Post by Diary of a Productive Person
Whilst dreaming of my Italian holiday, my dreams were limited to Tuscany, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Lake Como, and of course the big Italian cities such as Florence and Rome and Venice. I admit that this doesn't sound like a bad dream by any means (#firstworldproblems) but what never featured in this dream was this glorious, unexplored region called Piedmont (even John Brunton from the Guardian agrees).
If it hadn't been for Ivanka from Arches, I surely would have lived a limited life (dramatic I know, but so true). For those of you who are a bit like me and don't know much about the Piedmont region, here are a few quotes to really sell it to you.
The people from Food & Wine say:
"Piedmont is known for rich dishes featuring truffles and cream sauces, but it’s also Italy’s most culinarily progressive region".
If you’re trying to get a deeper understanding of Italian wine, Piedmont is one of the most useful wine regions to get to know."
say the lovely people at Wine Folly (check out this link for a bit more about wine from this region).
And finally ... The Guardian seem to be big fans of this place as well, stating
"Even in the midst of summer, the idyllic vineyard landscapes of Piedmont are rarely invaded by crowds of tourists, and the run up to the grape harvests, beginning of September, can be an ideal time to visit winemakers, who have more time than usual to let visitors taste their vintages".
I haven't mentioned this above but this place is also famous for truffles. Black, white, everyday. They even have truffle festivals for goodness sakes! So what did our few days in this beautiful region look like?
Note: this itinerary is not for those watching their waistlines or suffering from carb related allergies. If you are a carb lover like me, then read on!
Day 1: Goodbye cold and miserable London. Hello sunny Treiso and Neive
The Piedmont region is surrounded by the Alps and shares the border with France and Switzerland. This makes the climate ideal for harvesting bold reds, sweet whites and of course truffles and chocolates. Quite a food sinner's delight.
We flew into Turin around breakfast time and were immediately met by the infamous Italian efficiency (insert sarcasm). By the time we picked up our bags, our car, and some supplies, we were well close to lunch time and keen to get on the road.
We were staying at Ada Nada Agriturismo which was meant to be a quick 90 minute drive from the airport. Given the roadworks, traffic and our general lack of direction between the four of us, it took us approximately 2.5 hrs to arrive at our destination.
Ada Nada is located in Treiso, near Alba, and is a family run farmhouse. Annalise and her husband own and manage all the vineyards and there is a strong sense of family togetherness that welcomes you the moment you arrive. The location is ideal as the town is surrounded by lovely villages and restaurants just 10 minutes drive away. It's far enough to feel like you've escaped the big smoke but close enough for those moments where you just want to see some hustle and bustle.
We were greeted by Francesco who didn't speak a word of English and we didn't speak a word of Italian. Nevertheless, the language of wine and food closed this gap. Francesco first introduced us to their wine cellar which worked on a trust basis. You are welcome to access the cellar anytime of day or night, taste the wine and pick up a bottle. In return, you fill out the form with your room number and pay the total bill when you check out. Of course, after nearly three years in London, my ability to trust the human race has depreciated just a little bit - does this system actually work? I thought.
With the wine supply source sorted, our next thing to figure out was where to lunch. We asked Francesco the best place to eat in Alba (nearest big town) as I wasn't too sure where else we could find lunch at awkward o'clock. Francesco made a few faces which hinted that Alba may not be the best choice and recommended that we drive up to main Treiso town, around 5 minutes away, and explore the restaurants there. Not knowing what to expect, we took his word for it and had our fingers and toes crossed that we interpreted his recommendation correctly.
The town was absolutely deserted. Quite spooky in fact. With the sun burning strong, there was not a soul in sight, restaurants open but with no-one inside, loads of random cars parked at different spots but no evidence of any kind of activity. We were all getting to hangry mode, so approached each other and the restaurants with caution. No-one wants to fall out with their travelling companions on the first day of a nine day trip!
We fell upon a restaurant called ProfumodiVino and the only reason why we picked it was because 1) it had an outdoor terrace so we could soak up the sunshine, and 2) we could see our car from the terrace so if we were going to get murdered, at least we could make a quick run for it (ok fine, that's probably not why the rest of them chose this place but it definitely was for me!).
The food and wine at this restaurant was exquisite. These guys do clever things with Italian food. Memorable food moments: farfalle pasta with truffle, vanilla bean pannacotta, and strawberry popsicle (photo cred: twitter: @dlightcreations).
I selfishly wished that this hadn't been our first food experience because I couldn't imagine food getting any better than this. We all agreed that if all else fails, we will be shamelessly back at this place for our next meal.
Once back at the farmhouse, Annalise informed us of the local wine tasting festival that was taking place, Il Barbaresco a Tavola. This is a wine tasting festival that takes place over three Friday evenings in May featuring the new release of Barbaresco's. In our case, it was the 2012 collection. It's a fantastic (and cheap!) way to experience the new vintage along with dinner and will usually set you back approx €45-80. It's a great concept. You blind taste these incredible Barbaresco's produced locally, give it a rating, and try and match it to the producer. It's like playing wine bingo! Well kinda.
Annalise booked us in for dinner and wine tasting at Osterio I love BA in a charming little town called Neive. I had no idea how we were going to stomach another incredible meal but one thing I know about this crowd is that they never let you down when it comes to eating and drinking.
The drive to Neive was stunning. If we weren't running late (naps are important!) we would have definitely stopped over and taken some glorious shots. We arrived at the restaurant slightly panicked, only to realise that we were nice and early (who runs late in Italy anyway?). I guess we probably shouldn't have politely honked at that old Italian nonno who decided to stand right in front of our car blocking the driveway, staring at it as if it were a flying spaceship or something. Ehhh ... when in Italy I say!
Even if the wine tasting festival isn't on, I highly recommend making a trip to Neive and dining at this homely Osterio. The food is divine and people lovely. It was great chatting to the staff in our poor Italian / English and trying to explain the need for a designated driver. The concept baffled them. By the end of the night, we were kissing them goodnight and I had the privilege of driven three very jolly folks back to the farmhouse.
Day 2: A visit to old Alba town and taking in spectacular views of Piedmont
Honestly, seeing how much I stuffed my face the day before, I really wasn't expecting to wake up feeling hungry or even feeling like a bite to eat. I proclaimed to the world, "I'm not eating till lunch time". And then there I was, stuffing my face with the most incredible breakfast spread. I'm talking fresh fruits, scrambled eggs, all different kind of yoghurts, cheese and fresh meat spread, four different types of cakes, three different types of breads, and of course, such good coffee! Okay, I'll skip lunch then.
We made loose plans for the day. The best thing about having a car is that you can kind of wing it when you don't feel like completely committing to an itinerary. That was the vibe for that Saturday so we gave ourselves the task of exploring Alba and then we'd take it from there.
Alba is like any main town centre. Hustling, loads of markets, wonderful Italian fashion stores, cobbled streets, fancy restaurants, and numerous gelaterias. It's a picturesque town and enough to keep you busy without feeling touristed out. We made a quick visit to the duomo, saw a couple of the towers from the outside, and then decided to ditch the sightseeing for a gelati break.
I had heard great things about this place called Gelateria Sacherro di Barbara Muscas or simply put ... Sacherro. After five years of wedded bliss, I'm starting to learn a thing or two about desserts from Mr. Spanjy. Not only was Mr. Spanjy delighted by my recommendation (and slightly proud) but was floored by the flavours. Between the four of us, we maximised our options and ended up with eight flavours to trial out. The chocolate killed me. Coffee flavour had me in heaven. Raspberry had me going in for 2nds and 3rds as I couldn't tell if I loved it or hated it. And mint ... mint had everyone swooning.
Next stop ... lunch.
Where? La Piola Restaurant
We all know that lunch is no small affair in Italy so I was expecting nothing less than our experience from the day before. I kept observing people ordering plates and plates of this pasta that kind of looked like spaghetti but not really. The waitress informed us it was the famous tajarin (tie-yah-REEN) pasta and gave us THAT look. You know, the "don't you know?" look. "Ohhhh" we all pretended that we did. She knew we didn't. We knew we didn't. But, she was nice enough to explain to us what tajarin was all about.
The pasta is a speciality of the region and is handmade by local cooks. They use higher proportion of egg yolks than found in pastas from other regions. Tajarin can contain up to 40 egg yolks per kilogram of pasta dough (compared to our pasta friend tagliatelle which contains 20 eggs per kg of pasta dough). As such, the tajarin is delicate, flavoursome (not eggy though), and doesn't need anything more than simple sage and butter or lightly cooked rabbit ragu.
We decided that we had well and truly done Alba. There was talk of grabbing a coffee at Antico Caffe Calissano but we thought we'd give our stomach's a break.
Mr. Spanjy had read up about a few great lookout points in this region so we decided to venture out to La Morra (around 20 minutes drive from Alba) and climb up to the lookout point for sunset.
What Mr. Spanjy captured was breathtaking - the views are incredible and I could see him lusting over the golden light and rolling hills caressed by snow topped mountains. We strolled around for a few hours, chatting, taking photos, people watching and really settling in to this holiday. We finished up our day sharing pizzas at Osteria Pizzeria Per Bacco(probably the worst meal I've had so far on the trip). So it was back to the farmhouse for an evening of local wines and Eurovision on full blast (Italian commentary of course).
Day 3: Barolo region and Italian sparkling wines
We all decided that even though yesterday was a great foodie kind of day, we just hadn't done enough wine tasting. I was dying to head out to the Barolo region and Mr. Spanjy was keen for me to shed my snobbiness with Prosecco (there can only be Champagne. Sorry) and introduce me to some highly recognised Italian sparkling wine.
Since it was a Sunday, Annalise warned us that most things would be shut or open for a very short period of time. Not sure whether other wineries would be open or not, she suggested we explore the Wine Museum in Barolo. This place is a laugh. If it weren't a Sunday and most things closed, I seriously wouldn't have bothered with this place. But hey ... when in Rome. At least the views were great and the wine tasting at the end not bad either.
With reds under our belt, it was time to make our way to Asti and taste the infamous Moscato and sparkling wines.
Canelli (town in Asti) is around 45 minutes from Barolo and requires you to drive back through Alba again. Sure, we could have planned this a bit better but meh ... we had time to explore and not be rushed. By the time we arrived, I was so hungry that any old restaurant would do. We hadn't really done much research about the food situation in Canelli so completely winged it when we fell upon this little beauty: Osteria Scacciapensieri. This place is literally up the road from Contratto(famous for their sparkling Italian wine) and set in a picturesque cobbled street.
We did the cellar tour at Contratto as my girlfriend from Sydney and our regular travelling companion Miths, hadn't explored the wonders of wine making underground. I of course walked around with a bit of an attitude problem as I truly wasn't expecting Italian sparkling to compete with Champagne. Bleeerrggghhh to Prosecco I though.
How I was wrong. I learnt that the Italian word for "sparkling wine" is Spumante and that there are four major types of sparkling wines from Italy: Prosecco, Lambrusco, Franciacorta, and Asti Spumante. They all blew my mind. The wines at Contratto are delicious and so much cheaper than buying a bottle of Champagne. I was sold. We happily bought a few bottles to bring back with us to London and before we knew it, our bottle count was already up to ... six. And this was just the first leg of the trip.
Day 4: Hugs to Annalise and on the road to Portofino
Thank you Annalise for being such a great host and looking after the four of us so well. It felt like a home away from home and I can now totally see why people make a trip over to Ada Nada every year for a bit of R&R.
We kissed Annalise goodbye (after buying a few of Ada Nada wines) and started our journey to Portofino. Mixtape (Spotify) on, nicely loaded up, we all talked about how glad we were to have visited Piedmont and would come back here in a heartbeat.