An Underrated Region for Food, Wine and Architecture
ALBA, PIEMONTE REGION, ITALY– Welcome to Truffle Country! It’s 2 pm and I’ve just finished a plate of white truffles with a little bit of pasta. *hehe* All jokes aside, if you are a major foodie and lover of truffles, wine, history and impressive architecture (like myself), then the Piedmont region should be on your Italy Bucket List. As it's mostly left off most tourist itineraries to Italy, Piedmont (or Piemonte as it's known in Italian) is the perfect region to discover authentic Italian cuisine and way of life without the crowds.
THE LANGHE WINE REGION
Famous for their Barolo and Barbaresco wines, the Langhe wine region has been growing in popularity as an alternative destination to Tuscany. Primarily made from the Nebbiolo grape, the wines in this region are known for their tannic, complex, and long-aging characteristics. These wines are typically aged for several years before release and are considered some of the most sought-after and respected wines in Italy.
Crowned the “undisputed king of Barbaresco,” the Gaja winery is perhaps the most famous in this region as the owners, Angelo Gaja and his daughters, are credited with bringing international attention to the Langhe Wine Region. Spend a night in the small one-lane village of Barbaresco to visit their winery and discover why Gaja’s wines are some of the most sought after.
Insider Tip: Just before sunset, make your way to the top of the Torre di Barbaresco to get unencumbered views of the Langhe Wine Region and the Tanaro river.
Where to Stay in Barbaresco: Casa Boffa - there are not much choices within the tiny town of Barbaresco and, as this is directly across the street from Gaja, you won’t have much trouble finding your hotel after imbibing yourself with plenty of Barolo and Barbaresco!
Where to Eat in Barbaresco: We prefer a local’s favorite, Restaurant Rabaya, at the entrance of the single dead-end lane that leads to Barbaresco. This is authentic, home cooked Italian cuisine.
ALBA: THE CITY OF TRUFFLES
Every October to December, the town of Alba plays host to the “Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba,” where buyers from all over the world come to bid on the best truffles of the season. While a single white truffle can fetch thousands of dollars, smaller more affordable truffles and truffle laced oils can be found in the numerous shops in Alba’s city streets.
At the beginning of white truffle season, the first Sunday of October, Alba also plays host to the Palio degli Asini, a Donkey race where the city’s nine boroughs compete - a tradition dating back to the 1200’s when the citizens of Alba ran it as a mockery of rival city Asti’s horse palio race. On the Saturday evening before the race, the different boroughs compete in a historical re-enactment with vivid costumes and performances in the city streets.
While Alba and the Piedmont Region, in general, are most famous for their wine, truffles and cheeses, there is a very underrated food that you should be sure to try while in the region: Hazelnuts. The Piedmont hazelnut is a special variety only grown in this region and has been granted special regional designation (IGP) of Nocciola del Piemonte IGP. Unlike other hazelnuts, this specific strain has a sweeter taste.
Insider's Tip: You can satisfy your taste bud curiosities in any farmer’s market by buying some whole hazelnuts or hazelnut butter (and no, there is no butter involved). My first time in Piedmont, I bought a jar of hazelnut butter and when I got home, I immediately regretted not buying more!!
Where to Stay in Alba?
Via Ospedale, 9/1, 12051
Alba CN, Italy
Holiday Apartment Rental with en-suite kitchen
Via Alessandro Roero, 2, 12050
Guarene CN, Italy
18th century palace overlooking the Langhe hills
Piemonte, is a foodie's paradise that is renowned for its diverse and delectable cuisine. This region is famous for its unique blend of simple yet sophisticated flavors, which have earned it a reputation as one of the best culinary destinations in Italy.
One of the most iconic dishes of Piemonte is agnolotti, a traditional pasta dish that is typically filled with a mixture of beef, pork, and spinach. The agnolotti is then served with a rich, buttery sauce that is flavored with sage and Parmesan cheese. Another popular dish in Piemonte is tajarin, a type of pasta that is made with eggs and flour, and served with a hearty meat ragu.
One of the most famous dishes of Piemonte is vitello tonnato, which is a dish of thinly sliced veal served with a creamy tuna sauce. It may sound unusual, but it is a beloved staple of the region, and the flavors combine to create a unique and unforgettable experience.
Where to Eat in Piedmont?
Via Roma, 2, 12050 Alba CN, Italy
Local sandwich bar that serves aperitivo in Piazza Michele Ferrero. Grab an Aperol Spritz and enjoy some free snacks around Happy Hour
Via Goffredo Casalis, 59, 10138 Torino TO, Italy
Eat the Agnolotti del Plin with truffles shaved atop - you won't regret it!
Piazza Michele Ferrero, 5, 12051 Alba CN, Italy
Off the beaten path locale for amazing homemade pasta
Via Giambattista Bogino, 9, 10123 Torino TO, Italy
Historical building with excellent traditional Piemontese food
Del Cambio €€€€
Piazza Carignano, 2, 10123 Torino TO, Italy
Sit at the chef's table for a truly unforgettable experience!
Locanda del Pilone €€€€
Strada Della Cicchetta, Località Madonna di Como, 34 Alba, 12051, Italy
1 Michelin starred restaurant with 360 degree views of the rolling Langhe foothills with excellent food and fairly priced wines
ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS IN TURIN
After drinking and eating your way through the Langhe wine region, head north towards Turin, the refined and elegant capital of the Piedmont region. Once the seat of power for the House of Savoy, famous as the dynasty that unified Italy & its last royal family, Turin is a treasure trove of architectural wonders.
If you’re limited for time, an absolute must-see is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Royal Palace of Turin (Palazzo Reale di Torino), the historical residence of the Savoy Dynasty. Highlights include the Palazzo Reale, with its impressive throne room, the Galleria Sabauda, which houses an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which holds the famous shroud believed to have been used to wrap the body of Jesus Christ. The Palaces offer a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Savoy dynasty and their rich cultural legacy.
When you’re done exploring the Royal Palace of Turin, head on over to Palazzo Madama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first Senate of the Kingdom of Italy. Palazzo Madama was built in the 17th century as the residence of the Madama Reale, the first queen of Savoy. The palace has a stunning baroque facade and houses an impressive collection of art and furniture, including works by famous artists such as Rubens, Canaletto, and Tiepolo.
Finish your day walking down the arcaded Via Roma, home to fashionable stores, and end at the Piazza San Carlo. Try a Bicerin, a local Piemontese invention consisting of coffee, drinking chocolate & milk, from the Caffè San Carlo as a nice way to cap the day!
BONUS VISIT: SACRA DI SAN MICHELE
A visit to Sacra di San Michele is a truly unforgettable experience. This stunning abbey is perched high on a hilltop, overlooking the Piedmont countryside in northern Italy. The abbey has a rich history dating back to the 10th century and features a beautiful blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Visitors can explore the magnificent cloister, chapels, and the impressive library, which houses a collection of ancient manuscripts and books. The abbey also offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply looking for a peaceful retreat, a visit to Sacra di San Michele is a must-see attraction in Italy.
With an award-winning wine region, incredible food, stunning architecture and a deep history rooted in the history of Italy’s unification, it’s a wonder that the Piemonte region isn’t on most traveler’s bucket lists. I’m certain that this region will become a top destination for tourists, but for now, I will enjoy my view of the Langhe wine region and my delicious plate of truffle covered eggs without the crowds!
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