PIEDMONT: LE LANGHE AND TURIN, APRIL 2009
SAMPLING THE FOOD AND WINES OF PIEMONTE: BAGNA CAUDA, BAROLO AND BICERIN
The genesis for this week-long trip was sparked last fall when, en route from the Ligurian coast to Lake Como, I drove through the southeastern corner of Piemonte, along the Val di Borbera. I was so taken with the new foods served at our lunch in San Sebastiano Curone, at:
and by the beauty of the Piemontese countryside (where a lone billboard guarding the entrance to each town touts not a hotel or supermarket, but the local food specialty) that, upon returning from that trip, I immediately began planning this one, which would take me, with my usual travel partner, into the heart of the Piedmont wine country, the region known as Le Langhe, home to Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Barbera, and a host of wines and spirits that were previously unfamiliar to us.
There are several options for arriving in this region from our home in New York City. With one connection, we could fly into either Genoa, or Turin, the airport closest to Alba, our first destination. Preferring to avoid these less-than-convenient connections, we opted, instead, for the direct Delta flight into Milano Malpensa, where we would rent a car and drive approximately two hours to Alba.
After much MEGO (my eyes glaze over) research, I found the best price for an automatic car on the AutoEurope Italian website: www.autoeurope.it. Would AutoEurope.com (the US site) agree to match this price, which was considerably lower than the one offered on their own site? Yes. After a couple of phone calls, and much consultation with supervisors, the Mercedes 180 was reserved for us.
We arrived in Milan after an uneventful flight. The weather, unfortunately, was dreary, a condition that would persist for much of the trip. (We would not see sun until several days later).
The rental car booths are located on the lower level of Terminal 1, and we quickly signed the necessary forms and were pleased to learn that we had been upgraded to a Mercedes c-class sedan —a wonderful car to drive and not large enough to cause problems negotiating narrow village streets.
A word of thanks is in order here to Via Michelin. Lacking a GPS and a cell phone, we were able to follow the directions I had printed out, which took us along the autostrada and right into Alba. Follow the signs to Alba centro, and from there to Barbaresco. Less than 2 hours after departing Malpensa, we pulled up at the imposing iron gates of Villa La Favorita, which would be our home for four nights.
We had chosen La Favorita after much deliberation. I had been torn by wanting to stay in an agriturismo and wanting to stay in a town with restaurants, in order to avoid having to drive “home” at night after wine-fueled dinners. For this reason, La Favorita proved to be a good choice. The location is in Altavilla, an upscale section of Alba perched on a rise overlooking the small city. The drive to the center took less than 5 minutes and parking was easy to find, in one of several pay lots ringing the central core and located within. It was similarly easy to drive to restaurants in the Barbaresco/Neive area, northeast of Alba. To reach those in the La Morra, Verduno area meant a bit more time, but as we soon realized, this is a compact region and all sights and restaurants on our itinerary were within a drive of about 30 minutes or less.
We were met at the gate by Roberta, who would be our smiling and efficient hostess for the next four nights. Roberta speaks fluent English and is a font of information on the region. The villa was her country house until, in 2001, she transformed it into a B&B. The atmosphere is of a cozy rural retreat, filled with comfy floral sofas and glorious antiques from Piemonte and beyond. There are many public rooms for lounging and, in good weather, terraces and a limonera for relaxing. The villa is truly a labor of love and Roberta’s attention to detail is quite inspiring. From the photos on the website, we had selected the blue room; I wanted to sleep in that glorious gilded navy blue bed. The room was small with just enough space for the bed and two chairs, but we found it comfortable. The bathroom has spectacular Venetian plastered walls and is roomy enough; there is a shower.
The purpose of our trip was to meander around the countryside eating and drinking as much as possible. I had booked most of our meals in advance, by e-mail; we also had two winery visits arranged ahead of time.
We arrived on a Sunday when many restaurants are closed. One that was open, and would prove a favorite (we would visit again later that week), was Profumo di Vino in nearby Trieso. And so, after spending a lazy rainy Sunday holed up in the hotel recovering fro the flight and the drive, we set out for an early, 7:30 dinner.
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LE LANGHE AND TURIN: A WEEK IN THE LAND OF BAROLO, BAGNA CAUDA AND BICERIN
PIEDMONT: LE LANGHE AND TURIN, APRIL 2009