To coincide with the opening of ‘air bridges’ across Europe, I thought that I would do a blog post on visiting Piedmont…Not very original, perhaps, but timely and, dare I say it, useful. If it appears in yellow below, it’s a link – click on it for more information.
Last week, I went to Venice to have a mooch around while it was free of the vast hordes that would normally be there at this time of year. Instead of writing a blog post about that, you can read my article for The Local Italy about it here instead! I thought – hoped, even – that this might be the only chance I get to see this wonderful city peopled entirely, or almost entirely, with locals.
The trip, via Turin, Milan, Verona and Padua, got me thinking about visitors returning to Piemonte, of course. What attracts people to Venice might be very different to what draws visitors to Piemonte, but that’s the point: Italy has so much to offer – Venice, Rome, the Italian Lakes, Tuscany, Sicily…Each is like visiting a different country.
If you are planning a trip focussed on food and wine, though, then I think that nowhere in Italy can offer as much as Piemonte. The wines are the most interesting in the land (make the case for another region if you think you’re hard enough…) and the cuisine, courtesy of the Savoyard Empire, is a sublime blend of French and Italian. The wines are easily accessible, the food wonderfully seasonal and crowned with the glorious White Truffle.
In addition to this, we have majestic Alps, Italy’s first capital in the elegant, under-rated Olympic city of Turin, lakes of our own, hilltop villages, castles and great internal and international travel links: a train to France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic or Slovakia anyone…?
Piemonte is the place to be
With travel and, in particular, quarantine restrictions, becoming easier, you might feel like a trip, but let’s be honest, the perception of Italy’s handling of the pandemic is not a positive one. This will not help attract people back…Venice’s tourists visit a city of 260,000, spread over 160 sq miles (414 sq km). And almost all of those won’t bother with the greater city (Mestre, etc.) visiting just the old town and an island or two in the lagoon – such as Murano and Burano – which have a combined population of just 80,000.
The Piedmontese provinces of Asti (581 sq miles/1,505 sq km) and Cuneo (2,665 sq miles/6,902 sq km) – where you will be based if you come to taste the wines and try the food at their zeniths – welcome around 600,000 visitors per year.
That is between 24 & 29 million fewer than Venice. Yes, you read that correctly.
If you’re worried about social distancing, Piemonte is the place to be…
The Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are quite rural – that’s part of the attraction. But we are very well served by 3 international airports: Turin Caselle, Milan Malpensa and Genoa Cristoforo Colombo. In addition, Milan Linate and Milan Bergamo (or, to give it its proper name, Bergamo: it’s not really Milan at all, of course – it’s only Milan to Ryanair) are not too much further away. Given that Lombardy was the hottest of spots here in Italy, I can understand a reluctance to travel via either of the Milan airports, or Bergamo (I’m sticking to my guns on this one…). Turin and Genoa are both nearer in any case, and Turin, in particular, has very good international connections.
Sorry, to Turin…Turin is also very well served by rail – an overnighter from anywhere in Europe would be an adventure: I once went to Bratislava overnight from Turin for a friend’s wedding and it remains one of the great trips of my life. The wedding was terrific, too, of course, and Bratislava was lovely: I had a very interesting conversation with a magician.
I have to say that during the best man’s speech, though, the 3 or 4 of us who had been at school with the groom became silent by increments. Our heckling fell away one-by-one as the embarrassing photos from the groom’s school days were shown. Each new one contained not only the groom, but one of us, memorialised in a way that we wished no longer existed. In addition to this, my dancing was described as being ‘too progressive’ for Bratislava circa 2003 by my friend’s Slovakian bride: her gentle, subtle lampooning of me meant I took an instant liking to her. But I digress.
The Trenitalia website is a good place to start if coming by rail, or getting about by train while you are here, appeal. Turin to Alba takes around 80 minutes, to Asti usually around 40 minutes – Asti’s on the main line, you see. Milan to Asti takes at least 1 hour 40, while Milan to Alba by train is…oh, just forget it.
I can also recommend Giacosa for airport shuttle services, or pick-up in Turin or Milan if you prefer to travel privately door-to-door.
Once you are in Turin, Milan or Genoa, you can also reach Alba or Asti by bus – Rome2Rio can help you with that. I’m not sure I would try to get to Alba from, say, Stockholm by bus, but Rome2Rio can help you with that, too, if you’re set on it!
I beg your Bardon…
If you wanted to go the other way you can have a fabulous mountain holiday in Piemonte – the clue is in the name…Fresh Alpine air and the need for a sweater after sundown can be very appealing from the sticky standpoint of the sultry city of the plains, where I wrote this sibilant sentence. You could do a lot worse than heading to Bardonecchia if this is your thing. Grenoble is 1 hour 45 minutes away, as is Aix-les-Bains. Turin is just over an hour from Bardonecchia, and there is always the Sacra di San Michele on the way, which is well worth a visit. It sits, brooding, on the top of a prominent peak, like a pocket Minas Tirith standing guard over the gates to the Val di Susa. It’s a trek to get up to it now – what it took to build it is quite something to contemplate.
Staying in Bardonecchia, you will need somewhere to rest your head: the Pensione Bianca is just the ticket. Here is a link to Booking.com for Pensione Bianca, too, so that you can see some reviews. It is also run throughout the ski-season, under the banner Sempre Ski. If skiing or other bepowdered sports are what you’re after, then it’s perfect. And the people running it are lovely, too. You can read some reviews here and here!
If you’re driving down through France, then this would make an ideal place to stop on your way to the vines and wines of the Langhe!
Driving through France to get to Italy, of course, can be a fabulous trip in itself, even before you arrive here. Start just 2 hours from the ferry or channel tunnel with a stop in Champagne, followed by Alsace, Burgundy (including Chablis, don’t forget – perfect wine on hot summer days…), Jura (ahh, the Jura…), Beaujolais and, if you don’t mind a detour – and perhaps a night in Lyon, one of the gastronomic capitals of the world – the Rhône valley.
But remember, you need to keep the car (or perhaps the van…) empty enough to stock up when you arrive in Piemonte.
And if you do, I can take you to any number of producers here making some of the most compelling and delicious wines in the world: fizzy or not, white, pink, red, dry, sweet. We have it all covered, produced in some of the most beautiful places on earth, and served with style and warmth alongside the local Piemontese cuisine – itself among the best in the world.
Once you’re here, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. I would recommend all of the following:
Hotel Castello di Sinio – One of the best boutique hotels in the region, with a pool, beautifully maintained gardens and a terrific restaurant, all in the out-of-the-way village of Sinio, right on the doorstep of the Barolo region.
Villa Ribota – Fantastic private villa set among the vines of Novello, with private parking and pool and run by a lovely couple.
Monvigliero Vineyard Villas – Superb complex of 4 private but interlinked villas with a shared pool. Spectacular views, amazing service from Katariina and her team, plenty of optional activities and wonderful wines from owner, Scarpa.
Agriturismo ErcolAna – Located between Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, this is a real family affair. Great rooms, the warmest welcome imaginable and vast meals to die for.
Casa Nicolini – One of the best views in Barbaresco, with a pool, private parking, great restaurant, sauna, gym and villas. Located in Tre Stelle, a 3 minute drive from Barbaresco village, passing some of the best vineyards in the region.
Dai Grésy – A new Relais from Barbaresco producer Marchesi di Grésy. If anything, even better views than Casa Nicolini, wonderful service and great people. And the wines are serious.
If these aren’t enough, then this page on PiemonteMio has more options…
Grazing and Sluicing:
The cuisine in Piemonte is one of the main draws of the region, so you might as well pack some elasticated trouserings and accept that you will be needing them…For dining in Piemonte there is a dizzying selection. I’m not going to go into them here: that’s what the Eat & Drink page on PiemonteMio is for – if you can’t find something to suit among all this choice, stay at home!
There are many events all over the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato all throughout the year. These may be affected this year, of course, so I would advise checking beforehand to see whether a particular event is taking place. As above with the eating and drinking options, I have a page on PiemonteMio dedicated to Events – check it out!
Right, that’s about it. I’m sure that I have missed something important, but that should be enough to be getting on with.
If you are interested in what sort of food and wine related activities you can get up to while you are here, contact me! I can offer you insiders’ insights and all manner of experiences for touring the region and discovering PiemonteTuo…If you feel like discovering more, just drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you prefer, give me a call on +39 348 166 3798.
Click here to see a Sample Wine Tour Itinerary
Have a great day wherever you are, and don’t just dream of your trip here – book it!
See you soon…!