Northwest Italy's Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta regions come with a large dose of mountain splendor, bourgeois refinement, culinary achievement, and scenic beauty. Two of Europe's most famous peaks, Monte Bianco (aka Mont Blanc) and Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn), straddle Valle d'Aosta's borders with France and Switzerland, and the region draws skiers and hikers from all
over. You can ascend the mountains by cable car, or, if you're an experienced climber, make a go of it with professional guides. For the less actively inclined, a visit to the mountain museum in Bard might well do the trick.
To the south, the mist-shrouded lowlands skirting the Po River are home to Turin, a city that may not have the artistic treasures of Rome or the cutting-edge style of Milan, but has developed a sense of urban sophistication that makes it a pleasure to visit. The first capital of unified Italy and the fourth-largest city in the country, it was once often overlooked on tourist itineraries as a mere industrial center (FIAT is based here). It was the Winter Olympic Games of 2006 put Turin on many tourists' map. Still, despite its higher profile, and its many excellent museums, cafés, and restaurants, Turin never feels overrun.
Southeast of Turin, in the hilly wooded area around Asti known as the Monferrato, and farther south in a similar area around Alba known as the Langhe, the landscape is a patchwork of vineyards and dark woods dotted with hill towns and castles. This is wine country, producing some of Italy's most famous reds and sparkling whites. And hidden away in the woods are the secret places where hunters and their dogs unearth the precious, aromatic truffles worth their weight in gold at Alba's truffle fair.