My Travels in Italy

Piedmont

Piedmont, in Italian, means at the foot of the mountain. This is one of the regions of Italy that is totally inland with no coastline, although it comes very close to the town of Genoa. In this region is the Langhe, one of the best wine areas of Italy. We have enjoyed a number of stays in the town of La Morra. Travel + Leisure magazine (September 2006) listed Piedmont as one of the 35 trips that will change your life! 

This is the Region that produces the larget number of the best known wines that include Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetoo, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Malvasis and Asti Spunante. The `grape`of this region is the Nebbiolo which is the grape that produces the famous Barolo wine. To be a Barolo wine, it must be from a vineyard within a set area of the Langhe.

So we really enjoy this region not only for its wine, the Langhe is one of our favorite areas in Italy, but also for Vermouth. If I am not enjoying a glass of wine, it may be because I am having a Vernouth. This is a liguor that was created by Benedetto Carpano in his wine shop in Turin.

A territory of the Savoy Family in the 16th to 18th Century. but more important, bread sticks were said to be invented here in 1679 by baker Antonia Brunero. But even more dear to my heart is Vernouth, made from 13 ingredients was first made in Turin in 1786.

Alba

Alba is considered the capital of Le Langhe. It is an austere medieval city. There are sections with narrow winding alleys and brick towers. At one time the skyline of Alba included more than 40 towers. Now, only 13 remain.

We have visited Alba when we have stayed in La Morra. It is a easy drive and after the "smallness" of La Morra, Alba certain feels bigger.

Walk along via Maestra which links the Piazza Savona, the symbol of the 1800's, to the old core of Alba, the Piazza Risorgimento with the 15th century cathedral.

Three of the towers are in the centre of the town, Piazza Risorgimento.

The economy of Alba is driven by wine-growers and truffle hunters! This is the town of Alba, a number of towns in the lower Langhe area all have the 'Alba' as part of their names. For example, Monforte d'Alba, Canale d'Alba, Serralunga d'Alba and Diano d'Alba. Diano d'Alba was always a rival to Alba for control of the River Tanaro.

The Duomo, its brick towers seen to the left, dates from the 14th Century, and was dedicated to Saint Lorenzo. The facade has been restored many times, the last being in 1800. The choir stalls should be seen as they were inlaid back in 1500 by artist Cidonio.

This is white truffle country. By the pound, this is the second most expensive food in the world. During the peak of the white truffle season, which typically runs from late October to early December, the tubers can fetch U.S. $1,200 to $2,300 a pound ($2,600 to $5,000 a kilogram - 2006 prices).

Don't forget to stick your head in the churches that appear little more than doorways. You will be impressed at some of the ceilings.

 

La Morra

This old town in the Langhe valley dates back to 1296 when it was established as a separate commune with its own castle. It was passed around. In 1340 the town transferred to the dominion of the powerful Falletti family. In 1435 the town was handed over to the Duke of Milan and in 1631 passed to the control of the Savoy Kings.

What's there today? Well for us there was the charming Corte Gondina Hotel, which we used as our base to travel the Le Langhe - a region that is rich with contrasts. The mosaic pattern of vineyards, the charming towns, many of them owned by the Falletti Family at one time, the hills and valleys all make up a scenery we could not get enough of.

There are some wine stores, a couple of restaurants, two bars ... and little going on, yet pleasant. I enjoyed my morning walks from the Corte Gondina, stopping at a bar for some coffee, and then walking up to the Piazza Castello where the torre campanaria (1710) which was built from the remains of the castle destroyed in 1544 stands

Just down from the piazza is the Municipal Wine Cellar housed in the eighteenth-century rooms of the “Palazzo dei Marchesi di Barolo”. Halfway down Via Umberto stands the Church of the “Confraternita di San Sebastiano” (1700) with its airy terracotta bell tower (1766).

There are plenty of great restaurants in the area, many just 2-4 km drive from La Morra, but when you just have had enough, and want a lighter meal, we found the Ristorante Il Laghetto, Strada Laghetto, 7 -- just down the hill from the Corte Gondina Hotel, and located by a small pond. They serve very good pizza.

Stresa

In the 1800 and 1900's this was one of the places to be. The grand buildings are from that era. We have stayed here a couple of times.

The main via that runs along the lake has grand hotels, and although we were not in one of the truly grand hotels, once we stayedin one of the hotels facing the roadway -- be warned, that is one busy roadway with traffic that seems to run all night.

But despite the noise of the road, the views from Stresa are great. The three islands dot the lake and behind all are the Alps. The area had been the property of the Borromei and Visconti families up the the 19th Century. The three small islands are: Isola Bella (“Beautiful Island”), Isola Madre (“Mother Island”) and Isola Superiore, or Isola dei Pescatori (“Isle of the Fishermen”). In the 16th and 17th C the Borromeo family the Isola Bella and Madre into vast garden-and-palace complexes. If you are here only a short time, then the one to see is the Isola Bella to view the formal gardens. Frequent boats make the short trip. The Borroemo Palace is on the Isola Bella.

Borromean Islands

The Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee) are located in Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore). There are four islands – Bella, Madre, Pescatori (Superiore) and San Giovanni.

Catch one of the boats off the docks in Stresa and you are on the Island in a few minutes.

The Isola Bella, named after the wife of Charles III, is the largest of the islands and is almost entirely take up with the Borromeo Palace.

The palace is open from 9 to 12 and 1:30 to 5:00 and you will be able to see the interior as well as walk through the grounds. In 2000 we spent some time in the Lake District. The palazzo was built in the 17th century for the Borromeo family. There are impressive works of art inside.

On the island of Madre are palm trees and the Palazzo Madre, which dates from the 16th to 18th Centuries. The gardens here are even more lavish than those on the Island of Bella and you will be impressed with white peacocks.

These two islands are typically covered by the same ticket, and they are the most visited.

Torino

After many years of "just not getting there" we made the plans to spend a few days in Torino. Good decision, as we found the city to be a visual treat. As the Savoy's consolidated their family (everyone needed a palace) more building took place in Turin and the surrounding Piemonte area.

Lake Orta

On our 2000 trip to Italy we flew from Vancouver to Milan, picked up our car and headed to Lake Orta to stay in the very pleasant old village of Orta San Giulio. Flying into Milan and need a day to recoup from the jet lag? This is a great place to relax.

Orta San Giulio is the main tourist centre and also the location of the health resort on the small Lake Orta. There is a section of the old town that illustrates the previous wealth of its history. Baroque style elegant buildings make this a charmingt place to stay. The Palazzo della Communità dates fro 1582 and is found on the central piazza overlooking the lake.

On our 2000 trip, our hotel was clean, and right on the lake, but, we were unhappy with our treatment. It was our error - arriving quite late in the evening due to a delayed trip, and not really asking the right questions as we checked in, but somehow we never realized we had paid for half-board and did not know it. The hotel owner would wave to us each evening as we left for dinner, and you would think that after three days or never taking a meal in the hotel someone would say something! We even asked her for directions to a restaurants many evenings!

The old town is build around the small, Lake Orta. Cars are left in a car park at the end of town and you walk the narrow lanes to arrive at the village centre. The lack of cars and the continual parking crisis of most Italian towns makes Orta San Guillo's situation is a pleasure.

The main Piazza Motta is a great large meeting place. There are plenty of great little hotels in the town and some very good restaurants. I don't think you can get it more relaxing thatn sitting in the piazza in the evening having a drink, listening to music of the italian language and just soaking in the sights.

Langhe

The landscape of the Langhe is rich in contrasting colours and textures. La Morra is a medieval town which still has residents living within the remnants of the ancient walls. The Church of San Martino, built in 1683-1685 is a centre of activity in the old town. It was designed by the Savoy Architects.

The Langhe is known for its wine, and the area around Barolo is the limited region where the famous Barolo wine is produced. Barolo was one of the first wines to receive DOC status in 1980. It undergoes at least three years of aging of which two must take place in oak or chestnut wood casks. Barolo wines that age for at least five years can use the additional designation of "RISERVA".

Originally the red wine of this area was a sweet red wine similar to that produced in Marsala. In 1837 ten carriages of Barolo wine were sent to Kind Carlo Alberta in Savoy. The wine was accepted by the Royal Court and became the "Wine of Kings".

Monforte d'Alba is also known for Barolo wine. Dogliani is perhaps the largest of the towns in the Monregalese Langhe area and it has an interesting medieval section. Serralunga d'Alba has a restored 13th century castle and is perhaps one of the best examples of the hill-top castle in the area. You have to plan your time accordingly as it is open from 9-12 and 2:30-7 in the summer. Some of the other castles in the area you will have to settle with just looking at them as they have limited hours that they are open to tour.

We can recommend eating at Ristorante Il Laghetto located at Strada Laghetto, 7 for a really good piazza. It is just down the hill from the Corte Gondina Hotel in La Marra. For a really good meal try the L'Osteria del Vignaiolo, Santa Maria, 12. It is about 3 km outside of La Mara in Santa Maria.

We had driven through the scenic Langhe Valley a number of years ago and always wanted to return. We established the old hill-top town of La Morra as as our base.

Santuario di Vicoforte

The Vicoforte Sanctuary is one of Piedmont's most important churches. The palizzata with its palaces and arcades were built at the beginning of the 17th Century.

In medieval times there was a modest shrine with a fresco of Madonna and child. At the end of the 15th century a hunter erred and hit the image of the Madonna. To amend, he started rebuilding the the chapel and the fresco. This attracted attention, including the attention of Duke Carlo Emanuel I of Savory. Carlo commissioned Ascanio Vitozzi to construct a larger shrine. Work began in 1596 and then it stopped due to the death of both the architect and Duke Carlo. But, in the 1700's worked started up again. Frecesco Gallo created the massive elliptical dome - some 74 meters high and a diameter of 25 and 36 meters. It is the largest elliptical dome in Europe. The dome, the bell towers and the facade were completed in 1884. The site also holds the tomb of Carlo Emanuel I.

The interior is spectacular for both its size and decorations - it is covered with 18th and 19th-century frescos and stuccoes. The "Pillared Temple" by Francesco Gallo is found in the centre. The silver shrine placed in the centre of the temple protects the famous fresco from the second half of the 15th century.