Piedmont, Italy - Culture & Lifestyle

Old Jan 30th, 2007, 01:45 AM
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Piedmont, Italy - Culture & Lifestyle

Not quite a trip report (I live here), more "an introduction to" for those who are interested:

The imposing Alps account for 41% of the Piedmont region making it a paradise for hikers, winter sports enthusiasts and nature lovers. The wine growing areas of the Monferrato, Langhe and Roero hills account for another 36% and the remaining 27% of the region is plains. It is here that the ever resourceful Italians grow enough rice to claim the title of Europeís largest rice producer.

Piedmont occupies a large area that borders on France and Switzerland and is the ancient dominion of the Savoy royal family who ruled Italy from the Unification in 1870 until abdication in 1946. It is a memorable place where every village has a castle or tower testifying to its history and legends. Natural selection of Piedmonts cultural genes has favored resourcefulness, innovation and a respectful cultivation of the land and its people. Here in Piedmont, economic prosperity is enjoyed in balance with a great life style, a combination many other parts of the world only aspire to. One explanation of this phenomenon is that Piedmont's evolution has supported wealth production largely through networks of small and medium sized family owned businesses.

The Piedmontese work hard but take the time to enjoy the other important things in life. Family and friends come first; they look after each other but expect little from anyone else. Perhaps because the region is encapsulated by the magnificent and imposing Alps and by Liguria and the sea, you get a people who long ago learned to rely on their own small communities for everything. It is a serene place, where the elders of communities are respected enough to still influence the cultural attachments of the next generations. Here you will find that there are still things more important than money. Our visitors are invariably touched by the kindness and courtesy of the people they meet here.

Piedmont is recognised for its world class viniculture and great gastronomy. It is increasingly becoming a mecca for knowledgeable gourmands from all over the world. But these delights are not all it offers visitors. The travellers menu also includes a wide selection of outdoor activities and an abundance of art and cultural experiences. However, despite its hopelessly picturesque mountains, lakes and hills (of which there are far more per square mile than in Tuscany), Piedmonts secrets are yet to be discovered by the larger numbers of visitors who regularly visit other parts of Italy. More than half the world's historical and artistic heritage are found in Italy (source: UNESCO) and many of these treasures live in Piedmont. It has archaeological sites and monuments that adorn small towns and hilltop villages rewarding the traveller with an endless journey into culture and beauty. Tourists who come to Piedmont are warmly welcomed by the locals who still donít quite understand whatís so special about their amazing scenery, the food and wine to die for, the culture and art on every corner and the great life style they all take for granted
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Old Jan 30th, 2007, 05:34 AM
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part 2..

Café culture
The Ďcafé cultureí is a fundamental part of normal Piedmont life and a whole social order revolves around stopping in the bars and restaurants. Even the smallest villages will have at least one bar which doubles as a coffee shop and general meeting place.

Itís worth noting that if you want to blend with the locals never drink Cappuccino after 10am. Cappuccino is considered to be a breakfast only drink after which most Italians progress to drinking espresso

Drinking aperitifs is a fundamental part of Piedmonts café culture. This is the wonderful tradition of serving snack food with drinks [not coffee]. When you order drinks in the aperitif hours you can enjoy accompanying snacks ranging from simple bowls of nuts, to bite sized pieces of fresh pizza and delicious savoury dips. There are two Ďaperitifoí periodsí in a day and it is difficult to be precise about exact times. The first commences just before lunch which in Piedmont means somewhere around 12 midday and before 1pm. The second occurs in the early evening around 5.30 pm until 7.30 pm. This is normally the busiest time in the town centres, when the Piedmontese indulge in their love of strolling, shopping and simply being seen socialising with friends. Bars compete with each other to provide the best aperitifís so check around to find the best.

Eating Out Ė Understanding the Menu [if there is one]
When eating out in Piedmont donít always expect a menu, the food of the day in many restaurants will be influenced by what is in season and what has been sourced fresh that morning, normally from a local market. Generally, because most food is prepared fresh, restaurants prefer to have notice of guest numbers so booking is advisable, also let them know in advance if you have special dietary requirements.

If you do get a menu, it will normally be divided into different sections under the headings: Antipasti; Prima Piatti; Contorni; Secondi Piatti; and Dolci. Roughly translated this corresponds to Starters, First Course, Side dishes/Vegetables, Second Course and Dessert. The Antipasti are a Piedmont speciality and a typical Piedmont lunch can include many courses of Antipasti. See the Food page on our we site to find examples of all the different courses. Donít worry if your Italian is not perfect because most proprietors will take pride in choosing something for you to eat and surprising you with a long sequence of different dishes. It is not uncommon to be offered a tasting menu of pre-selected dishes for you to try. In the evenings it is perfectly acceptable to select items from only one section of the menu, for example to order only a first course or to order several courses of antipasti only. If you can stick the pace, the deserts can be wonderful and there are various wonderful local cheeses. Grissini [slim breadsticks] and or bread rolls are normally served at the beginning of your meal and often provided at no additional cost. Some restaurants [particularly in more tourist frequented towns] will add a standard cover charge for service but it is not a widespread practice. Tipping is not necessary or expected and indeed may be insulting in some circumstances. See our menu translator.

There are an exceptionally large number of restaurants in the Piedmont, all inspired by a more or less traditional territorial cuisine. Many are internationally famous; others express their creativity as simple trattorias. Wine bars or modern taverns are becoming more common, focusing on the service of wines accompanied by good typical dishes. See our links to recommended restaurants for specific recommendations.

Lunch
Whatever you decide to do in Piedmont it is important to understand that everything stops for lunch! For at least two hours every day everything stops for food. Most people go home because the norm is to work only a few miles from where you live. Even in Turin [Piedmontís capital] most of the shops close around 12.30 and do not open again until after three. The Piedmontese love to eat well and they take their food and wine very seriously, lunch is the main meal of the day and Sunday lunch with the all the family is often bigger again.
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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 04:43 AM
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Hey Phil,
What a great report...inspirational as well as informative 30 years ago I visited the Piedmont region and I have been meaning to get back ever since. We tried to spend some time in the region a couple of years ago, having a few free days after a 3-week vacation in Tuscany, Venice and Liguria, but the fog was so thick that we could barely see the front of the car and so we gave up on seeing the mountainous region. We hope to get back to Italy in October.....is the region usually very fogy at that time of year? Where would you recommend we stay if we had only 4 days in the region? We enjoy small personal B+B's in recently renovated homes with hosts who can speak some English (our Italian is very poor). We have had good luck in the past finding such lodging and enjoyed getting to know the families. My mother's family (Ricchi)was from the region and I have a special place in my heart for it! Also, Is there a small town you would suggest? We are not big fans of cities but we do enjoy the culture and history that can be found there so we would take at least one daytrip to one of the larger cites in the region.
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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 09:18 AM
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Hi yellowbyrd - don't wory about mist & fog in October - it should be clear and bright and fairly warm.

There are a number of english speaking B&B's and small hotels and I recommend a search of trip advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) as the reviews there are also a good indication of quality. Asti or Aqui Terme are great wine growing areas for example.
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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 03:54 PM
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Thanks Phil, I spent the day with the Fodor's Italy book and my head is bursting with information...tomorrow I'll try the TA site where, I agree, there is lots of great advice. (and not so much bickering!) Thanks again...you're great!
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Old Aug 6th, 2009, 03:25 AM
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We are going to Casale Monferrato for 1 night. Which restaurant would you suggest. [email protected]
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Old Aug 6th, 2009, 03:51 AM
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Wonderful, Phil! Are you a native? If not, how long have you lived in that area of Italy?

DH and I have only been to Turin in that area but enjoyed it very much. Your love of the area is evident, and your descriptions inviting, but are are you certain you want the tourist hordes to invade?!

Agreeing with yellowbyrd, what towns do you recommend?

Bickering?
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