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Talk to me about the Piedmont

Pauline

Forums Admin
#1
I love trip planning!! Now I am thinking about our May trip. A possibility is a week in Menton (France) and a week in the Piedmont. We've never really been to the Piedmont, just one night while driving from Switzerland to Umbria years ago.

I am looking at the Monferrato area, but just because I looked at Toni Hilton's house that she rents out (Casa in Monferrato). She no longer rents out smaller houses but now rents out the one larger house. I think it is already booked in May. @Amy has stayed in this area and it sounds interesting.

I am looking for walking/hiking and historic towns.

I am considering going from there up to the Aosta Valley because in May the Ibex are supposed to come down from the mountain tops to the towns to eat the new grass and I want to see that!

So, what parts of the Piedmont do you recommend?
 
#2
Hi Pauline
So much to recommend in Piemonte, I could go on for far too long.

Valle d'Aosta is lovely, and May a good time of year to go. If we go again we'd use the car more and stay out in the countryside and visit the smaller towns/villages, as Aosta (the city) despite being characterful, histotic, friendly and charming, is a little crowded into the little flat land available. That said, seeing the light aircraft and gliders swooping into this narrow valley was enthralling. The food with the French and mountain influence is richer than Southern Italy. The wines are interesting, with some great moscato passito (e.g. Chambave) and a wonderful red called Fumin (a relative of Nebbiolo, but also hints of Pinot Noir). Access without a car, by train from Torino.

Langhe wine region is popular, but only the villages of Barolo (especially) and Barbaresco show signs of becoming destinations on those 'see Italy in 2 weeks' coach tours. The other villages are used to tourists, but not spoiled by too many of them. Reasons for mentioning this area are:
- Wonderful walking through the great vineyards (woo-hoo for shared ownership!) is one of the great unsung highlights of the area, and a picnic, plus a bottle of wine from that vineyard is a cool thing to do on the walk.
- There are enough tourists that there are some very good agriturismi / apartments, plus loads of very good restaurants, neither of which need break even a modest piggy bank.
Whilst in that area, Alba has great history / historic buildings and some exceptional food. Transport without a car is difficult, but with a car is easy.

If Aosta is on the cards, and flying into Milano Malpensa or Torino (Caselle), then I'll put in a word for some unsung destinations to the north. Gattinara is nice and compact (albeit a little flat). Nearby Ghemme is nothing much to look at, but it has a great agriturismo (Il Cavenago) and some great walking / cycling trails (moderate hills - nothing too steep). We're thinking of heading back towards the end of the year. If you are there at the start of May they have a festival there, ostensibly to celebrate the good local wines. We've been once and thoroughly enjoyed it. The closest thing I've seen to Italians getting properly drunk, yet even somewhat under the influence, they remained friendly and polite. We could learn a thing or two from them. Nearby Novara is a fine city, barely noticed by tourists, yet with a lovely centre, some striking historic architecture and a lovely spacious feel to it. If you like Risotto, this region will be something special (Il Cavenago put an inane grin on my face when they served Basil Risotto - intense and enthralling).

A little closer to Aosta is Ivrea (and ultra-convenient for that connection), somewhat famous for an Orange throwing festival in February, but pretty much unnoticed outside of that. A compact centre, easy to walk, and in the foothills of the Alps to undoubtedly some good walking around there (plus some nearby lakes we're keen to explore). We visited in March and despite the clean/fresh mountain air, the place STUNK of dog mess (despite not being much visible). I have a theory the local dogs keep eating the leftover oranges that don't get cleaned up, and that gives their mess an added 'piquancy', so if correct, the normal fresh mountain air should return unadulterated by this well before May.

If you fancy a city, then Torino is long a favourite of ours, and I can give you a long list of food shops, restaurants, wine bars etc. It fits the bill perfectly for the history angle, with much to see, which 10 trips later we're still discovering. It's a very practical option as well, as Caselle is a nice modest sized airport, which makes arrivals/departure slicker than many. The city is immensely easy to navigate as it's a rare grid design (even including the old town), with an extensive transport network with trams at the heart, supported by buses and a single metro line. Walking in San Valentino park is easy and convenient. The Basilica di Superga has some good walking around it, plus a rack railway to get up there from the nearby village. Then there is the option of heading out to the old royal hunting lodge / palace. The food in the city is exceptionally good - I would say on a par with Bologna, though my personal preference would be the food of Torino. The big Piazza Della Repubblica market to the north of the city is very good, though it's the only place I feel slightly on my guard.... it looks a little shady around the market, but I've never seen any issues in what must be 20-25 visits.

There are other great places not mentioned, including Asti, Acqui Terme, Cuneo over in the west and Pinerolo/Saluzzo/Susa further up in the mountains.

I hope this helps, but happy to ramble on more if any of these take your fancy.

Regards
Ian
 
#3
Edit - Just a thought on Il Cavenago. These are multi-course affairs - that usual Italian style agriturismo banquet and one of the best we've experienced. Some very good food for a very fair price. However before going, worth checking they'll sub in vegetarian dishes for the meat dishes.

On the flip side, as mentioned a while back, Torino has become very vegetarian / Vegan friendly (well 'very' in Italian terms, it's never going to b Brighton, Sussex!). Plus if going for an apartment, a Vegetarian could eat royally well here as there is wonderful produce, plus a string of great gastronomie.
 

Amy

100+ Posts
#4
As you know, we love the Monferrato and the Langhe. Beautiful landscapes, interesting things to see and do without tourist hordes. There are some online hiking resources for Piemonte, have you found them yet? The food does tend to be meaty, but there are always vegetarian pastas on menus. As Ian says, the produce and cheeses are great, and we were always able to find real markets with food, not just shoes. Torino, Asti and Alba would have natural food stores.

I've been in Toni's house in Villa San Secondo, it is gorgeous and extremely comfortable. Small, cute village.

Here are my blog entries from that trip. Monferrato Blog
 
#5
My father lives outside of Asti so I spend a good amount of time in that area and find that I enjoy it more and more every visit (even though the Chianti is tops in my book). I have his list of favorite wineries and restaurants in the area if you are interested.
 
#6
We stayed in the Piemonte many years ago, and loved it. My one suggestion is, have a very good GPS. We were always lost. Stunning countryside.
 
#7
My father lives outside of Asti so I spend a good amount of time in that area and find that I enjoy it more and more every visit (even though the Chianti is tops in my book). I have his list of favorite wineries and restaurants in the area if you are interested.
Hi Cristina
I'd certainly be interested. Probably not in our plans for this year, but we do want to take the local Asti mycology/funghi group up on the offer to head out with them when we're next in the area, so having recommendations for when we do would be great.
Regards
Ian
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#8
There are some online hiking resources for Piemonte, have you found them yet?
I haven't! Can you post them? I remember you posting them a few years ago but I think it was on Facebook and I can't find the link.

I have his list of favorite wineries and restaurants in the area if you are interested.
I am interested in the restaurant list, but we don't drink much so the wineries don't attract me. However others are probably interested! You could post it as a RESOURCE if you have time - click the RESOURCES tab at the top and add it there - to the Italy section with the prefix (from a pulldown list) Food & Drink.
 

joe

100+ Posts
#11
We haven't made it to Aosta, but have visited Ivrea, Biella, and a bit further north in the area known as Zegna Oasis. This northern region of Piemonte would not be my first choice if I wanted to make a short visit to the province - although we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there - but OTOH the month of May is supposed to be stunning in the north, and we have always stayed in Piemonte in the autumn.
My first choice would be the Monferrato, Langhe or Cuneo areas - but there are no "wrong" choices, as the whole province is simply beautiful, inviting and interesting.
And Torino for sure, if you're looking for a city - I agree with Ian, the place is utterly lovable.

Looking north from the Zegna Oasis area :
30256962406_76e99f1c55_k.jpg
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#12
We spent a week in Cogne, a village in the Gran Paradiso National Park in the Aosta Valley, last September. We were hoping to hike up to see Ibex, but it was a hot September and they were at the very tops of the mountains - beyond our hiking abilities. I loved Cogne. In May there will be snow on the hiking trails but not in the village (I think) and the Ibex come down for the new grass. That is what I want to see - but this is just an addon to the Piedmont trip. I figured since we will be in the Piedmont, we will addon a few days and go up to Aosta, maybe stay in Cogne again.

I read this blog post about going to Cogne in the spring.

I follow a group from Cuneo on Facebook and they post a lot of hiking and wildlife photos. LO SPLENDORE DEI MONTI E DELLE VALLI DELLA PROVINCIA DI CUNEO

I will start looking for vacation rentals in Monferrato, Langhe or Cuneo. If anyone has recommendations, please post.
 
#14
I am interested in the restaurant list, but we don't drink much so the wineries don't attract me. However others are probably interested! You could post it as a RESOURCE if you have time - click the RESOURCES tab at the top and add it there - to the Italy section with the prefix (from a pulldown list) Food & Drink.
Ok, all done.
 

jan

100+ Posts
#15
We spent (only) 4 nights in La Morra, Langhe in October '16 and it took my breath away. Also, have stayed for 2 separate weeks in Acqui Terme at Baur B&B. (maybe you could contact Diana about rentals) I love the Piedmont! The food is really different and fabulous. I can imagine hiking around the vineyards being gorgeous.
There is a ton of restaurant info on Chowhound for the Langhe area.
We will be in Torino for 5 nights this year in early May. What are your dates, Pauline?
 

joe

100+ Posts
#18
For Pauline and anyone else who's interested in hiking routes and would like maps, here's a photo of two types that I got my hands on while over there :

1) on the right, one of four topographical maps that the Province of Asti puts out, called "destinazione outdoor". The scale is 1;25,000, so very detailed. They are usually supplied for free, and many accommodations in the area have them.
2) on the left, one of a series of topographical maps of Piemonte published by the "Istituto Geografico Centrale", at a scale of 1;50,000. These can be purchased at the better bookshops.

No lack of brochures, books, and resources for walking routes in the area, many can be obtained at the local tourist offices. A really good store in Torino is Il Giramondo :
https://www.ilgiramondo.it/

R0005189.JPG
 
#19
Hi Joe
Thanks for posting these - we've got a selection of 3 of the ones on the right. We haven't got any of the style on the left, but in addition there is a very good Barolo map available through the Langheroero.it tourist office and in some of the barolo villages. Only ~ €6 from recollection - I think we gave our 2nd copy away to someone visiting (as we'd done with the first). So cheap it's easy to buy again on arrival!
Regards
Ian
 
#20
I'm suddenly seeing an explosion of things on Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta around FB and social! Looks and sounds interesting. Tucking all this away for a future trip up north! :D
 

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