(update 02 Jan 2022)
Piemonte (and Langhe) isn’t a city but rather a region of northern Italy. Arguably, it is one of the most elegant regions of Italy that also acts as a collective municipality overseeing the Barolo and Barbaresco wines. My heart has always been drawn to Venice and Rome but the tranquility of the Piemonte region could very well become my third home!
I may have stumbled upon the most amazing, and charming, and inviting hotel in the Langhe region that I am honestly afraid to share because I don’t want to be turned away: the Locanda Marchesi Alfieri (http://www.marchesialfieri.it/eng/) (closest to ASTI or ALBA). I am literally in love with this hotel. I didn’t want to leave and when I moved to another hotel that I wasn’t happy with, all I could say was that I wanted to return to the Marchesi Alfieri.
I read an article about the Hotel Castello di Sinio (http://www.hotelcastellodisinio.com/en/) (closest to BAROLO and MONFORTE D’ALBA) and so I had to check it out. Located in the tiny village of Sinio, this converted castle is a real gem. Denise, the owner, is a hoot and full of information and advice. And the staff, they are a collective dream and literally made every return, and every departing adventure, a real joy. You don’t stay here if you’re looking for cookie cutter hotels, but you stay here for peace and relaxation. (And, I suspect, the pool in the summer could be a wonderful afternoon reprieve, but I’ll have to report on that at another time.)
In the small village of La Morra – and a short walk from what is arguably the best restaurant in Piemonte: Il Bovio – lies the lovely little Corte Gondina Hotel (https://www.cortegondina.it/en/) (LA MORRA). There aren’t a lot or rooms but the rooms they have, are great: some are large with only a minimal view while others are a bit smaller with a balcony where you can see rows and rows of vineyards. And not to be missed is the morning breakfast with wonderful pastries and divine cappuccini.
The agritourismo Agricola La Morra Brandini (http://www.agriturismolamorra.com/) is a lovely, small agritourismo with stunning views over the valleys that surround it. And on a clear day, you can stunning gorgeous views of Monviso in the distance. There are two room types (and only 5 in total) and if at all possible, I encourage you to reserve one of the two Superior rooms: set on two levels, the lower level affords a small but comfortable sitting room and the upper level provides a larger bedroom, with a sofa bed if needed, and a small reading nook. Reader be warned however: the toilet is on the lower level so if you’re someone who gets up in the middle of the night, you might want to consider one of Le Doppie (double) rooms. Oh, and breakfast is gorgeous in what doubles as an often busy restaurant at lunch.
Another recent discover is the Relais Poderi Luigi Einaudi (https://www.relaiseinaudi.com/en/) a wonderfully small and pleasant B&B in the Dogliani area of Piemonte (CLOSEST TO DOGLIANI). I counted 6 rooms – and the amazing opportunity to be the only guest for 2 nights which was perfect for this traveling introvert – and each was unique with homey and person touches. The common spaces were warm and inviting and in the summer, an outdoor pool (which is also serves to manage the humidity in the cellars below!).
If you’re in Monforte d”Alba, a gorgeous small hilltop town that I’ve drive through and around so many times, you will find the La Ribezza Boutique Hotel (https://www.laribezza.it) a real stunner! The staff are outstanding and the rooms truly wonderful. My only advice to my readers is to confirm the room that you will be given, in advance if at all possible: rooms on the ground floor look on to the car park which isn’t the most attractive view, and can be disruptive when sleeping. I was in Room 104 and wouldn’t recommend it, and I probably wouldn’t recommend Rooms 105 and 106 either for the exact same reason. It’s a catch-22 because without parking, this would be a problem but with rooms that look on to the car park are just not attractive. Of additional, and important note: breakfast is not typically included and is rather expensive, especially for what you get. I would not, not, return because of this aspect alone but given that most hotels in Italy still provide breakfast as part of their rates, you should know in advance. The village below is a great place to get a coffee and a cornetto/brioche/croissant
If I only had one night in Langhe, and if I could simply travel to the Langhe region for one night, I would go to Trattoria La Coccinella (http://www.trattoriacoccinella.com/). I literally fell in love with this restaurant: the décor so charming and real, the waiters outstanding and in no way intrusive, and the food absolutely divine! Of course, I was here during white truffle season (tartuffo bianco) but even so, I know that the food here year-round will make everyone content. (And, for what it’s worth, I was only the second of 2 tables where I heard English.) I have returned to this restaurant every year, for Thanksgiving, this being the 7th year as of this writing and it has not changed, and it remains special to this solo traveler.
De Felicin (http://www.felicin.it/en/) is, without a doubt, my second favourite restaurant in the Piemonte region and I would insist that you spend two nights in this part of Italy, just to enjoy. The owner and chef, Nino, is amazing and so incredibly knowledgeable for all diners. On my visit, he suggested that he make various antipasti and, if we were still hungry, to order a pasta dish. We weren’t still hungry! The antipasti were each unique, tasty, and not too big which can be a welcomed respite from the sometimes heavy pasta that you can find in the Piemonte region. And not to be missed is the wine cellar: what a site for both the wine aficionado and the newbie! Put this one on your list!
If you have a third night, you really can’t skip Bovio Ristorante (https://www.ristorantebovio.it) which has a bit of history behind it. The short story is that it’s sister restaurant, now closed, was even higher up the hill in La Morra but the views are just as stunning and the wine cellar is rumoured to have over 1 million euro worth of wine. As for the food, it was delicious and the staff really very helpful and the views incredible! So why is this not at the top of my list? Simply because, the food and the interior were just a bit too stuffy, and a bit too showy, and anything where I find the people to be to try too hard, I find it unsettling and not the most enjoyable experience.
A recent discovery thanks to the Slow Food movement so prominent in Italy was the Cantina del Cacciatori. Absolutely lovely!
Osteria Veglio (https://www.osteriaveglio.it/en/) remains a keeper if you ask me. I am embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten about this restaurant but when I walked in, I was instantly brought back to years earlier when I dined here and how wonderful it was. The food is outstanding and the staff, multi-lingual to be noted, are outstanding. And the food divine and the wine list extensive.
And because I can’t eat at the same places every night – although I am always tempted at Trattoria La Coccinella! – I wanted to find a new place to recommend and I can happily suggest Osteria Tre Case (https://osteriatrecase.it/it/). My goodness, the food was outstanding! And the staff, attentive but not intrusive, were also respectful of time and not rushing your meal. I love the Serralunga d’Alba area, especially because it has some of my favourite wineries, but to have discovered this gorgeous restaurant a short hike up in to the “centre” is a jewel to be experienced.
One comes to the Piemonte region to see the wines, to taste the wines, and to hear about the wines. The latter, you say, is an odd thing to hear but I tell you, the stories that the vintners will tell you are mesmerizing and charming and will make the drive on these lovely curvy roads worth the endeavor.
I love cooking and whenever I can, I take the opportunity to take a cooking class. Run by the lovely Fernanda Giomello, of Effe Food and Events in Alba (http://www.effefood.it/), this all female endeavor is a real joy! I must admit that I was initially expecting a step by step cooking class and when that was evident from the start that that’s not what was happening, I was a little confused. But put your expectations aside, learn the history of cooking in the Langhe, and get your hands dirty and make some food. And if there could be anything even better… the foods that you made are then served in a multi-course dinner, with wine, and the opportunity to ask further questions and obtain additional feedback. It was such a joy that I want to do this again with friends!
With no disrespect to the large wineries that you will find in this valley of two wines, I would avoid them and seek out the smaller producers. Personally, I can recommend the following but if you know of others, or just want to rely on your hotel, check them out:
Cavallotto Tenuta (Barolo)
GD Vajra (Barolo)
La Spinetta (Barbaresco) – my favourite
Cantina Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace (Barbaresco)
Azienda Agricola Sottimano (Barbaresco)
and new to the list – only because I can only visit so many wineries and taste so much wine:
Contratto (sparkling wine in a STUNNING winery, not to be missed!)
But a word of advice: a GPS system for your car is imperative. Yes, it will nearly double the price of your rental car but some of these wineries are difficult to find and one of the wineries was surprised that I found them, on time, and when I told them about the GPS, they said that it must have been a great system as most people get lost.
And to note: most of the wineries have begun charging for their tasting. The fact that they didn’t charge for so many years is one of the things that I found charming. But I understand, and given the tourism trade, it makes perfect sense so be prepared to pay between 10 and 25 euro for your tastings.
So, the next time you come to Milano, go past Torino and head to Piemonte and unwind and check out from the daily craziness of internet and texts and get back to life and to the living of life.