The treasures of the Piedmont region, Italy are epic (writes Anna Zuchowski-Morrison). Set in the north-western border of Italy and famed for its cuisine-impassioned culture, giant freshwater lakes and striking mountain scenery, it is a Mecca for those seeking the rich, authentic plunder of Italy. Travellers and locals alike come in their droves to experience the diversity and beauty of the Piedmont region.
Its very name means "at the foot of the mountain", and the region set on the border of Switzerland is made up of a network of colourful and dramatic smaller provinces: Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli, with Turin as the capital.
Piedmont is often described as a world unto itself, with thick fog shrouding the endless vineyards and sweeping mountains, creating a cosy, almost exclusive ambience. Beyond the green-fringed mountains and quarries of trees there are endless mazes of charming villages, which are beautifully rustic and romantic. Like sampling a smooth Italian red wine or crunching into a fresh bruschetta, Piedmont will take you right to the heart of Italy.
My husband and I decided to visit Piedmont some years back, craving the ruggedness and tranquillity of northern Italy, after a succession of sun, sea and sand holidays. Both being avid food and wine lovers, the ‘slow food’ philosophy embraced in Piedmont caught our eyes and tickled our taste buds, and we dived straight into whatever it had to offer in the way of food.
Piedmont harbours a great deal of precious and coveted food properties, which certainly attracts a real foodie following. Many of Italy’s best wines are also said to be found in the region. The Alba and Asti provinces are particularly famous for creating prize-winning wines such as the highly acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco tipples, and there are plenty of wineries to pay homage to the great wines of Piedmont. The Cordero di Montezemolo wineries in La Morra are worth visiting, but remember not to get too carried away: you are usually expected to pay for what you quaff.
August is the best month to travel if you want to taste and learn about Italian wines, as this is harvest season, when grape pickers are out in the vineyards collecting their harvest. Unlike other wine regions such as Tuscany, grape picking is normally a family affair, and when the grape picking is done it is traditional to throw an al fresco banquet in celebration.
Deep in the Italian woodlands are where the rare white truffle can also be harvested - a much-loved and very expensive mushroom, which can only be detected using trained sniffer dogs or pigs. To get a taste of the decadent truffle, try the local speciality ‘Taiarin’, which is composed of Tagliatele enriched with the aromatic truffle. Restaurants throughout Piedmont are bursting with truffle-infused dishes, but many of them also feature the hundreds of local cheeses available. There are over 160 different cheeses home to Piedmont, including rich flavoursome cheeses, such as ‘Tome delle Langhe’ and ‘Brus’, which are characteristically strong.
Of course there are many fairs and carnivals dedicated to championing the tantalising fare of Piedmont. Alba hosts a truffle fair every Saturday morning during the harvesting season of October, and there are countless similar fairs happening up and down the region, from strawberry fairs and chocolate fairs in Turin to frog meat fairs in Vercelli.
But don’t be led into thinking there is only eating to be done in Piedmont. The region is also steeped in Italian history and there are many historical landmarks worth visiting.
Piedmont was the first capital of Italy back in 1861 during the occupation of the French House of Savoy family, and just outside Torino you can visit the beautiful Baroque Savoy Palace and gardens. The La Venaria Reale is also located in Torino and holds a collection of spectacular buildings including an art gallery, as well as pristine gardens. An old town centre is enveloped within the complex and contains stunning churches, cafes and craft shops, dramatic 17th century palaces and much more. There are museums aplenty in Piedmont, and particularly in Turin, which houses the famed Egyptian Shroud museum, acknowledged by many as the best Egyptian museum in Europe.
The scenery in Piedmont we found to be astounding. The picturesque lake Lago Maggoire is a popular, one-of-a-kind retreat: huddled by mountains and wide as the eye can see, the lake is a picture-perfect refuge, and a lovely way to while away an afternoon or two. Discovering the many valleys which stray from the lake is also fascinating, and the giant Toce waterfall not far from the lake is captivatingly beautiful.
Piedmonte lies just out of grasp from flocks of tourists and has been a holiday hotspot for Italians for years. It is described as a true escape full of culture, cuisine, beauty and style. As relaxing as it is enthralling, it is guaranteed to give you that much sought-after authentic taste of Italy.
About the author
Anna Zuchowski-Morrison is a freelance writer based in London. She writes for various national magazines and regularly blogs for moneycompare.au.com where she shares her love of all things food, travel and design.
She has travelled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and America.