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Turin, the Piedmont, and Lake Orta


Apr 26th, 2013, 06:15 PM
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Turin, the Piedmont, and Lake Orta

As always, I want to thank all the Fodorites who helped me plan this trip. Special thanks to stracciatella who recommended Saachi Residense in Turin (fantastic place to stay) and to stu tower for suggesting we stay on Lake Orta (my new favorite place).

Quick overview of the trip with lodging:

Turin (9 nights) -- Residence Saachi, wonderful apartment-hotel, not only did we have a spacious, fully-equipped apartment but also maid service daily, a real gem

Alba (5 nights) -- La Terrazzo Sulle Torri, very friendly owners run this apartment B & B with 3 lovely rooms, beautiful private terrace, and incredibly amenities such as an exfoliating bath glove and special Morrocan soap, lovely stay

North of Asti (4 nights) -- Agriturismo Tenuta Polledro, another terrific B & B run by a very friendy owners who made us feel as if we were part of their family

Lake Orta (4 nights) -- Hotel Giardinetta, our balcony overlooking the lake gave us unforgettable views of the lake and all its different moods from morning to night

We rented a car in Turin and returned it at Malpensa Airport. We rented from Auto Europe for the first time and were very pleased with the car, the price, and the easy pick-up and drop-off.
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Apr 27th, 2013, 12:07 PM
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Magster: so happy it went well...Orta is magical.
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Apr 27th, 2013, 12:16 PM
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not an area i know, Magster, but you make it sound very attractive.

and you found such lovely places to stay - I've bookmarked them all!

anything you would have changed? or done differently?

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Apr 27th, 2013, 12:32 PM
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annhig -- I'll provide a full trip report soon. As far as changing anything, I only wish we would have had even more time. Lots to do in this area of Italy.
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Apr 27th, 2013, 12:55 PM
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thanks, Magster.

as you say, too many things to see, too little time.
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Apr 28th, 2013, 03:36 PM
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I loved my short stay in Turin and look forward to hearing more about your time in the area!
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Apr 28th, 2013, 07:28 PM
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I want to go to Lake Orta.

Isn't that the place St. Cirq raves about?

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Apr 28th, 2013, 07:37 PM
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Lake Orta is so lovely, I first read about in Bob the Navigator's reports. It has a charming medieval village right on the water.

Magster, so glad you enjoyed the area. Wish we had had more time there!
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Apr 28th, 2013, 08:17 PM
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Can you take a train to Lake Orta?

How do you get there.

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Apr 28th, 2013, 08:33 PM
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The Turin flat residence looks great. We stayed at the Hotel Victoria which was charming but had its quirks like showers that weren't much more than a drizzl. What were your favorite Turin restaurants? Did you happen to pass by the Alice cremeria on Piazza Statuto, which had the best gelato we've tasted (so far, we're happy to hear if theirs can be beaten!).

Yes, can you take a train to Lake Orta?
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Apr 29th, 2013, 09:51 AM
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Thanks for all the comments! I am so pleased to see so much interst in this wonderful area. I'll try to answer your questions individually but first let me post the next installment:

The Magic of Turin

Turin is an elegant city of arcaded streets and monumental squares, but the magic doesn’t end there. The world is supposedly composed of lines of energy and Turin is part of a triangle of white magic connecting with Lyon, France and Krakow, Poland. BUT, Turin is also part of the black magic triangle that includes London and San Francisco, making it the one city with a foot in both camps. Filled with both religious images and symbols of the occult, this truly is a city of good and evil.

The city is known as “Turin” in America but Torino in Italy, meaning “little bull.” Fiat built its first factory here, and for years, throughout most of the 20th century, Turin was known only for cars. In fact, Turin has been the origin city of 70 car manufacturers, including Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and many we’ve never heard of, or that have gone defunct over the years. The 2006 Winter Olympics changed everything when the world got a closer look at Turin, and residents started to realize the city had lots more to offer visitors than just a tour of the Automobile Museum.

The Egyptian Museum

Believe it or not, Turin has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo, some of which date back to 2000 years BC. The Museo Egizio offers a remarkable array of sarcophagi (some still holding dried up mummies), canopic jars that held the mummy’s internal organs, and a whole army of shawabti (doll-like figures that were put into the person’s tomb and were intended to do agricultural work in the afterlife so the deceased could take it easy).

One room contained the treasures from an unplundered tomb, a rarity in itself since tomb robbers seem to find their way into all the Egyptian tombs. Kha and Merit, were a wealthy, but non-royal couple whose tomb was filled with all kinds of stuff: a board game similar to checkers, dried up bread that held up pretty well over the millennia, and an early western-style toilet!

The best room of all was the Statuary Hall, a dark room lined with well-lit statues of famous/non-famous pharaohs, Egyptian gods, and sphinxes. We almost felt as if we were in Egypt!

Walking Turin: Arcades and Piazzas

Turin is a great city for walking with about 12 miles of arcaded streets providing ornate, pillared porticos to protect pedestrians from the elements while shopping or just strolling the streets. (Since we seem to have arrived during the rainy season, these arcades were much appreciated!) The city is also filled with beautiful palaces and all kinds of elegant architectural features. Masonic and satanic symbols are said to be hidden in the architecture, proof that Turin really is a city of both white and black magic.

When Napoleon conquered Turin, he envisioned a city of gardens and public spaces, and as usual, he got what he wanted. Turin has numerous piazzas, huge open spaces surrounded by impressive architecture like Piazza San Carlo with its historic cafes and Piazza Castello with its amazing baroque palaces. Turin also has miles of pedonale (pedestrian-only) streets lined with top fashion shops and a never-ending supply of fine chocolatiers.

One of the most interesting piazzas is Piazza Statuto said to lie at the apex of the black magic triangle. The piazza looked pretty tame when we visited: beautiful buildings and a park where locals were pushing baby carriages and walking their dogs. However, the square was once a Roman necropolis, and a guillotine was hard at work here during the days of the French Revolution. The statue at the front of the square is also quite disturbing -- a craggy pyramid draped with male figures in poses of great agony. The monument was dedicated to the miners who suffered and died while building the Frejus Rail Tunnel connecting Italy with France. This was the very tunnel we rode through when we arrived here by train from Paris!

The Shroud

The greatest symbol of white magic in the city is, of course, the revered Shroud of Turin. The actual shroud is kept hidden in a vault in the duomo, and can only be shown in public on orders from the Vatican. On the day before Easter, the Vatican allowed a film crew to video the Shroud. We walked past the cathedral that day, and the whole area was swarming with security types and visiting dignitaries. No, we were not invited for a private viewing of the shroud; must have been an oversight. No doubt heads will roll LOL!

However, many copies of the Shroud are on display around town. The best one is the enlarged version of the face on the Shroud that is prominently displayed near the altar of the Duomo (Turin Cathedral). A silent video plays constantly on large flat screens positioned nearby, providing a tutorial (in Italian subtitles) that describes how the Shroud was placed over the body and explains flaws in the Shroud such as holes and burn marks from the fire of 1532 and stains from water damage over the years.

To really get the skinny on the Shroud, we visited the Museo Sindone (“sindone” means shroud in Italian). The sweetest, little old Italian ladies run this all-volunteer operation with great efficiency and dedication. Although only one of them spoke any English, they were so kind and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

The museum is careful to make no claims about the origin of the Shroud, but it is clear from all the evidence that the Man in the Shroud (as the museum refers to him) was crucified. And the Shroud has been around for centuries, showing up repeatedly in paintings and other artifacts throughout the ages. (A wonderful example of art supporting historical and scientific investigation.) What is not clear is how the man’s image was imprinted on the Shroud. Scientists are still studying this phenomenon; their best guess is that it was a result of some kind of geologic radiation.


Lingotto is an area south of the city center that was once the headquarters for Fiat. Today, the sprawling Fiat factory has been turned into a giant shopping mall full of Italian fashions. This former factory complex also includes an art museum called Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli. The small but significant collection included lots of Canalettos (that always make us feel as if we are in Venice), several colorful Matisse paintings, and a lovely Renoir.

Just beyond the mall, we spotted “Eataly,” a multi-story food store offering the best of Italy. We never saw so much pasta, sauce, and breadsticks in one place! The Eataly vendors also serve lunch, so we enjoyed wonderful margherita pizza with Dolcetto wine (a deliciously fruity red).

After lunch, we walked over to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile (Turin’s Automoblie Museum). The museum covered the history of the automobile including the steam-powered bicycle and other early attempts, making us appreciate how far we’ve come. The museum seemed a bit disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed seeing all the Ferraris and Alpha Romeos (I thought a silver Ferrari would be just my style). A video with a collection of car commercials was also fun, including an old Oldsmobile commercial with a sing-a-long (just follow-the-bouncing-ball) called “Me and my Merry Oldsmobile.”

Mole Antonelliana

The graceful 167-meter tower (547 feet) called Mole Antonelliana is the symbol of Turin, much like the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris. We took an elevator to the top for stunning views of the red rooftops of Turin, the many historical buildings, and the Po River.

The Mole is also home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Cinema Museum). Again the museum felt disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed the displays on the history of cinema from shadow puppets and simple optical tricks to Edison’s first attempts at making moving pictures. Other displays included clips from all kinds of movies, a copy of the original screenplay for “The Godfather,” and Marilyn Monroe’s bustier!

The funniest part of the museum was an interactive display that superimposed images of us into some footage from the movie “The Matrix.” Of course, we had a great time messing around and taking photos of ourselves inside the movie. Little did we know that our shenanigans were being shown on a big screen out in the main hall for all to see!

Tempting Turin

One thing that France and Italy have in common is that the gastronomic temptations are buono non basta (goodness non-stop)! Turin has the most beautiful old chocolate shops loaded with goodies, and the shops seem to magically appear around every corner. Turin’s specialty is something called gianduiotto, a luscious combination of chocolate and hazelnut paste. Needless to say, we are stocking up on choco bars to bring home!

Another special treat in Turin are aperitivos. Much like tapas in Spain, aperitivos are served in bars during the pre-dinner Happy Hour; however, rather than paying by the plate as you do in Spain, here in Turin you pay a single charge (usually about 8€), and you get a generous drink plus all the aperitivos you want. Quite a good deal: for about $10 US, you can have a filling buffet dinner! Our favorite aperitivo place is a wine bar called “Zelli” – it’ll fill your belly (LOL)!
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Apr 29th, 2013, 11:28 AM
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I want to take a train from Switzerland that goes through the Semplon Pass.

What is the nearest stop to Lake Orto?

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Apr 29th, 2013, 12:03 PM
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Bookmarked for future trip to Torino & Piemonte. Thanks for the great info!
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Apr 29th, 2013, 01:03 PM
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More, please!
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Apr 29th, 2013, 02:58 PM
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yes indeed - i think that easyjet are about to start flying to Turin from our local airport so bring it on!
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Apr 29th, 2013, 03:16 PM
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Regarding train travel to Lake Orta -- For us, having a car at Lake Orta was ideal. I am not sure how easy it would be to get around without one. Apparently, there is a train station called Orta-Miasino about 1 mile from the town of Orta San Giulio. Of course, Stresa also has a train station, but I much preferred Lake Orta.

Weisser Tee -- We were right on Piazza Statuto, but sadly we missed the Alice Gelato... As far as restaurants go, we loved the food of the Piedmont! We really liked "Don Giovanni," recommended by our hotel, and a small place we stumbled on "Il Giglio" -- marvelous fish and pasta. We also cooked dinner in the apartment with fantastic fresh pasta and sauce from DiFilippis -- great fun and SO good! (Special thanks to tuscancastle for the DiFilippis tip!)
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Apr 29th, 2013, 06:41 PM
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OK, guv, if Keith and I were to rent a car where
On Lake Orto could we pick one up?

I was thinking of taking the train to Orto then renting a car whilst in the lake area.

I don't think we would want to drive from Switzerland.

We live in one of the largest cities in the US and spend much of our lives in traffic.

We don't really relish driving whilst on holiday.

Thank you for any help you can give.

Thin, posting in Fodorville for 13 years
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Apr 29th, 2013, 06:51 PM
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I don't know about car rental options around the lakes. We rented our car in Turin which is a great city and an easy place to rent a car. The drive to Lake Orta is only a about 2 hours, and you could do what we did: return the car and fly home from Milan Malpensa which is under an hour from Lake Orta. We always prefer public transportation too, but this was one trip where we felt we needed the car.
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Apr 30th, 2013, 07:11 AM
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The Piemonte – Land of Wine and Kindness

We spent the next part of our trip driving around with our own wheels. We rented a Fiat (certo! -- of course!),a model called a Punto – one of the most common, run-of-the-mill, every day, cheap-to-operate, small vehicles in Italia. We love this little black gem with lots of get up and go, and it “only” cost us $45 for half a tank’s worth of gas!

We came to the Piemonte region to learn more about the famous wines: Barolo, the king of wines; and Barbaresco, the queen. But we got so much more than just fabulous wine. The real treasure of the Piemonte is not the wine, but the wonderful people who live here.

We have adopted a new style of travel now that we are out in the country; we have slowed down and are taking our time soaking up the special atmosphere. On a typical day, we begin with breakfast at our B&B, and then we hop into our Punto for some village-hopping: meeting people, drinking wine, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

We brought CDs from home, so we roam the hills and dales with Italian opera (Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti) playing away at full volume, providing the perfect backdrop for this lovely land. We usually eat a special lunch in one of the many medieval hilltop villages and end the day with a light dinner of cheese, sausage, bread, and of course, vino back at the B&B.

Our B&Bs in Alba and Asti

We began at a lovely B&B just outside the city walls of the old town of Alba, which is perfectly situated near a slew of sweet little wine villages. Our hosts Raffaelle and Lorenzo could not do more for us. Every day, we were the recipients of some new kindness. For example, one day when we returned to the room, we found a bottle of red wine waiting for us along with two large sparkling wine glasses (so much better than the plastic wine glasses we carry with us)!

Our room, the “purple room,” is perfectly charming with so many decorative touches (all in purple, of course). And the room is as well-equipped as any we have ever stayed in, from the waterfall shower with black exfoliating soap from Morocco (Anne looks younger already LOL) to the magnificent terrace with potted plants and a protective awning. As an added bonus, from our terrace, we can see the Nutella factory across the street, and every so often, we get a blast of Nutella sweetness in the air.

Raffaelle and Lorenzo are so much fun to be around and more than helpful. Our Italian is pathetic, but luckily Lorenzo speaks English, and Raffaelle speaks French, so we end up communicating in something we call “Franglishiano” – the amazing thing is that we actually understand each other completely!

For the second part of our countryside sojourn, we stayed at a rural B&B just north of Asti. This was a small, family-run operation on a farm-like setting, and we thoroughly enjoyed Renate, Bruno, and their 34-year-old daughter Julia. We felt as if we had been adopted by this friendly family. Language lessons became twice daily events, especially wild at night when Bruno brought out the Grappa to aid the learning experience.

We helped Renate and Julia with their English (and they helped us with our pathetic Italian). My husband also taught Julia some Russian since she wants to learn the basics of that language. And since Bruno speaks French, we switched to that when we spoke with him. It must have sounded like a European Union convention when we all got together. Plus Renate and Julia spoke at warp speed, talking over each other and correcting each other like some comedy routine. It was hilarious!

Villages of the Piemonte

We spent our days roaming the friendly villages of this very rural area where everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The Piemonte is still a fairly undiscovered wine destination, so the locals are not jaded by swarming tourists. In the beautifully preserved village of Neive, we asked a young woman in a shop about wine tasting, and she got on the phone, called her friend Michela, and then left her store unattended to walk us up the hill and over to Michela’s great wine shop. Michela, by the way, gave us generous, free wine tastings and invaluable wine advice. Of course, we end up buying from these people, but we never feel pressured. In fact, it doesn’t seem like a business transaction at all, more like an exchange among friends.

One day, we wandered into a wine shop and unintentionally interrupted a family dinner. No problem; the owner and her daughter-in-law Sylvia, took us down into their 15th c. wine cellars for a quick peek and then offered us wine tastings that came with breadsticks and slices of tasty salami. Pretty soon, we felt like we were part of their family too. The wine we bought was fabulous, but the story and the memories that go with it are priceless!

Every day brings a new memorable interaction like funny Katarina who loved laughing with my husband while she poured us free tastings of Barolo. As we were buying a bottle, she insisted that my husband try her “best of the best” Grappa which turned out to be the smoothest Grappa he has ever tasted.

At the Boffa Cantina, we paid to taste two of winemaker Carlo Boffa’s vinos: top notch Barbaresco wines served with breadsticks and some incredible aged parmesan cheese (people here never let you taste without some accompanying food). Then, Carlo took us out back to see the gorgeous view from his terrace, and all of a sudden, he started pouring us freebies: Babera, Dolchetto, and a delicious shot of Grappa. Once these people start giving, it’s as if they can’t stop! How could we not buy from them?

Here is our best story of all. One beautiful sunny day, we arrived in the village of Montiglio and barely made it out of the car before a man named Giorgio Macchia came over to chat, telling us all about the castle above us and the pride of the village, the Church of San Giovanni. Giorgio is a town historian, and he was anxious to share his knowledge. He STRONGLY suggested that we see the church and explained that we would need a key to get in.

We ate a great lunch at what may have been the only restaurant in town, and soon Giorgio strolled into the restaurant carrying (you guessed it!) the rather-large skeleton key to the ancient town church. We walked the short distance to the church (what choice did we have?), and when we arrived, there was Giorgio with the Mayor of the village, Francesco Ciravegra!

I got to do an official opening of the ancient door lock on the church door (using the aforementioned key) with cameras flashing. Not only my husband’s camera, but also the camera of an old guy on a bicycle who had appeared out of nowhere (My husband thought this dude was the mayor’s cameraman and that this whole thing was a publicity stunt to beef up the mayor’s image.) I felt like the star of Montiglio LOL!

The mayor and Giorgio proceeded to give us a personal tour of this church that dates back to the 12th c. and has some marvelous Romanesque sculptures. After the tour, we said our farewells, and the mayor asked my husband, “May I kiss your wife?” My husband replied, “Okay, as long as it isn’t an American kiss!” This has happened before, and all I want to know why these Italian men think they have to ask my husband's permission to kiss me???

We wandered back into the village square, but our story was not over yet. The mayor was already there in the square, shaking hands and talking with townspeople. He called us over to the village Gelateria that was just opening up for the first time this season. And in honor of the occasion, the gelato was free. Count us in!

We got our free, scrumptious double-dip gelato cones, and then the mayor insisted on taking a picture of us standing behind the ice cream counter with the owners of the shop. By this point, even I was thinking that we were going to end up in the local newspaper -- guess we’ll never know for sure. What a crazy, funny day!

Other Sights of the Piemonte

Of course. we didn’t spend all our time wine tasting. We also visited two wine museums (do you sense a theme here?). The Barola Wine Museum, known as WiMu, was one of the weirder museums we have ever seen. It was designed by the same guy who did the Automobile and Cinema museums in Turin, and he really outdid himself here!

The museum is not so much about the nature of winemaking as it is about trying to capture the essence of wine. Just to give you a flavor of the place: the first room was about the beginning of time with fake birds flapping their wings and ticking sounds like a room full of clocks in the background. A later room held a large prism that showed fractured images of vineyards. All we can say is that despite being pretty much “out there,” the museum did make us thirsty!

A second museum in Grinzane Cavour was a more traditional type of wine museum. We especially enjoyed the display on truffles, a pungent type of fungus that grows in these parts. A truffle auction is held in the Piemonte every year, and people pay as much as $100,000 for a truffle about the size of a man’s fist.

In a real departure from wine, we visited the abbey in Vezzolano, one of the most important Romanesque monuments in the Piemonte. Santa Maria di Vezzolano was built during the 12th-13th c., and it feels as if some monks from the Middle Ages may show up at any moment!

The villages of the Piedmont are truly superb, and at least when we were there, quite untouristed. It would be hard to pick our favorites but Barola would certainly be up there. Also Barbaresco with its enoteca in a deconsecrated church. You can't beat the views from the hilltop village of La Morra. Serralunga is also gorgeous with a great castle. Personally, I have a weak spot for Neive -- so beautiful, peaceful and friendly.

I know many of you like restaurant recommendations, so here are a few:

Vincafe in Alba -- fabulous wine selection (drank the best Dolchetto of the trip here), great food, friendly and convenient since it is open continously, try to get a table in the vaulted cellar in the basement

L'Aromatario in Neive -- This was the first place I tried the Vinello Tonnato thin sliced veal with creamy sauce made with tuna (sounds like an odd combo, but it works!), the Agnolotti dal Plin was superb (plin are like puffy mini-ravilolis and the dish is served with butter and sage), I especially liked that the waiter gave me a big hunk of pecorino cheese and a small grater so I could grate the cheese over the top myself. Very reasonable too.

Antica Torre in Barbarescso -- Another marvelous plin dish this time with a veal ragu sauce. I also ate an amazing slice of hazelnut cake, slightly dry but so nutty, and out of this world when you add the powdered chocolate and yummy sauce made from eggs, sugar, and moscato wine. O Mio Dio!

Ristorante Italia in Serralunga -- No ala carte menu (which was no problem). Loved the appetizer of celery slices with soft cheese and walnuts. (I know it sounds unexciting but the flavors were so good and my white Arneis wine complimented them perfectly.) More wonderful pasta, and an excellent main dish of thin sliced beef in a marvelous dark gravy served with green beans and carrots. Topped it all off with decadent chocolate flan.

Osteria ai Binari Vineria (just north of Asti) -- Great restaurant in an old train station. I had the best Tajarin (handmade, handcut pasta made with eggs -- love the stuff!) served with butter and artichokes. Also, fagioli, rolled rabbit with potatoes and a pear poached in moscato wine for dessert.

Really the food in the Piedmont is beyond good! But, the real topper was Sunday lunch at the Osteria della Pompa in Cocconato (north west of Asti). Beautiful place with a large brick vaulted cellar. No menu, but the 30 euro extravaganza covered everything, even the wine! The appetizer buffet must have included at least 50 items -- all fresh and beautifully presented. All kinds of specialty salads, cheeses, grilled red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes... Then, they served us Tagliatelle in fresh tomato sauce, perhaps our best pasta dish yet. Then, thin slices of pork covered with a gravy made with apples and cinnamon. And finally dessert: a small slice of custard with a small square of hazelnut cake. Unbelievable meal! Dessert was served with a sweet wine which my husband loved. When my husband asked for the name of it (Freisa Dolce) and complimented the owner, the owner gave him a bottle to take along!
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Apr 30th, 2013, 11:46 AM
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I got to do an official opening of the ancient door lock on the church door (using the aforementioned key) with cameras flashing.>>

Magster - is there something that you're not telling us? are you actually our only celebrity fodorites? are your initials actually BP and AJ?

There is just so much of italy that I still want to see and every time I read a new TR, that's the bit i want to see first.
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