The Piedmont wine region in Italy is spectacular! And the wine ain’t bad either.

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.

 Slate tile roofs and vineyards

Slate tile roofs and vineyards

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.

Robin

Robin checking the sugar content of Omar’s grapes.

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!)

Omar

That’s Omar sharing his wares at a pre-dinner wine tasting.

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.

Piedmont chateau

Got too buzzed to remember where this was exactly…

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.

Oak barrels

These are 500 litre oak barrels

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.

Wine

decisions… decisions….

I took an epic solo hike along the south coast of the Portofino peninsula in Italy

I’ve written before on hiking the Cinqua Terra trail along the Mediterranean coast in northern Italy, an adventure I’ve done twice – once with Patrick and again with my friends Ken and Jane. This time, on a trip to Italy with our most frequent visitors Cliff and Ellen, we had the opportunity to explore a new stretch of the Italian Mediterranean coastline, the Portofino peninsula. Continue reading

Pat and Chris came to visit and we hiked our rear ends off, both literally AND figuratively!

As followers of this blog are undoubtedly aware, one of my favorite things to do here in Geneva and elsewhere across Europe is hiking. So when our two sons expressed an interest in getting a lot of hiking in during their 2-week visit, I was happy to comply. The best part, of course, would be the time spent exploring the great outdoors with the boys, but as an added benefit, we’d achieve a common fitness goal: to be in better shape after the two week vacation than we were beforehand.

Here’s a day-by-day rundown (with photographic evidence) of our hiking regimen during their two week visit to Geneva and points beyond. Continue reading

A “bucket list” suggestion for hikers: Italy’s “Cinque Terre” trail on the Mediterranean coast

I consider myself to be a fairly experienced hiker. My parents took us on regular hikes and camping trips in my youth in California, and then after moving to the east coast, my dad brought us kids along on many backpacking adventures in the Appalachians and other state and national park destinations. I’ve maintained my love of the outdoors as an adult and have tried to pass it on to our own kids, including family hiking outings in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, Yellowstone, and repeats of my favorite childhood hike, Old Rag in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.

Living in the heart of Europe has afforded us many new opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Regular readers might recall an early post on my first real hike in Switzerland last year, up the Rochers de Naye. I recently discovered (along with my niece Laura who was visiting) an awesome short hike on the Le Selève – our local mountain here in Geneva – that offers one of the greatest views of the Swiss and French Alps one will find anywhere. These hikes were awesome, but I think I just topped them all with a hike in Italy’s “Cinque Terre” National Park along the Mediterranean seacoast in northern Italy. Continue reading

Three beautiful images: a lake, an island, and a sunrise.

Generally speaking, whenever I sit down to write one of these posts, my objective is to share something that I have found interesting or notable about the Swiss or European way of life or simply to show an image of something that I found especially beautiful. For this particular post, I am emphasizing the latter objective. Here are three images I photographed and/or video recorded that I found especially awe inspiring. Continue reading

We went to Italy, and saw a Minnesota Ultimate frisbee team win a world championship!

My son Chris is a serious Ultimate player for his high school team back in Minnesota. As we were making plans for things to do upon our arrival in Europe, he recalled that one of the coaches of his High School’s girls squad plays for a Minnesota team called “Drag’N Thrust” that would be competing in Lecco, Italy, which is located on the south end of the west leg of Lake Como. That was reason enough for us to make the 300 kilometer trek across the Alps to see more of Italy, and to watch some world class Ultimate! Continue reading

First trip into Italy! Genoa on the Mediterranean Coast

When we visited France in 2002, we were discussing the beautiful sites we had seen in France with a French waiter. After listening to us for a little while, he responded, “yes, France is beautiful, but the most beautiful sites in Europe are found in Italy”. I have always remembered those words, and have looked forward to one day visiting Italy. Continue reading