Discovering Piedmont’s Buried Treasures
Taste the pinnacle of Langhe wines in Barolo and Barbaresco
Enjoy private sit-down tastings at marquee wineries such as Silvio Grasso and Marchesi di Gresy
Visit Alba’s famed truffle market in full swing
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
Only have a short amount of time? This mini-tour is just for you, spotlighting the best of the Langhe at harvest-time.
First, there’s the white truffles, worth their weight in gold. October and November are the time when truffles are hunted, sold, and celebrated in Alba, truffle capital of Piedmont. It’s when these subterranean tubers have finished their 50-day growing cycle at the roots of favored trees and been rooted out by the obedient hounds of trifolau (truffle hunters). And it’s the perfect time to delve into the mystique and business of these homely, fragrant funghi.
We’ll accompany a truffle hunter into the woods, seeing where and how truffles grow, watching his truffle hound in action, and hearing how hunters train their endearing, curly haired pooches to find and fetch—but not eat!—their precious cargo.
We’ll also hunt for truffles in Alba. We’ll visit its famous truffle market, now in full swing, where the heady, earthy scent of gathered specimens will make you swoon.
And we’ll look for them on the menu, where they’re typically grated over tajarin (handmade egg linguine), risotto with Castelmagno cheese, ravioli filled with egg and chard, and other creamy, opulent dishes.
Northern Italy’s sub-alpine mountain regions make a huge number of cheeses, some named after their towns, such as Gorgonzola, Castelmagna, and Bra (home to the Slow Food movement). We’ll visit Murrazzano, located in the Alte Langhe and known for its DOP fresh cheese rounds made from cows’ and sheep’s milk. As we climb to this higher-elevation area of the Langhe, vineyards drop from sight and pastures abound. We’ll visit a new family-run caseificio (cheese farm) where we’ll have a tour and a buffet lunch featuring their fresh cheeses and homemade salumi.
Whether it’s mountain cheese or white truffles, there’s nothing better to wash it down than Barolo, that elixir of wines. We’ll visit a family-run winery in Barolo, where a family member will pour Barolos from different single vineyards to demonstrate what a difference terroir makes. Then we’ll repeat the lesson the next day in Barbaresco. Delicious homework required!
DAY 1 – BAROLO, THE KING OF WINES AND THE WINE OF KINGS
Beside the Tanaro River lie the beautiful Langhe hills, pinstriped with vineyards and crowned with medieval castles. Among the many tiny villages are two whose importance far outweighs their size: Barolo (pop. 679) and Barbaresco (pop. 656). After a pick-up in Tortona (see Trip Notes), we’ll shuttle to Barbaresco (approx. 1 hour). Here we’ll meet the region’s thoroughbred grape: nebbiolo. Our first winery is the Marchesi di Gresy, the largest and most historic of Barbaresco wineries in private hands. Here we’ll see how this site-sensitive grape changes character when exposed to subtle variations in soil and vineyard position. We’ll also be introduced to Piedmont’s other leading players—dolcetto and barbera—plus regional newcomer sauvignon blanc.
Afternoon takes to the Barolo DOCG zone. A museum in the Castle of Grinzane Cavour provides a good historical overview of Barolo’s origins in the 1800s and the role played by Count Camillo Benso Cavour (later Italy’s first Prime Minister), Marchesa Giulietta Colbert Falletti, and King Carlo Albero in the creation of Barolo, known as “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” Then it’s time to taste! We’ll do so at Silvio Grasso, one of the new generation of Barolo producers that emerged in the 1970s. At this small, family-run estate, Marilena Grasso will personally lead us through an in-depth tasting that offers comparisons of different Barolo cru and vintages.
Come dinnertime, we’ll continue the Barolo/Barbaresco theme with dinner at the Ceretto winery’s restaurant, which looks out on Alba’s main piazza and Duomo. Here we can taste Ceretto’s wines, as well as a well-curated list of local boutique wineries. These will provide the perfect companions to such classic piemontese dishes as agnolotti (meat-filled ravioli), guanciale (braised beef jowls), and bounet (chocolate-amaretti pudding).
D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 2 – TRUFFLES AND MOUNTAIN CHEESE
Every weekend in October, truffle hunters, gourmands, and restaurateurs convene in Alba. This morning, we too head to Alba’s famous truffle market, where truffle oil, truffle spreads, truffle books, and the whole tubers are for sale. There will be time to roam the enclosed market, as well as Alba’s gourmet shops, where you’ll find truffle goodies and other local specialties, such as dried porcini, arborio rice flecked with truffles, hazelnuts, and yummy chocolate. (Alba is headquarters to Ferrerro, which makes Nutella.)
Then we’ll head to the Alte Langhe (high Langhe hills), where Piedmont’s mountain cheeses are produced. Our destination is a family-run cheese farm in Murazzano, a DOP cheese zone. This family works with micro-sized dairy farmers to create a variety of fresh cheeses from goat, sheep, and cow’s milk. We’ll have a tour and a buffet lunch that features their various cheeses, plus local chestnut honey, cogna, fruit, and (we hope!) one of their light-as-a-feather hazelnut pies.
After lunch, it’s on to Barolo itself. We’ll walk through the charming village, stop by the Castle of Barolo, then visit the wine estate of the castle’s former owner, the Marchesi di Barolo. We’ll see the historic cellars where the Marchese Giulietta Colbert made the very first Barolo wine, then head upstairs for a tasting of the winery’s modern and classic styles of Barolos. Dinner is in Alba at a Slow Food affiliate restaurant, where we’ll hunt for truffles on the menu.
B, L, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 3 – GO FETCH!
This morning, we’ll don our galoshes and head into the hazelnut groves with a truffle hunter and his dog. They’ll provide an in-field demonstration of the dynamic that happens between a trifolau and his hound—the signals (in piemontese dialect, no less), the training, the special rapport. After finding the buried treasures and giving the dog a final scratch behind the ears, we’ll head to our last wine tasting: Damilano in the village of Barolo. A no-pretensions estate (typical of Piedmont), they put their efforts into making top-quality Barolo that maintains an excellent price/quality ratio. We’ll taste three of their top wines. Aftwards, we’ll return to Alba for lunch on your own. From there, it’s a shuttle back to the Asti train station by 5 p.m. 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.