Piedmont Italy June 2017

Day 1 – Langhe day

We were inspired to go to Piedmont in Northern Italy following a recommendation by several people who also enjoy food and walking as much as we do. We put together our own 9 days over 3 locations and with a lack of a dedicated guidebook, used the web as our main resource. This is a useful one and also this book had a decent overview of our area.

This is a holiday that can only be done by hire car but we got a reasonable deal and the process at Turin airport was straightforward.

We chose a triangular route taking in the area around Asti, then Alba then Mondovi. Our main area is known as the Langhe and renowned for food and wine, especially truffles and Barolo but much more besides. It is also refreshingly free of mass tourism and very unspoilt.

Our first stop was Alta Villa The Countryhouse, a stylish boutique bed and breakfast run by Consuelo. She welcomed us with local wine on the terrace with views of soft green hills and perched villages.

Dinner was booked by Consuelo at Restaurant Centrale which was a family restaurant in the centre of the tiny village of Montegrosso. A short drive away and what I would describe as good honest home cooking but loads of local atmosphere. The service was very pleasant and at an Italian pace and we were lucky they spoke English and we tried a little Italian. Around 2.5 hrs later we headed home very tired after a long day.

Day 2 – Ups and Downs in the Langhe

We started the day with a lovely breakfast, with a good selection, at a time chosen by us. Consuelo is very accommodating on timing. Since we could see the pretty villages straight from our window, we opted to leave the car and do a local walking route. One was suggested to Rapello and Mongardino the town we can see on the opposite hill. It was a baking 31°C by the time we set out mid-morning but this does not often deter us.

We walked to Mongardino where we found that as ever, it is the occupants of the town’s graveyard who get the best views. The village was eerily quiet and we hardly saw a car or another person apart from the owners of a tiny grocery shop who thankfully had cold drinks and tubs of ice cream. We returned down through local vineyards and along a valley floor, taking us past a site where a prehistoric whale was discovered in the 1950’s.

It was an interesting, if long and hot walk and the cold infinity pool back at the guesthouse was very welcome, along with a cool glass of wine from our hosts. We ate at a simple steakhouse, El Lobo which was a short drive down in Montegrosso and packed full of local young people though they thought it odd that we wanted to eat at 1930.

Day 3 – The Real Local Italy

Montegrosso had a small festival going on which we discovered via posters around the village.

Mainly a religious event, the statue was carried from one church to another with points of stopping for decades of the rosary. It was interesting to watch the nuns shoo the children into line and see the local clubs and associations represented, even the local hunt members with their green felt caps and jaunty feathers.

We did another local walk to the village of Isola D’Asti about 5km away. Temperatures today were around 35 again so rather hot. We stopped for sandwiches in a wood and we saw only one person on our walk. The large church was impressive but locked and the view was extensive across the rolling hills.

We then headed back along the high road and through dusty vineyards and hazelnut trees before arriving back for a beer and swim in the cool pool.

We drove to Asti for dinner so we could have aperitivo and people-watch in a piazza and we ate in CasaMar, a very good fish restaurant.

Day 4 – The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings

The next area was La Morra. Not a long journey (30 minutes) but into an entirely different wine area, the terroir of Barolo. We visited the tourist information office to pick up maps and have a chat about walking in the area. We took a short but hot walk to see the Chapel of Barolo which was on a hill opposite La Morra.

La Morra is a small town with a handful of bars, cafes and restaurants. Very quiet. Like most of the area, the emphasis seems to be more on the serious business of agriculture and viticulture rather than the needs of tourists.

Our home from home was the lovely apartment at Villa Crissante. Our apartment was on the top floor of the villa. Two huge rooms, our own kitchen and bathroom. All air conditioned. The owner is very friendly and we will plan to see the cellars and have a wine tasting if we can fit it in. Dinner was at Osteria Del  Vignaiolo, a short walk down the road so a night when we could drink wonderful local wine.

 

Even the walk back was memorable and enchanting as the roadsides glowed with fireflies.

Day 5 –  The Boy who cried Al Lupo !

This website was a very good resource for walks, including the well-signposted Trail of the Wolf (12km). The village of Montelupo was the usual after-the apocalypse-quiet. We parked in the main square of the hotel near a trattoria which I hoped would provide ice and a cold bottle of water after our walk.

There are an interesting series of murals all around the town. Each depicting a fairy tale or folk story related to wolves from around the world. Colourful and unusual. Some were very well done and some… weren’t. The town has taken a theme and run with it. As usual on all of our walks and visits there is almost no human presence. Many guard dogs behind fences but no actual people and certainly no open shops or cafes. Indeed even the existence of such things has been rare.

The actual Trail of the Wolf is very well marked and easy to follow all the way round.  Rare for an Italian walk. You descend through mixed terrain of woods, hazelnut, wheat and grapevines.

We had a coffee in the village of Barolo but did not do the castle wine museum or tasting which might have been interesting with more time.

We went up to La Morra to see the views, with the aim of photographing the sunset but this was hidden by clouds. Fantastic view though across rolling hills. Back in La Morra we had apperitivi at UVE bar and then drove to Bovio restaurant for dinner.

Day 6 – Truffles and wines

Alba is famous as a foodie town. In the Autumn it is renowned for Truffle markets and even in summer the streets are scented with them. The other famous crop is the local hazelnut. Acres of nut trees and many going into Nutella or Ferrero Rocher which is a Piedmont company.

Since we had a well-equipped kitchen we went in search of simple produce for dinner so we could sample one of our host’s help-yourself  wine  bottles.

We had some fantastic fresh pasta in Liguria and asked at the tourist information centre who recommended Corino Pasta Fresca in Piazza E. Pertinace. They had a good selection of various pasta, sauces and salads.

We wandered around the town – more up market shops, lots of opportunities to buy truffles or wine and a few decent cafes and restaurants. Lounged around the rest of the afternoon next to the pool as it was 33C+.

We had arranged a wine tasting with our host Alberto at 6pm in his vineyard. We walked down despite the pouring thunderstorm and had to hide under the hazelnut trees. Arriving we tried to chat to Alberto’s Granny on her porch. We had a detailed tour of the artisanal wine production. We learnt about the process, the maturation, the bottling at full moon plus the fact that poor vintages were sold to the big producers. Wine making is not without it’s risks of CO2 poisoning in enclosed spaces. We had a look at the cellar in another building with the oak from both Slovenia (for long aging) and France for the Nobillio wine which needs less time in barrel. Alberto is fussy about the standard of his wine and sells mainly to the USA and Japan.

We then had a personal wine tasting of the various products he makes including an old grappa which he makes from a gentle pressing of the left over must from the fermentation. Some people apply further pressure but this results in a lower quality product but larger volume. We did some ordering for shipping back to the UK.

Dinner was going to be under the vines in the garden but rain meant we had it on our balcony with a bottle of the Dolcetto D’Alba 2015 from the cupboard downstairs. (All the wine he makes is available for guests to buy during their stay). This is a good drinking wine which went well with our meat filled pasta, rocket and tomato salad dressed in white truffle oil an balsamic vinegar followed by grilled peppers and roast beef. Tiramisu finished us off.

Day 7 –  The Trail of the Hazelnut

Another well signposted walk today which is the Trail of the Hazelnut, “The Noble sweet nut“.

Not easy to find on a website but tourist offices have a map of the route and it is easy to follow by the signs. You can start either from the huge silver hazelnut sculpture below Cravanzana or from the village square where there is a large painting of the Goddess of the Hazelnut.

The total trail was around 11km, 3.5hrs and about 500m vertical.  Through shaded woods and forest around the slopes and up to a peak before down and then the steep climb back. Picnic needed as no open café in the town after the walk.

The final destination was a B&B in the interesting university town of Mondovi on the edge of the Southern mountains of Piedmont.

We also spotted an interesting town just outside Mondovi which looks worth a visit called Vicoforte which has a huge domed church.

Day 8 – Refuge in the cool Alps

We drove 1.5 hours to the visitor’s centre in Terme di Valdieri in the Maritime Alps close to France. It is the starting point for various treks in the mountains between mountain refuges. The visitor’s centre was very helpful and we chose to walk to the Valasco Royal Hunting Lodge at 1764m.

It was a steady climb with switch backs ascending around 400m with spectacular views and some remnants of snow on the high slopes. Lots of pretty flowers and some orchids. Once we reached the valley between Monte Matti and the Rica di San Giovanni the view opened up and the plain was full of wild flowers and a fast flowing river. The lodge itself looked like a folly built of Lego bricks and provided good cold beer and fresh pasta in a courtyard.

We then walked back down and had spent around 4hrs in total with picture stops, lunch etc.

Dinner at Trattoria Marsupino Briaglia

Day 8 – Slow Holiday Movement

A day mainly just taking in the atmosphere in Mondovi. It is a town in two parts, connected by a funicular which was closed for summer repairs. We found the upper part to be deathly quiet with only a handful of cafes and the lower town more bustling with shops and a good Saturday market of local produce.

Moro Café in Piazza San Pietro is a nice stop  for a coffee. A little café, La Viavai, on the street to the funicular, Via Della Funicolare, for lunch.

Dinner in a simple pizzeria, Pizzeria “Don Alfò” in one of the squares as we could sit out and watch life go by.

Moro Café for an aperitivo. The pizzeria was empty when we arrived and our waitress was a girl who looked about 12. The whole family worked the business. The pizza was very good, made by granny, and the wine very drinkable at euro 15 per bottle. By the time we left, the restaurant was heaving with people of all ages from young families to groups of friends to elderly couples. All of life is to be found in the evening in Italian country towns.

Day 9 –  Finale

We ended the holiday with a Segway tour of Turin which was excellent fun.

Turin was beautiful and we vowed to come back and do all of the sights properly as we only had a half a day. Our Segway guide recommended a place for lunch, Porto di Savona, and we enjoyed every bite.

Lessons from Piedmont

  1. Always take the supplies you need. It is rare to find a watering hole or food stop enroute on a walk.
  2. Take rehydration salts and plenty of water as the walks can be long and hot.
  3. The people are very friendly and helpful (when there are any around)
  4. Piedmont is very much unspoilt by tourism.
  5. Be prepared for a wait whilst you wait for your bill. Sometimes you pay inside and sometimes at the table. Not very clear when which applies.
  6. It is easily possible to have a walking holiday in this area without booking an expensive tour with a walking holiday agent. You can see the websites we used to plan walks and even a small town will have a tourist office who can help. Places to stay are easy to find and excellent value. All three of ours had swimming pools which we had all to ourselves each day we used them.
  7. The Itaway app and Wikiloc were useful to download GPX files of some of the walks.
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