Land of Barolo
The Langhe’s Regal Reds and Gavi’s Classic White
Two distinctive regions of Piedmont rolled into one tour: the Langhe hills, home to Barolo & Barbaresco, and the white-wine
region of Gavi
Private sit-down tastings at the Marchesi di Barolo, Silvio Grasso, Giacomo Bologna, Villa Sparina & more
Kick off truffle season with an exuberate medieval festival and crazy-funny Palio degli Asini (donkey race) in Alba (October only)
Feast on artisan cheese and salumi during a buffet lunch at a cheese farm in the Alte Langhe
Hunt for truffles in a hazelnut grove with a truffle hunter and his dog
Enjoy a hands-on cooking lesson at the company owners’ medieval townhouse near Gavi and catch a peek at village life
If you love wine, Piedmont is a must-see destination. While first-time visitors to Italy often head to Tuscany, Piedmont is tops among wine cognoscenti, and it’s easy to see why.
First, there’s Piedmont’s stunning variety of wine, from regal Barolo and Barbaresco, to rustic Pelaverga and Freisa, to refreshing whites like classic Gavi and newcomer Arneis.
Then, there’s the food: elegant northern Italian cuisine like porcini risotti, creamy pasta with showers of white truffles, handmade meat-filled ravioli, beef braised in wine, and chocolate-hazelnut desserts.
All this comes packaged in a landscape of breathtaking beauty. In the Langhe, every hill is crowned with a medieval fortress or stately castle. And nowhere can you find such contorted hills so neatly pinstriped with vines. Charming wine villages like La Morra and Gavi are still populated by locals, not tourists, so you’ll get a true peak at Italian wine culture.
The first half of LAND OF BAROLO takes place in the Langhe, the hills south of the Tanaro river. From our base in Alba, the Langhe’s red-wine capital, we’ll venture into Barolo territory for two days and Barbaresco for one. Here we’ll hear the fascinating history of these wines, intertwined with kings, prime ministers, and marchesi, and come to appreciate these most coveted of Italian wines.
Mid-week we transfer to southeast Piedmont, home of Gavi di Gavi wine. Here you’ll stay at a winery: Villa Sparina has turned its old agricultural buildings into an elegant 4-star hotel overlooking the vineyards. A highlight of the tour is a visit to our home in the village of Varinella (pop. 252), one hill away from Gavi. In our medieval townhouse, once owned by the great-grandmother of company cofounder Claudio Bisio, you’ll have a cooking lesson and raid our cellar for some aged Piedmont wines.
Being a native of Gavi, Claudio knows Piedmont from the inside out. What’s more, we’ve spent a decade refining LAND OF BAROLO, one of the company’s first tours. So over the years, we’ve come to know the winemakers like family. And indeed, most of Piedmont’s wineries are small, family-run operations, so our tastings are always intimate, familial, and fun.
Land of Barolo
The Langhe’s Regal Reds and Gavi’s Classic White
DAY 1 – A DAY AT THE RACES
Alba is the white-truffle capital of Piedmont, and every October truffle season kicks off with a medieval festival and artisan food fair. After a pick-up at the Tortona train station, we’ll shuttle to our hotel in Alba (1 hour). A welcome lunch introduces Piedmont cuisine, then it’s on to the medieval festivities! These include a colorful parade of a thousand costumed locals, followed by the day’s centerpiece: the donkey race or palio, a comedy of errors which dates back to Alba’s defeat by Asti in 1275. Afterwards, there’s time to roam the food & food fair and taste samples of mountain cheese, salumi, wine, chestnut honey, and nougat candy. (October only)
In the spring, we drive directly to Barolo for an orientation in the enoteca of the Castle of Barolo. It was here that Barolo was first created by Giulia Colbert Falletti, a French noblewoman who was the Marchese di Barolo, during the Napoleonic period. After a welcome lunch that features a parade of classic piemontese appetizers, our Barolo history lesson continues at the Ceretto winery, once a hunting lodge of King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont. A second tasting takes us to a much smaller property, but also one with historic regal ties: Fratelli Alessandria in Verduno. Here one of the family members will pour their Barberas, Barolos, and Pelaverga, a light peppery red produced only in this village.
Tonight we dine at the Marchesi di Barolo winery and delve into the French-influenced cuisine of Piedmont, such as ravioli del plin, braised veal, and pannacotta.
L, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 2 – BAROLO AND TRUFFLES
Don your walking shoes! This morning we stroll through hazelnut groves with Carlo and Lara, a truffle hunter and his dog, to see how canines are trained to sniff out the precious tubers, which grow beside certain tree roots. Then we’ll hop over to the museum in the Castle of Grinzane Cavour. This castle was home to the first Prime Minister of Italy, a Thomas Jefferson-like politician who was also a winemaker—and a key player in Barolo’s creation. After lunch, we’ll explore the eastern communes of the Barolo DOCG, where the magnesium-rich soil creates more structured Barolos, rich with tannins. We’ll begin at Massolino in Serralunga, then continue south to Monforte for a tasting at either Elio Grasso or Fantino Conterno. All are family-run wineries with top ratings and loyal followings. Dinner features more piemontese fare, such as vitello tonnato (veal with delicate tuna sauce), agnolotti (a variation of ravioli), and bounet (chocolate-amaretti pudding).
B, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 3 – MOUNTAIN CHEESE AND DOLCETTO DI DOGLIANI
One of our favorite Barolo wineries is Silvio Grasso, where the founder’s wife, Marilena, always provides a warm, effusive welcome—and a generous tasting, pouring comparisons between their Barolo cru and various vintages. For lunch, we drive to higher elevations in the Alte Langhe. Too high for grape-growing, this is cheese country. Our buffet lunch is at a Murrazzano cheese farm, where we’ll have a tour, then feast on freshly made mountain cheese, salumi, fruit, and light-as-air hazelnut cake. On our way back to Alba, we’ll stop at another top Barolo winery, Da Milano, whose wines have consistently offered an exceptional price/value buy. Then it’s back to Alba, with free time to explore the shops brimming with truffle oil, chocolate-hazelnut spreads, and aged vintages of wine, or visit the baroque churches. Dinner is on your own in one of Alba’s many fine restaurants.
B, L • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 4 – BARBARESCO & BARBERA D’ASTI
Today as we transfer to Gavi, we’ll focus on the other B’s of Piedmont: Barbaresco and Barbera. More perfumed, elegant, and supple than Barolo, Barbaresco is considered the “queen” to Barolo’s “king.” In the eponymous village on the Tanaro, we’ll visit one of the largest, most historic Barbaresco producers, Marchesi di Gresy, which makes several cru as well as a rare (and quite good) Piedmont sauvignon blanc. If we’re lucky (and we usually are), the cellar master will pop in for a hello and a chat. After lunch, we’ll head to Barbera territory near Asti. Our afternoon tasting spotlights Braida, the estate of Giacomo Bologna, the man who revolutionized Barbera. This is a true Cinderella story, with a humble grape and rustic wine transformed into a polished, powerful red that competes on the international stage. Next, we continue to southeast Piedmont, land of Gavi wine (1 hour drive). Our bucolic 4-star hotel is on the property of Villa Sparina, a leading Gavi di Gavi winery. Dinner is in one of the tiny hilltop villages.
B, D • L’Ostelliere of Villa Sparina
DAY 5 – GAVI DI GAVI
This morning we have a cooking lesson—and get to peer inside life in a small Piedmont village. We head to the frazione of Varinella (pop. 200), home of La Dolce Vita’s owners. After a tour of Claudio Bisio’s old stomping grounds and his renovation-in-progress of our medieval townhouse, we’ll have a fun, hands-on cooking lesson. On the menu: bagna cauda (vegetables with a creamy garlic/anchovy dip), risotto al Gavi, and tiramisu. We’ll also raid the cellar for a sampler of aged Piedmont wines. After lunch, we visit the town of Gavi for coffee. Here shop windows proudly display Gavi di Gavi wine, fresh ravioli, and soft, puffy almond cookies—a local specialty. But you won’t find a single postcard or touristic t-shirt here. Being off the beaten track, Gavi is an unadulterated, locals-only Piedmont spot. We’ll also visit the Fortress of Gavi, a massive 11th C. fort perched high above the town, which once guarded the salt roads leading from Genoa to Milan. Afterwards, we’ll have a tour and tasting at one of the leaders in Gavi wine: either Villa Sparina or La Giustiniana, both of which have a storied history dating back to the 1700s. Our farewell dinner is at Villa Sparina’s elegant restaurant, La Gallina.
B, L, D • L’Ostelliere of Villa Sparina
DAY 6 – BUON VIAGGIO!
A shuttle to the Arquata Scrivia train station (between Milan & Genoa) and assistance with your travel plans. B
Milan’s Malpensa or Linate. Both have convenient airport shuttle buses to Milan’s central train station, the Stazione Centrale (50 minutes from Malpensa, 30 minutes from Linate).
Plan to land in Italy a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. Most people spend the preceding night in Milan. For hotel suggestions, email us or consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor or Venere. We recommend staying either near the main train station, called the Stazione Centrale (more convenient for catching the train on Day 1), or in the historic center near the Duomo (more convenient for pre-tour sightseeing). From one area to the other, it’s about a 45-minute walk, a few stops on the subway, or a 15-minute taxi ride.
Our meeting point is the train station in Tortona, a small town on the rail line from Milan to Genoa. Assuming you spend the previous night in Milan, you’ll go to Milan’s Stazione Centrale and take the 9 A.M. commuter train to Tortona. (We’ll provide precise train details in your information packet.) It takes less than an hour, and we’ll meet you at the Tortona station. Please let us know if you’re coming from elsewhere or spending the previous night in Tortona. From Tortona, we shuttle to Alba (about 1 hour), where the tour gets underway.
On our final day, we’ll shuttle you to the train station of Arquata Scrivia. The station is about 7 miles from the hotel, so we can offer a choice of two shuttles: either early in the morning to catch the 8:20 train to Milan, or later that morning to catch the 12:30 train. During the tour, we can help you buy your return train tickets.
Italian train schedule
Click here for an English-language version of TrenItalia. Be aware that the schedule is posted only several months in advance, so if you’re looking for long-range dates, try something sooner, just to get an idea of departure frequency and trip length.
Two popular destinations that are within easy reach of Piedmont are the Lake country and the Italian Riviera, including the Cinque Terre. Because Malpensa airport is about halfway between the city of Milan and Lake Como, a pre-tour stay in Como and/or along Lake Maggiore is quite do-able. Post-tour, one could continue south from Gavi to Genoa (only 30 minutes by express train). A working port city, Genoa is the birthplace of Christopher Colombus and offers a world-class aquarium, waterfront promenade (designed by architect Renzo Piano, a local son), wonderful art museums houses in 18th palaces, and a fascinating medieval section. Continue further down the coast, and you’ll reach Portofino and the Cinque Terre. Both offer hiking trails and boat excursions, while the Cinque Terre also has scuba diving and public beaches.
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. One source is Travelex Insurance: http://www.travelexinsurance.com, (800) 228-9792 (please use our compay code: 21-0043 LDV).
When packing, check http://www.weather.com. Go to “Asti, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast. In July, expect summertime temperatures, with comfortably hot, dry days (85º average) and cooler evenings (65º). In October, it’s jacket weather: Fall will have commenced, with morning mists, an equal chance of overcast or clear days, with the possibility of sporadic rain. Average daytime temperatures are 60º, and 45º at night.