Bordering the Alps, Piedmont is a picturesque and historically rich region in the Northwest of Italy. At close to 10,000 square miles it is far from small and consisting of many towns and communes is a patchwork of culture and intrigue. Roughly 1 hour south of the regions capital city, Turin, in the province of Cuneo, lies a hilly region known as the Langhe. Famous for wine, cheese and truffles, the Langhe is recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage, in part for its outstanding living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking tradition. With the wines having risen to stratospheric heights in recent decades, Piedmont has become a must-visit for wine lovers the world over. However, given its rural, traditional nature, it can be difficult to navigate for first-time visitors. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited the area several times, it is a place with much to offer the intrepid explorer. I hope that this brief guide will make visiting Piedmont easier, helping you get the most out of your travels.
Turin is the most convenient airport for those wanting to visit Barolo and/or Barbaresco. Flights to Turin from Europe are relatively cheap and being a metropolitan hub the city has ample travel links to Alba, an ideal local town (roughly 1 hour from Turin by car) with a number of hotels, restaurants and bars. If easier, for whatever reason, Milan is also a feasible airport, roughly 1 hour by train from Turin. Those flying into either Turin or Milan may wish to spend a day in either city, there is much to see and do, flying into Milan may be ideal for those wanting to expand their trip beyond just wine.
Having opted to take public transport during earlier visits, on recent visits I have hired a car, which has proven much more efficient and cost-effective. I usually use Auto Europe, a rental comparison site, to find the most suitable deal for the time of my stay, pick up is simple from Turin airport and parking fairly ample in Alba. Travelling is fairly easy using Waze or Maps, road signs are also fairly easy to follow even with basic proficiency in Italian.
Somewhere to stay
Both Barolo and Barbaresco remain somewhat rural, taxis late in the evening can be difficult and whilst there are an array of great restaurants they are not always easy to reach. For this reason, I recommend staying in Alba, located around 30 minutes from both Barolo and Barbaresco, taxis are accessible as is public transport, restaurants and bars. There are plenty of hotels available, Air B&B or Booking usually churn out several results. On my last visit, I stayed at Voglia di Vino Locanda, a modern, clean and affordable place in the centre of Alba. The coffee and pastries at breakfast are a particular highlight and in the evening the wine bar and restaurant downstairs is ideal.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous and want to stay in Barbaresco, on my first visit to the region I stayed at Bed & Breakfast Giuseppe Cortese. Nestled amongst some of Barbarescos best vineyards and owned by the renowned Cortese family, the villa has spectacular views, rooms are well furnished and a pool is available in the summer. The family are also happy to host you for a tour and tasting at your convenience.
Wine bars a plenty
I’ll get on to restaurants and winery visits, but before I do, let’s talk about wine bars. Whenever I visit a wine region, I immediately begin scouring the internet to find a great wine bar, one for both the evening and the daytime. Sometimes I succeed, but for one reason or another, often I fail. Visiting Piedmont is no different; however, there is no shortage of epic wine bars here.
Koki wine bar is in the heart of Barbaresco village, a perfect stop for a mid-afternoon refreshment or early evening bottle, tons of great wine (La Spinetta etc.) by the glass and a steller list. Enoteca La Vite Turchese, on the other hand, is in Barolo village, similarly to Koki it’s great mid-afternoon or early evening. The store packs some serious bottles and all are available to buy, Pol Roger by the glass last time I visited was a refreshing treat after tasting at Chiara Boschis, which is just up the road. Finally, Voglia di Vino, located in Alba, a favourite haunt of mine late in the evening after a meal. Good international list and plenty available by the glass. All of the above have superb lists by anyone’s standards and all reasonably priced, pricing being one of the regions more understated allures.
As well as being home to some of the worlds most gifted winemakers, the Langhe boasts a whole host of outstanding restaurants. In fact, Piedmont helps solidify Italy’s place in the upper realms of the Michelin guide, with 39 starred restaurants in total. However, what is truly great about the region’s eateries is the range of style and price. From smaller, family-run trattorie and osteria, to Michelin-starred ristoranti, you can get a taste of the regions rich cultural heritage whatever your budget.
Locanda Fontanazza, a hidden gem in La Morra with exceptional views across the region, perfect for lunch on a dry, clear day. Ingredients are sourced hyper-locally and on a seasonal basis, the menu reflected the quality of the ingredients, simple but effective. The wine list is broad with bottles from lesser-known but lauded producers. La Libera, a quirky but well-executed eatery in Alba, the menu is representative of the regions traditional dishes, refined and tweaked. The wine list is exciting and affordable, my last visit involved Produttori Muncagota and more. Osteria taStè can be found in an old schoolhouse, a short walk from the Giuseppe Cortese B&B. At the height of truffle season, taStè offers diners a truffle-focused menu at a more than reasonable price. I indulged in tartare with copious shaved truffle, a bottle of Barbaresco Pora and much more.
La Ciau del Tornavento is a Michelin-starred must for wine lovers visiting Piedmont. An indulgent treat, opulence embodied throughout. Impressive settings, courteous staff and a wine list which resembles a bible in size, are ample enough reason to visit. The food is creative, during truffle season La Ciau offers an incomparable truffle tasting menu, with some of the largest truffles I have ever seen shaved at tables, is large the smell infuses the air. However, this is not the highlight. For wine lovers a trip to the extensive cellar is a must, a First Growth vault, d’Yquem wall and thousands of bottles to peruse. Tom Hyland, Food & Drink at Forbes, has explored more of the region’s establishments here, as has Valerie here.
I have a laissez-faire approach to visiting wineries, I don’t tend to see constraints in regards to a winery not having a ‘tour’ page or something similar on their site. I am certainly not too shy to send an email. If there is a particular producer you admire, find their website, and email them until they reply. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
Some of the producers I have visited who have particularly impressed me from both the perspective of their wines and the tour itself are listed here. These include but are not limited to the Produttori del Barbaresco, Claudia Cigliuti, Oddero, Chiara Boschis, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Elio Grasso, Marchesi di Gresy, Massolino, Aurelio Settimo. There are a number of producers who I’d like to visit and would encourage you too also, these include Cascina Roccalini, Ceretto, Pio Cesare, Albino Rocca, Roagna, Fletcher Wines, Elio Sandro, Outside of the immediately more accessible, which I have noted prior, there are a number of producers I would love to visit but in reality are difficult for the layperson to do so, included in this ‘bucket list’ are Gaja, Bruno Giacosa, Giuseppe Mascarello, Bartolo Mascarello, Lorenzo Accomasso, Aldo Conterno, Giacomo Conterno, Giacomo Fenocchio, and Paulo Scavino.
Of course, there are many more brilliant producers, listing them all would be a fruitless task. Instead, I have simply given the names of producers of whom I myself have visited and those I would like to visit in future, this should help narrow down your own selection.
Although the focus of this article has of course been wine, the region itself is visually stunning and even for those who do not wish wine to be the sole focus of their entire trip, there is much to do. Visiting during truffle season, although not for sun-seekers, is a must, The International Alba White Truffle Fair runs from 5th October to 24th November, truffle hunt tours are readily available through online booking platforms and are highly recommended. Barolo and Barbaresco are littered with spectacular villages, from Castiglione Falletto to Serralunga d’Alba to Barbaresco itself, there are castles, history, churches and more. Not to mention the breathtaking vistas at almost every corner, for those wanting to explore the region’s vineyards in more detail I recommend Alessandro Masnaghetti resource Barolo 360. Whatever the purpose, you’ll not be disappointed visiting Piedmont, whether for wine alone or as part of a larger tour.