Bucket List Worthy
Piedmont Italy is a land of mountains; in fact Piedmont means ‘foot of the mountain’. The region is bordered by France and Switzerland and surrounded on three sides by the Alps, creating incredibly beautiful landscapes.
Visitors are drawn to the area by great hiking trails, rock climbing, rafting, winter activities, regal fresco-laden palaces, Canavese cuisine and the tannin-rich Barolo and Barbaresco reds. But no trip to this region would be complete without a drive through the rural villages, that’s the heart of the country.
I spent a week exploring this beautiful region – hopefully – my experiences will help you discover this overlooked area of Italy.
Collereto Giacosa Village
Collereto Giacosa is a small village 40 miles east of Turin with a population of just over 600 people. It’s here we spend our first night in Italy at the lovely Villa Soleil. A marvelous 18th Century building set in a private park, at the foot of the western Alps. The villa has 15 large bedrooms with antique décor and modern facilities, including air conditioning. My room is actually a suite or you could say an apartment with four separate living quarters; it could easily have slept six people.
Throughout the property, paintings adorn the walls, depicting the story of Giuseppe Giacosa, a poet, playwright, and librettist of Puccini. Yes Puccini, the opera grand master himself.
Giuseppe Giacosa was born in Collereto Giacosa in 1847 and his Villa is just a short walk from the hotel. Touring Villa Giacosa we discover the house, a private residence, had been preserved by the family and is open, a couple of times a year, to visitors. It’s almost a museum, with books, writing desks and artwork on the walls. Our guide Enzo Enrico, is passionate about the history of the place. He explained the revolving door of artists who frequented this villa (Sarah Bernhardt, Giacomo Puccini, Josephine Baker and Gertrude Stein). In the basement, hung on the wall, is the original poster of Madame Butterfly.
Back in Villa Soleil’s magnificent restaurant, Chef Alberto Domenighini, served an amazing Canavese meal consisting of ‘Battutadi fassone con il crudo di porcini’ (a Piedmontese tartare with raw porcini in salad), ‘Risotto con zucchina in fiore e capesante’ (Risotto with zucchini flowers and scallops), and wonderful ‘Agnulot dal plinalla mod a piemontese’ (Veal Shank, oven roasted with rosemary and sage, served with roasted potatoes). These dishes were accompanied by wonderful Piemontese wines, from sparkling whites to full bodied Barolos.
Across the road from Villa Soleil, we saw cranes and work in progress on the Castle of San Martino di Parella century; it’s being restored to its former glory. The property, we learn from a quick tour, is being turned into an eco-resort “Vistaterra”, with a spa and wellness center, 10 luxuriously appointed guestrooms with another 10 in a separate building, to open in 2017. Original frescoes and paintings, as well as roof and floor tiles are being preserved. Adjacent to the Castle are vineyards and a public park. It’s definitely top of list for my next visit.
Lunch in Nearby in Prazalito
Next day we lunched at a local farmhouse, al Mulin in Pranzalito, where they grow their own crops and raise cattle. The owners live upstairs in the farmhouse and the main floor serves as a restaurant. The Canavese dishes are made from their own and regional ingredients. It’s very popular with locals, making it difficult it get a table on weekends. The meal served varies from day to day, during our visit we feast on ‘Carne cruda di fassone’ (beef tartare), ‘Salumi’ (salami larda, pancetta ) for the main course we had ‘Tagliatelle all’uovo con lardo’, (tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes and herbs). The meal was absolutely delicious.
Spending two nights in Ivrea, we settled into an adorable artsy B&B, Spazio Bianco, run by owner, Brunella, a warm and charming hostess. It has 6 well-appointed bedrooms with modern décor, comfy beds and a very good breakfast.
Ivrea is a true medieval town – think castles, towers and centuries-old churches. The sparkling glacier blue water of the river Baltea Dora winds through town. Ivrea was the home of Olivetti, a manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and, later, computers. He was a politician, industrialist and entrepreneur. Touring Ivrea you quickly realize how much impact Olivetti had on the town and the livelihood of its residents. Today these architectural marvels lay empty, but the memories are still fresh in the minds of residents.
Ivrea has a unique Historical Carnival, drawing visitors from around the world and bringing history, tradition, spectacle and excitement to the city. ‘Battle of the Oranges’ is the most spectacular part of the carnival highlighting the fight for freedom, between the people of Ivrea and the Royal Napoleonic Troops. Orange throwing is also the time with the highest collective participation.
We had dinner at the Aguila Antica Restaurant, in the city centre, owned by a friend’s son. It’s a quaint old-world building with a very new-world menu. The food was wonderful, Agnolotti filled with veal, salumi dishes, the traditional Veal Roast, potatoes and rustic breads accompanied by Piedmont wines.
Visit to Pollenzo and Wine Country
No visit to Pollenzo would be complete without taking in the heart of wine growing (an archetype of European vineyards) in the Langhe region, nestled between the cities of Alba and Bra. Pollenzo is home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences which offers undergraduate, graduate and masters programs focused on gastronomy, food tourism, and the slow food movement. ‘Slow Food’, is an international movement; the idea is to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourage farming of plants, seeds and livestock.
We toured the University and tasted wines at the “La Banca del Vino” before stopping for lunch at Albergo dell’Agenzia, a beautiful restructured neo-Gothic country estate (now a hotel), and former home of King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. Today the property is a UNESCO world heritage site. The restaurant is founded on the principles of Slow Food with delicious Canavese dishes.
Daytripping to BARD Fortress
If you’re a fan of the movie ‘Avengers, Age of Ultron’, then a visit to Bard and its Fort is highly recommended. The fortress lies at the centre of a deep narrow gorge at the head of the Aosta Valley and has many buildings dating back to the 16th century. Fort Bard, originally a castle protecting the pass, is now home to the Opera Carlo Alberto and the Museum of the Alps. The museum is accessed via a spectacular system of panoramic lifts; you can take an interactive, multimedia and multidisciplinary journey, learning the story of a living mountain transformed by man.
Royal History At Castello Di Masino, Caravino
Being a connoisseur of all things historical, our friends in Ivrea suggested we tour Castello di Masino in Caravino; it’s the former residence of the King of Italy. Here, thousands of years of the art and history of the Valperga di Masino clan, are housed in palatial splendor. Every room in the castle is decorated with magnificent seventeenth and eighteenth century frescoes. The castle, surrounded by a magnificent park, is perched on top of a hill, providing a view of the Canavese plain and Alps in the background. One of the most interesting parts of the Castle is the Ballroom, where the large windows allow the interior to come harmoniously face-to-face with the exterior.
If you go to Piedmont here are some additional tips:
Parco Avventura La Turna in Montestrutto offers rock climbing from novices to experienced climbers. There is also a great cafe to get a spot of lunch or refreshments.
Ivrea Canoa offers guided rafting on the beautiful Dora Baltea.
Monte Bianco (white mountain) is 1.5 hours from Ivrea and a perfect spot for hiking and skiing in winter.
Turin is approximately 45 minutes west of Ivrea and is the closest Airport for international flights. This city was once the capital of Italy and is steeped in history, restaurants, cafes and shopping.
Visit Piedmont Tourism for addition Information.
There are many flight options to get you to any part of Italy so you can experience something similar.