Piemonte, Italy, may not rank as high as Florence or Rome on the average traveler’s Italian wish list but, for gastronomes and oenophiles in the know, this fruitful northern region — often referred to as Piedmont in the U.S. — is nothing short of paradise.
Chocolate reigns supreme at Café Al Bicerin. // © 2010 Roberto Borgo/Turismo Torino e Provincia
Vineyards, grazing land and fruit and vegetable farms are abundant in the area’s rural hills and valleys, yielding top-notch produce, artisanal cheeses, sought-after meats and some of the world’s best wines. Exquisite chocolates and prized white truffles also hail from Piemonte. And, not surprisingly, it’s the birthplace and base of the Slow Food movement, created to help preserve sustainably produced local and regional foods through its promotional activities and publications.
Whether clients opt for a brief visit to the area as part of a more comprehensive Italian itinerary or prefer to savor the region on an extended excursion, Piemonte offers options to suit anyone looking for a fun, educational and delicious travel experience.
Free spirits might like to set out from their hotel in the regional capital of Torino or from one of the enchanting, smaller towns with a guidebook, exploring on foot or going from one town to the next via rental car or train. Turismo Torino e Provincia publishes a handy, free Torino walking guide that features maps and descriptions of art, culture, history and shopping itineraries, some of which include historic local cafes where travelers can sample fine chocolates, pastries, wines and more amid stunning architecture, sumptuous decor and smartly dressed locals.
Chocolate history runs deep here, and there’s no shortage of varieties and opportunities to taste the best at local cafes and patisseries. Clients can purchase inexpensive ChocoPasses (with coupons for 10 tastings over two days) from the tourism office in Torino or Venaria Reale, then taste their way around the city. Among the local specialties are gianduiotto (a harmonious combination of milk chocolate and regionally produced hazelnuts) and bicerin (consisting of decadent drinking chocolate, cream and coffee), best enjoyed at the charming Cafe Al Bicerin, which opened in 1763.
Wine connoisseurs will recognize the Langhe area of southern Piemonte as the land of famous wines made with the Nebbiolo grapes, including Barbaresco, the legendary Barolo and others. Italian tour operator Ospitalita Selezionata — part of the Tourist Consortium Langhe Monferrato Roer, which provides information on excursions, tours, culinary and wine and truffle-tasting courses — offers food and wine tours with English-speaking guides in this area. They include cellar and enoteca tastings, local cuisine, a visit to a local cheese producer and more. Country Walkers’ seven-day Piedmont tour includes trekking through vineyards, tastings at local wineries, truffle hunting, a cooking class, fine meals showcasing regional cuisine and wines and other activities (not to mention a chance to exercise after all that eating and imbibing). These are just a couple of the many Italian and American companies’ wine and food tour offerings throughout this bountiful region.
Agriturismi, which provide accommodations and meals showcasing traditional local foods and wine, are another option for clients who prefer their dinner served with a meaningful sense of place. Yet another strategy is to plan a visit around one of the many wine and food festivals held in Piemonte’s cities and towns throughout the year. (More information is available through the tourism offices.)
It would take much longer than a week to sample all of Piemonte’s specialty foods and wines; we haven’t even gotten to the Barbera DOC wines and the sweet, white Moscato d’ Asti yet. But, since many travelers don’t have that luxury, Torino’s sprawling eno-gastronomy emporium, Eataly, is the next best thing. This former vermouth factory now purveys an awe-inspiring array of high-quality artisanal products: cured meats, cheeses, produce, baked goods, olive oil, coffee, beer, wine — the list goes on and on. The well-stocked parmesan section alone is enough to make a cheese-lover bow down in praise.
Informal restaurants and intriguing educational spaces are interspersed throughout Eataly, and a scrumptious, modern take on traditional cuisine can be savored at Casa Vicina, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant downstairs. For lighter fare, woodfired pizza and other delicacies abound in the casual restaurants upstairs, and all are made with products sold here.
Throughout Piemonte, outstanding restaurants give travelers the chance to taste regional specialties such as agnolotti, a type of regional stuffed pasta, and bagna cauda, a dipping sauce made of garlic, anchovies and olive oil that is typically eaten with vegetables including cardoons, which are similar to celery and related to the artichoke. This veggie and a wide array of other comestibles from the region can be found at the open-air, bustling Porta Palazzo farmers’ market in Torino, which makes for a fun morning outing. Quite likely, at least a few of the fresh and flavorful products among the cornucopia here will end up on hungry — and happy — clients’ plates come dinnertime.
Italian Government Tourist Board
Piemonte On Wine