The area north of Turin, known as the Valle d’Aosta, is dominated by the highest mountains in Europe, with famous names such as Mount Blanc, Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. This is an area of chic ski resorts, but it’s equally as beautiful during the warmer months to explore the wild flora and fauna of the Gran Paradiso national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty perfect for anyone seeking good clean air, peace and tranquillity.
Heading south, the colourful landscape of the Langhe area, where rolling vineyards dominate, is where some of Italy’s most famous wines are produced – Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Barbera to name a few – this is wine lover’s heaven! Visit the town of Barolo, not only for its quaint cobbled streets and castle, but for the production of Italy’s finest red wine of the same name. Be sure to visit the Museo del Vino as well as Museo dei Cavatappi to see the amazing collection of corkscrews. Amongst the vineyards are so many fairy-tale villages to visit – Serralunga, Saluzzo, La Morra, Barbaresco, Canelli for its famous Asti Spumante, and Neive for an unforgettable old town.
Across the River Tanaro is the Roero area, more famous for its white wine production – think Gavi and Arneis – and where the scenery changes to dense woods and forests, where wild fungi, truffles and hazelnuts thrive. Head to Cherasco for its antique markets, Baci chocolates and for the best snails in Italy.
For foodies, this is the region of the famous white truffle. Don’t miss the early morning market in Asti to witness dealers buying and selling this precious commodity, before you head off to the medieval town of Alba for lunch to sample the delicacy in local dishes. During October and November, Alba hosts the white truffle fair, so if you’re planning a trip to this region and love truffles, this is an excellent time to visit. In fact, during autumn, you will find all sorts of sagre (food festivals) going on – check with the tourist board for festivals celebrating wild mushrooms, chestnuts, pumpkins and other local specialities.
Not far from Alba and close to Bra, headquarters of the Slow Food Society, is the pretty town of Pollenzo. Its once red-bricked castle has been turned into the most famous gastronomic centre in Europe, housing the University of Gastronomic Sciences. For wine enthusiasts, a visit to the Banco del Vino – a fascinating wine cellar home to Italy’s rarest and finest vintages – is a must. Join a tour where experts will guide you through wine tasting sessions!
Piemonte is also known for its rice cultivation, with paddy fields in the lower plains where some of Italy’s best risotto rice comes from. A dish of risotto with white Alba truffle or with locally caught frogs, accompanied by the finest reds of the Langhe, is a gourmand’s dream. Other dishes to look out for are agnolotti, a fresh pasta filled with local beef or game; vitello tonnato, thin slices of veal in a tuna and caper sauce; and bagna cauda, a tangy sauce made from garlic and anchovies served with fresh crunchy vegetables for dipping. Fritto misto is a Piemontese classic, consisting of pieces of meat, vegetables and even fruit coated in batter and deep-fried. Delicious varieties of local cured meats like crudo di cuneo or wine-infused salame Piemonte, and cheese like Castelmagno, Bra, or Toma have to be tried. And, of course, the local food goes especially well with the fabulous wines of the region!