06 July 2016

Piedmont, May 5-7: My favorite part of our trip

Don't get me wrong. Our whole 26-day European trip was great. But the 3 days we spent in the southern part of the Piedmont was the best for me. It had everything - great wine, great food, wonderful quarters in an agriturismo, shopping, art, and culture. I would have been happy to stay longer. 

Our reservation was in the town of Barolo. We drove there from the Lakes region in the northern Piedmont. The drive went smoothly, and we found our hotel pretty easily. (Click here for a review of the hotel, an agriturismo run by Angelo Germano and his family.) After we got checked in, we started exploring the town. It was very quaint. Also very small. We hadn't really intended to do any wine tasting, but we thought it would be fun to buy a bottle and drink it in our room. Our host suggested going to the Marchesi di Barola winery on the edge of town. It was a very enjoyable tour and tasting for €12. But we didn't like the wine well enough to buy any.
Daily breakfast at Cafe Antica

When we got back from the tasting, our host, Angelo, was giving a tasting to another couple, and we decided to try it as well. We liked the Nebbiolo Langhe so well (and so much better than the Marchesi wines) that we bought a bottle in our room; as you might suspect, the room comes stocked with bottles of Angelo Germano's wines. So before going to dinner, we opened the bottle and sat on our balcony, sipping the wine and watching the activity in the town square below.

Unlike the other hotels on this trip, Casa Svizzera doesn't have its own food. Rather, breakfast was served at a little cafe behind the hotel, Cafe Antica is run by a 'Mamma' with help from her daughter. They don't speak much English, but between the two of them and the small amount of Italian that I learned, we managed to communicate just fine. The coffee there is good (Linda liked this cappuccino better than any other we'd had so far). They have a nice selection of food, not just pastries but including more savory items. For example, they served a very tasty spinach tart and delicious marinated zucchini. Besides good food, the cafe draws a steady crowd of locals as well as tourists coming to town to taste wine. It was fun to sit there, enjoying our breakfast and coffee, and watching and listening to the people as they came and went. 

On Day 2, we took a day trip to Turin (Torino). It was about an hour drive, and we found street parking near Parco Valentino. We didn't have a very good idea of where things were in the center city, so we wandered over toward the train station. Not a good idea. It was pretty scruffy. But as we made our way into the city, we found all the piazzas and palazzos that we'd read about. We spent 4 hours just roaming thru the city and seeing the sights, which included ornate bridges over the River Po. We also spent some time in Parco Valentino; it was very pleasant. 
Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Torino

Turin actually was much nicer than I anticipated. I had expected the town to be more gritty, comparable to Bologna, where we stayed during our 2014 trip to Italy. (Click here to read my views of Bologna and the eastern Po Valley.) We found Turin to be very scenic with lots of fashionable shops and beautiful public art. I could envision staying there on some future trip to Italy.

On Day 3, after breakfast, we drove to the town of Alba. It was market day and the town was packed with people. One of our goals was to sample Gorgonzola or local blue cheese. We were told that local blue cheese can't be called Gorgonzola because it doesn't come from that region, which is farther north in Piedmont. Well, we found something labeled Gorgonzola and bought some. So it was either cheating on the label or it was authentic Gorgonzola brought to the market from up north. Either way, it was good. We also bought a bottle of Nebbiolo Langhe and a small loaf of bread, which we ate with the cheese and wine on our balcony back at the hotel. We did shop the market, and bought a few items. 

After our 'market' lunch, we took another short drive to Serralunga. There we climbed to the top of the hill town and into the castle, with beautiful panoramic views of the valley and the town of Barolo on the next hill over. 

Hotel: As I've noted above, we stayed at an agriturismo called Casa Svizzera. It was a great location, friendly and accommodating proprietors, comfortable, clean and modern rooms. One of the nights we had a wine dinner at the agriturismo's wine production and bottling facility outside of town. It was a fabulous experience. Click here to read about it.

Restaurants:Dinner our first night was at a small cafe down the hill from our hotel, Osteria la Cantinella. It was a mixed experience for me. We started with a bowl of pasta with sage and nuts. It was delicious. The pasta was very tender and tasty. For entrees, Linda got chicken, and I got beef braised in Barolo wine. Linda's chicken was excellent, but my brasato was disappointing. The meat was nice and tender and tasted good. But the sauce was heavy like thick gravy and not very enjoyable.

On our last night in Barolo, we ate at Osteria Rosso Barolo. It was one of the best meals we had on our trip. We started by splitting a salad (Insalatina con Robiola di capra e nocciole). It was shredded carrots on a bed of greens with 4 wedges of goat cheese and chopped hazelnuts, dressed lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Linda's entree was roasted octopus on white bean cream (Polpo arrostito con purè di fagioli Cannellini). It was excellent. I took a chance and ordered brasato again. This time it was great. The meat was tender and flavorful. The braising sauce was good without being too thick or overwhelming. 
A wonderful dinner at Rosso Barolo

For wine, Linda had a local white made from arneis grapes. I had two different barolos. The first was 2006 and it was good. When I ordered my second glass of wine, our server advised me that your second glass of barolo must always be older than the first. So the second was 2002 and it was excellent, all for only €9 per glass. (Linda's wine was only €4!) Great service too. Our server spoke good English. She was friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and had a sense of humor. 

Click here for more photos from Barolo and the Piedmont. 

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