If you like chocolate, truffles and drinking some of the world’s best red wine while gazing out over the alps, Piedmont is the place for you.
All it took was a wine harvest, the charm of the elegant capital city Turin, and a handsome Italiano to make me fall for the region. Bordering both France and Switzerland, Piedmont is famed for its wines, elegance and mountains. Home to the Royal family of Savoy for centuries, a trip here can take you from grand palaces to the mountainous Alps, with a stop for a glass of Barolo on the way.
Discover 8 experiences you can’t miss in Piedmont!
1. Spend a day in Turin
The first capital of Italy and the former home of Italian royalty, Turin is a city that exudes elegance and sophistication. A trip to the region is not complete without setting foot under the beautiful covered walkways in the city centre or a stroll past the Royal Palace. The trendy Quadrilatero Romano is one of the oldest parts of town and filled with cozy cafés and bustling trattorias. Climb up the hill to the Monte dei Cappuccini at sunset for one of the most romantic views of the Alps in town before strolling back along the river Po.
Refuel at Al Bicerin for the best hot chocolate-coffee-cream drink in town, the famous Bicerin. If you visit Torino during Easter, you must also stop by the Pasticceria Ghigo for a taste of the pasticceria’s famous “nuvola di Ghigo” pandoro cake covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar. And taking over the octagonal Piazza della Repubblica, the Porta Palazzo market is the largest outdoor market in Europe where you can shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There are fantastic galleries to discover in the city, including the second largest collection of Egyptian antiques housed in the Museo Egizio – incidentally, this is one of the most visited museums in all of Italy. Torino is a commercial hub so you can also retrace Italy’s industrial heritage through a visit to the National Automobile Museum, the Lavazza Museum and Fiat Museum. Car lovers shouldn’t miss checking out the Fiat Lingotto Factory which features a rooftop test track designed by architect Renzo Piano.
2. Go truffle hunting for tartufi bianchi
Piedmont is world famous for its white truffle and the region hosts an annual truffle fair in Alba to celebrate this delicacy. While you can order and shop for truffles throughout the regions, you shouldn’t miss the chance to join a real truffle hunt out in the countryside where you can forage for this delicacy. Part of the reason white truffles are so exclusive and expensive is they’re in season for a short time, from October – December, and like other truffles, they can’t be cultivated (only found in the wild).
Throw on a pair of boots and join La Tartufaia in La Morra for an unforgettable experience in the woods and a delicious lunch. Your hunter and his clever dogs will take you to a secret location where truffles tend to grow and it’s incredible to watch the dogs catch the scent of truffles and start to dig up the earth to find them. After the hunt, you’ll take a tour of the estate’s vineyard before enjoying a wine tasting a wine and truffle tasting. You can also opt for a picnic or yoga on the beautiful property.
3. Explore the Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi
Piedmont is home to numerous Residences of the Royal House of Savoy which include 22 palaces and villas that are inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The luxurious Reggia di Venaria may be the most famous residence in the region but I recommend visiting the Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi instead. This 18th century hunting lodge was designed by the same architect, Filippo Juvarra, for Victor Amadeus II the King of Sardinia.
Built in the Baroque style, the Palazzina features intricate stucco detailing and embellishments across 137 rooms and 17 opulent halls and sits on a large, verdant estate just a short drive from Torino. It’s a lavish property and Napoleon spent a brief time here in 1805 before continuing to Milan where he was crowned emperor. The Palazzina also houses an important furniture collection of priceless cabinets, fabrics and chinoiseries decor.
4. Visit vineyards in Le Langhe
Rolling green hills, fields upon fields of vineyards and charming villages await you in the heart of Piedmont’s wine region. One of those villages is the famous (tiny!) Barolo where the iconic red wine is produced. Founded in the 1930s, the Ceretto winery is a dynamic place that fuses tradition with contemporary culture.
Ceretto doesn’t only produce excellent Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo wines, the winery is a patron of the arts and has commissioned site-specific works like the colorful Barolo Chapel by Sol Lewitt and David Tremlett which adds a pop of color to the vineyard. Overlooking the vines, a suspended bubble named “Acino” (The Grape) resembles a spaceship which offers 360 degree views of the countryside. Together with chef Enrico Crippa, the family is also founding members of Piedmont’s only 3-star Michelin restaurant, Piazza Duomo.
For something more understated, go for a tasting at the family-run Monchiero in Castiglione-Falleto. They have a range of truly delicious wines at superb prices for the quality. In addition, they also make other classic Piemontese wines including a Nebbiolo d’Alba, Dolcetto and a Barbera. If you’re in Monforte D’Alba instead or have a penchant for bio wine, try Principiano Ferdinando. These clean wines include of course Barolo and the classic reds of Piedmont, as well as a delightfully refreshing spumante.
5. Taste local Piemontese cuisine
Piedmont has a very distinct cuisine and is famed for its huge selection of antipasti. Try vitello tonnato (veal with creamy tuna sauce), insalata russa (Russian Salad), lingua with salsa verde, tomini cheese, anchovies with green sauce and more. The typical pasta in the region is a rich egg pasta called tajarin, that is particularly delicious with local truffles, as well as the scrumptious agnolotti. The agnolotti are filled with roast beef and served with a buttery roast beef sauce. Rice is another popular ingredient, so watch out for a variety of risotto dishes!
Moving onto mains, you can’t miss the braised beef in Barolo (how decadent!), the garlicky dipping sauce Bagna Cauda or the utterly classic fritto misto- courses of lightly fried vegetables, meat and even fruit. Keep things traditional and taste these dishes at one of the oldest restaurants in Turin, Porto di Savona.
6. Wake up in the countryside
Set within the picturesque Bormida Valley near an hour’s drive from Alba, Villa La Madonna is a gorgeous boutique getaway for a romantic weekend in Piedmont. Owned by Swedish sisters Marie and Annica Eklund, the masterminds behind flooring design company Bolon, the property has an inimitable feminine touch and charming boho-chic design details that will delight aesthetes and hotel lovers.
The eighteen suites each have balconies or a terrace overlooking the estate’s vineyards and the natural light helps create a holistic experience which “awakens your creativity… and give you inspiration through the tangibles and the landscapes surrounding you.” In the summer months, enjoy long days lounging by the pool, which was carved in natural stone, and dine al fresco in the patio or amongst the vines.
7. Relax at Lago d’Orta
Move over Lake Como and welcome to the lesser known Lago D’Orta. Come for a peaceful day by the lake where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many cafés and restaurants in the town of Orta San Giulio – check out Ristorante Venus for views of the lake or order a tagliere of small bites at Al Boeuc before taking a short ferry trip over to the Isola San Giulio.
This tiny island in the middle of the lake is dominated by a beautiful Benedictine monastery. After visiting the church, don’t miss walking along a narrow street that that takes you through the island. Named the “way of silence and meditation” and blends spirituality with architecture and peaceful views of the lake. If you prefer to stay in the area overnight, the Hotel San Rocco is set within an elegant baroque building that overlooks the lake shore.
8. Hike, ski and picnic in the mountains
Just one hour north of Torino lie beautiful mountains and the Val di Susa, filled with charming villages and plenty of outdoor activities, which extends into France. For incredible views, hike up the Sacra di San Michele, an abbey and symbol of Piedmont that was built between 983 and 987 on top of Mount Pirchiriano. It’s a medium-difficulty hike but worth the effort when you reach the top of the mountain and admire the valley below. Inside, there are some members of the Royal House of Savoy buried.
If you enjoy skiing, don’t miss the “Via Lattea”. The second biggest winter sports area in Europe, it features more than 400km (250 miles) of skiable pistes where you’ll be able to ski from Italy to France. If you visit in summer, you’ll be able to enjoy nice hikes and picnics in the same valley. If you’d like something more challenging, try climbing up the Rocciamelone mountain which sits at 3,538 meters.