Gastronomically, Piedmont is undoubtedly one of Italy’s most interesting regions. Its wines are superb, the food produced there is varied and the delicious cooking ranges from traditional country fare to creatively modern cuisine. Moreover, the region is the centre of the Slow Food revolution, which is transforming gastronomy in Italy and beyond.
There is also another winning feature: many Piedmontese in the food and wine business have a desire to share their passion, and welcome interested visitors with generous amounts of their time and produce. In part this may be because visitors are relatively few, despite the high reputation which Piedmont enjoys.
For this tour we have bypassed Turin in favour of spending time in the countryside, seeing the origins of the food and wine and meeting the producers. This bucolic exile is not at the expense of culinary excellence; you will find superb restaurants, from simple rustic trattorias where Granny’s recipes are still gospel, to Michelin-starred and innovative establishments, all serving some of Italy’s finest food.
The study and enjoyment of wines is a large part of the tour. Barolo is the dominant wine – noble, austere and complex; the Nebbiolo grape is used for the elegant, tarry Barbaresco, and various other DOCs. We meet makers, chosen as much for their charm and communicativeness as for their wines, in some cases study their vines and the wine-making process, and taste the results. Among the foods we investigate, truffles are significant – Alba is something of a truffle capital – but the mountain cheeses such as Tomino and Castelmagno make an equally powerful impression.
Landscape is another of the great pleasures of the tour. As its name suggests, Piedmont reaches from high pastures to alluvial plains, and much of it is used for agriculture (or small family-run farms). The Langhe hills are among the most beautiful in Italy, the flanks almost entirely carpeted with vineyards, the summits sporting castles, little mediaeval towns or ancient farmsteads.
Fly at c. 8.45am from London Gatwick to Genoa (British Airways) and drive north to Bra, an attractive market town with some fine architecture, where the first four nights are spent. In the evening study the local wine-making process at the Ascheri winery adjacent to the hotel.
Alba, Grinzane Cavour. Drive to Alba, chief town of the Langhe, for a truffle seminar and lunch. In the afternoon there is a wine tasting in the Castle of Grinzane Cavour, a spectacularly situated unesco heritage site, home of the first regional enoteca to open in Piedmont, now almost 50 years old. Dinner is at a Slow Food restaurant.
Piozzo, Monforte d’Alba. The landscape between Dogliani and Murazzano is a patchwork of vineyards and rumpled hills, woods and pasturage. There is a truffle hunt (real, not simulated) this morning in the woods around Piozzo, then a wine tasting and lunch at a small, family-run estate.
Bra or surrounding countryside, Asti. Choose from two options this morning: either a wine tasting in the Ascheri winery and visit to a traditional sausage maker, or take a guided walk through orchards, vineyards and hazelnut groves, for the entire morning (c. 3 hours). Reconvene for lunch and a cooking demonstration at an outstanding restaurant. In the afternoon visit the lovely little city of Asti, centre of another famous wine and food area, set amidst the gently undulating Monferrato hills.
Pollenzo, Serralunga d’Alba. In the morning there is a visit and wine tasting at the fascinating wine bank in nearby Pollenzo, which stores and ages wines from all over Italy in order to keep a historical record of the very best vintages. Lunch is at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Serralunga d’Alba. In the castle at Manta there are some marvellous mediaeval frescos. Continue to Cuneo where the last two nights are spent.
Castelmagno, Sampeyre. The steep-sided valley of the river Grana is the sole source of one of Italy’s finest cheeses, Castelmagno. Visit a farm to see aspects of its production. Continue to Sampeyre in the mountains for lunch and a cooking demonstration with one of Italy’s rising stars.
Rivoli. Drive to Castello di Rivoli, one of the palaces of the royal house of Savoy established in hunting grounds around Turin. Rebuilt in the 18th century, though never finished, a museum of contemporary art has been installed here. Lunch here at one of the best restaurants in Piedmont, Combal Zero. Fly from Turin, arriving London Gatwick at c. 8.15pm.
Two sharing: £3,170 or £2,980 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,360 or £3,170 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A319); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 6 lunches and 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; 3 wine tastings with the option of a possible 4th; all food tastings; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Albergo Cantine Ascheri, Bra: a 4-star hotel refurbished in a very modern but enjoyable design using locally made materials as much as possible. Service is enthusiastic and rooms are comfortable. Hotel Palazzo Lovera, Cuneo: an excellently situated 4-star hotel just off the ancient arcaded Via Roma. Decor is traditional and tasteful with dark wood and faux-Rococo wall paintings. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
There is a fair amount of walking involved. Participants need to be used to walking unaided on uneven terrain, and surefootedness is also essential for truffle hunting in the woods. Participants on the optional walk on Day 4 need to be used to hiking up and down hills. Average distance by coach per day: 65 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'A truly gastronomic adventure.'
'The lecturer has an encyclopaedic knowledge and was very kind in passing on all his accumulated experience.'
'In a week I doubt we could have covered more as we explored this beautiful region.'