Spotlight on Sustainability: A Slow Food Travel Guide To Piedmont

Discover the best glamping and forest bathing and Slow Food restaurants in Piedmont.

Italy may be known internationally for its simple, yet delicious, dishes such as caprese salad, pasta al pesto and, of course, pizza margherita. But within the country, one region stands out in particular for its gastronomic flair and slow food philosophy. From Bari to Bolzano, Italians refer to it in hushed and reverent tones as the best cuisine in Italy. That region is Piedmont.

Nestled at the base of the Alps and on the border with France and Switzerland, Piedmont translates to “at the foot of the mountains”. It is characterized for its imposing peaks that rise to 4,000 meters above sea level and the rolling vineyards of the Langhe, a UNESCO-protected area. Home to the famously rare white Alba truffles and wildlife like Alpine ibex, deer and wild boars, Piedmont is a nature lover’s paradise – and one that boasts a sophisticated food scene.

©Villa La Madonna

Here, prestigious wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco accompany elaborate dishes like vitello tonnato (veal served with a tuna dressing), agnolotti al plìn (tiny, painstakingly-folded ravioli filled with either roast beef or cheese and herbs), and bagna caùda (a hot sauce made with garlic and anchovies for dipping vegetables).

Thanks to its culinary richness, Piedmont attracts a certain type of tourism – discerning, with a taste for the finer things in life. But Italy is a land of contrasts and the decadence of Piedmontese cuisine and viticulture is balanced by a growing movement of people committed to both quality and sustainability. This mentality is embodied in the global Slow Food Movement which was born in the Piedmontese town of Bra.

From sustainable 5-star hotels to sleeping under the stars, Piedmont has a lot to offer sustainably-minded travelers who wish to discover its natural and gastronomic wonders without compromising on comfort or experience.

Learn about the Slow Food Movement

The Università di Scienze Gastronomiche, dedicated to innovation and designing sustainable food systems, is the first multidisciplinary gastronomic school of its kind. It was founded by Carlo Petrini, the creator of the Slow Food movement, in 2004.

For Mr. Petrini, food is much more than a culinary experience but intimately linked to economics, the environment, history and culture. Since establishing the academic institution, more than 3,500 graduates (aptly called “gastronomes”) from over 95 countries have walked its halls and gone on to become entrepreneurs, farmers, policy advisors, product researchers, journalists, and of course, chefs.

The university is headquartered within a striking neo-Gothic palace in the historic town of Pollenzo, a short drive from Bra. Originally built by the Savoy King Carlo Alberto in the 1800s, it was designed as a summer lodge for the family and spans 25 hectares (60 acres). The complex also includes the Banca del Vino, a wine bank with one of the most important collections of Italian wines in the world, and the Albergo dell’Agenzia, a hotel that embraces the Slow Food philosophy.

If you’re hungry after your visit, you can dine in the hotel’s restaurant or head over to the Osteria Boccondivino in Bra for a taste of local cuisine. Try the wild rabbit stewed in wine and the vegetable flan with raschera fondue before enjoying bonet, a traditional pudding made with chocolate and amaretti biscuits.

Heal yourself in an enchanted forest

Il Bosco Incantato, or The Enchanted Wood, is a circuit of experiences based on the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) which is proven to have numerous physical and mental health benefits. The route through the forest includes 10 areas designed to stimulate the nervous system in different ways: you can enjoy a walk through a botanical garden, hydrotherapy, yoga and more. The property also has a treehouse where visitors can receive massage treatments.

The Bosco Incantato was conceived by Bruno Bossa to help preserve the forest while encouraging people to heal themselves by forging a closer connection with nature. It is tucked away below Monviso near the charming borgo of Ostana, one of the smallest villages in Italy. Those wishing to spend the night in the Enchanted Wood can book its only room, L’Albero Parlante (The Talking Tree), which sleeps 4 and has exclusive access to the hot tub overlooking the forest.

Hike in the Gran Paradiso National Park

Gran Paradiso National Park, bordering the Val d’Aosta, is the oldest and highest national park in Italy with a peak reaching 4,000 meters. Gran Paradiso’s breathtaking scenery and relatively easy trails make it popular with hikers of all ability levels, and some routes are even suitable for families. The park is dotted with chocolate-box villages, and visitors are likely to get a glimpse of ibex, chamois, and marmots among its many natural wonders.

You’ll find a number of accommodation options in the area, from simple mountain lodges to boutique hotels. We love the charming Hotel Sant’Orso Mountain, a 100-year old property with panoramic views of the park. Its cozy suites feature tartan wallpaper and the hotel has an excellent spa which even includes a Himalayan pink salt cave.

See More: 8 Experiences You Can’t Miss In Piedmont

Experience sustainable elegance at Casa di Langa

Overlooking the UNESCO-protected hills of Langhe-Roero-Monferrato, Casa di Langa is a boutique 5-star hotel with a commitment to sustainability. Designed to resemble a Piedmontese cascina, or farm, it boasts majestic views over 42 hectares of land and vineyards. Casa di Langa and its 39 rooms were built using sustainable local materials and are powered by geothermic and solar energy generated on-site. All of the rooms have private terraces and on a clear day, the peak of Monviso is visible in the distance.

The hotel was created by the Krause family, who own Parma Football Club and two wineries in the area. La Vietti and Enrico Serafino produce a delicious Alta Langa spumante sparkling wine which you can taste at Casa di Langa’s Fàula Ristorante. The property has a herb garden and plans are underway for a 2,500-square meter organic vegetable garden that will provide most of the kitchen’s produce.

Guests can unwind at the spa, where they can hit the gym before enjoying a sauna or massage. Casa di Langa also offers experiences such as truffle hunting and wine tasting.

Go glamping in Gaia’s Spheres

Tucked away in the remote, wooded hills of Alta Langa (the wild sister of the rolling UNESCO vineyards) Gaia’s Spheres is where you go to lose yourself from the world. The glamping spheres are set in 10 hectares of wood, with impressive views of Prunetto and its 13th-century castle perched high on a hilltop. The project is run by Marketa Tenglova, a Czech transplant who visited 200 properties before settling on the house in 2019. Gaia’s Spheres is named after her daughter Gaia, a name inspired by the Greek goddess of Earth.

There are three spheres to choose from: Iris, Nigella, and Orchidea, each with its own private bathroom. Iris and Nigella boast the best views, while Orchidea is hidden in the woods and has a private wood-heated hot tub. At the time of writing, there are plans to set up a solar-heated pool for Iris and Nigella. Breakfast is included in the stay and guests can spend the day relaxing in one of the many hammocks and hanging chairs on the property – or exploring the local area. The nearby town of Gorzegno serves excellent seasonal dishes at Agribrasserie Bin Parei, including pizza made with wholegrain and kamut flour.

See More: How Prefab Homes Are Making Tourism More Sustainable

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