I am asked from time to time, “what’s your favorite European country?”
There’s something to love about every country we’ve visited, but I never hesitate in responding: It’s Italy. Italy totally rules. It’s got everything: coastlines on two seas, magnificent architecture, the art, the fun-loving people… I could go on and on, so I will for a minute: the food, the historic cities both large and small, the wine, the scenery… So when you decide to visit Italy, there are lots of really good options.
If wine and scenery are your key criteria, I recommend visiting the Piedmont wine region in northwestern Italy. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Geneva, we’ve visited the area around Alba four times so far. The name Piedmont, is constructed from the french words “pied” and “mont”, or “foot of the mountains” which in this case refers to the western Alps separating Italy and France.
The topography of the wine region is characterized by around a dozen “hills”, each with its own village with names like La Morra, Barolo, Novello, Barbaresco and Verduno. Between the villages, and as far as the eye can see, there are vineyards. Lots and lots of vineyards.
Here’s a photo of the landscape. I think if you click on it, it will automatically expand the photo.
Here’s a video of the area from the Barbaresco Tower. The river is the Fiume Tanaro. The music was being piped in during our visit.
The Piedmont has become a destination we choose for some of our guests. When Robin and her family visited, we made the 5-hour trek over the Alps and under Mont Blanc to Italy and onward to Piedmont. We stayed in a B&B run by a super cool dude named Omar and his family. Like many of the B&Bs in the area, they are run by families that are also in the business of making wine. One afternoon, Omar had us all pile into his truck and tour the vineyard. Here he is showing Robin how to use a refractometer.
I’ve written before about Cliff and Ellen, and how they are the most serious oenophiles that I know. Here we are at Omar’s B&B again. (We loved the place so much, we took two sets of guests there!)
True in the Piedmont as all of Italy, you never have to venture far to see and visit some really cool old buildings. I can’t remember anymore which hilltop village this castle is located in. I do remember tasting some nice wine while we were there.
The thing to do on a typical day in the Piedmont is to drive around to five or six of the villages and stop along the way at the vineyards for tastings! The best part is that every tasting experience is different. And I’m not referring to the wine. The experience of the wine tasting itself is always an entirely new adventure! The wine, the hosts, the scene and the setting are always unique.
Here is one place we sat and tasted wine. I actually do remember this one. We heard some commotion behind a closed door, so I knocked, opened it up, and saw a big family group all sitting together drinking wine. Afraid we might be intruding, I asked sheepishly “can we taste some of your wine?” Next thing I know, we’re sitting with everyone tasting great red wine, and later joining the whole family group on a tour of the wine making operation! They totally made us feel completely welcome! We thanked them by purchasing a substantial amount of their wine! Here’s where they keep it before they put it in a bottle.
The Piedmont region is home to 42 “controlled designation of origin”, a quality assurance label for Italian wines, like the French “Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)” designations. With so many choices, it can be difficult to select just the right bottle of wine. But we’ve discovered that it usually turns out pretty well.