150-year-old boards incorporated in the new structure. Framed photographs inside of family members, some dressed in traditional Romanian costumes, lining the walls, grant visual insights into bygone epochs. Here, Mugur’s grandparents, and his own parents, Aritina and Constantin Isarescu, brought the first family wines to fruition.
Meanwhile, back up the pathway at the main accommodation complex, a new restaurant unfolds across an open terrace offering stunning views across a wide valley to the towering Carpathian Mountains beyond teeming with legend, myth and historical drama, much of it dating from the ancient Dacian, Celt, Roman and Medieval periods.
Once inside the hacienda’s broad comfortable lobby, the true nature of this luxury property becomes abundantly clear. Furnished in the traditional style of a Romanian ‘cule’ or ‘conac’ (chateau), it is enriched with attractive artifacts, many hinting of days long gone, including decorative wooden clocks, antiques, chandeliers, 19th century paintings featuring still-lifes and animated monks busy at wine-making, ink etchings, hand-painted bottles, bronze statutes including one of a nubile maiden dressed in a toga, an old gramophone with the emblematic ‘His Masters’s Voice’ inscribed on it, beautifully varnished wooden barrels, and even a framed set of metal corkscrews from different countries and epochs.
A long wooden table seats about a dozen people with soft padded armchairs in one corner beside an open, log fire offering leisurely relaxation. Terracotta tiles adorn the floor and most of the furniture is carved from oak.
While the interior decor is enticing, I found no greater thrill than sitting outside on the spacious terrace, glass of Isarescu wine or potent homemade pálinka in hand, overlooking rows upon rows of healthy vines, pregnant with grapes, and the River Olt and lake reposing peacefully below, a soft, warm breeze on my face, listening to the silky-smooth melody of ‘Shadow Of Your Smile’ by artists such as Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand, Gary Mulligan, ‘Old Blue Eyes’ Frank Sinatra and Kenny G. The playful company of the property’s resident cat and dog, Jolie and Hunter, enhanced the ambience even more.
Rooms, bereft of ornamental clutter, make one feel gracious and well-rested. Elaborately-carved oak furnishings, an old-style rotary-dial telephone in wooden housing and crisp fresh linen, combine with modern technology such as a wide, flat-screen TV with multiple channels, to satisfy guests.
Our room – there are six in total on two levels – are fashioned in a graceful Old World manner, with intricately-engraved oak headboard on the bed, a hanging mini-chandelier and charming bedside table-lamps. This inviting sense of tasteful Romanian tradition is completed by a smooth wooden floor and hand-woven carpeting with light floral designs. A painting adorning the wall behind the king-size bed features a bucolic rural countryside complete with a rambling farmhouse.
Another wonderful aspect of the property is its underground vaulted crama or cellar. Dating from 1850, it features a slate stone floor, a richly-ornate walnut ‘throne,’ an impressive roundtable reminding one of King Arthur and his valiant Knights, bear and wild boar hides as floor coverings and assorted artifacts such as statuettes, hunting horns, antler horns, brass candelabra and silver engravings.
If it’s high-quality accommodation paired with high-quality wines, panoramic views over verdant Romanian countryside and an authentic sense of history that you seek, then Casa Isarescu must be on your high-priority vacation list.