Today’s Italian lesson: Nebbiolo. Barbera. Dolcetto. These grapes of Piemonte produce a tantalizing variety of wines, smooth to bold, all worth sampling.
Geographically, Piemonte (foot of the hills) sits in Italy’s Northwest, sharing its Alpine borders with France and Switzerland. Driving into the Montferrato valley, the bucolic landscape melts into a sea of vineyards, one flowing into another. Visiting this region is incomplete without a stop in Langhe, host to bountiful wineries featuring the divine vines of Barolo.
First stop: La Morra, a cozy, charming village sporting cobbled streets and inviting cafes, overlooking espaliered vineyards below from the town square. Onto picturesque Marrone Vineyards, ensconced with verdant surroundings and full bloom gardens, an idyllic spot to drop anchor and celebrate life. Exactly what the bride, groom, and their entourage were doing adjacent to us.
Totally women owned and operated (common to this area), Marrone’s uniquely gorgeous location, superbly sustainably grown wines, insanely delicious Barolo and luscious food make their
wines worth a trip from anywhere. As for the tastings…one superb flavor followed another, accompanied by a regal feast including zucchini flan with Parmesan. Onward, we bobbled our way over to nearby Castello di Grinzane, home to former prime minister Camillo Benso of Cavour, in whose debt we remain for introducing Barolo to Piemonte and the world.
After a restful but humid night at a local inn where the A/C was no match for the 95F heat, more wine tours and tastings. Could not resist a second purchase at Tenuta Tenaglia vineyards.
Grapes grown here are unique to this terrain and produce an irresistibly delicious Nebbiolo. Following a tour, our hostess Francesca provided a delightful lunch of locally sourced meats, cheeses and olives. As temps escalated, an afternoon poolside respite was the perfect way to cap a week of vinicultural and culinary exploration.
Worth noting – each vineyard visit was made even more enjoyable with their abundant visual art displays.
Every winery, chateau, village square, and manor house is punctuated with extraordinary bronze and metal sculptures, murals, indoor and outside hanging art, with spent vines transformed into stunning works of creative wonder, reflecting local color, honoring esteemed founders and traditions.
Transferring to Milan for our final overnight before returning stateside, we dropped our bags and headed to the Duomo for our afternoon time slot. Color me inspired.
Taking six centuries to complete, the Duomo di Milano is a city centerpiece of variegated marble, flying buttresses, imposing spires, multi story stained glass walls, with an expansive piazza to welcome both visitors and passing admirers. I am drawn to houses of worship wherever I go. My French Canadian grandfather was a stone mason whose work is forever imbedded in New England churches. I am continually impressed with the skills required to achieve these timeless, spiritual monuments with renewed appreciation for my own life gifts bestowed. Interior chatter, passing patrons and shoe shuffling dissipate; stillness washes over me. Candles lit, I climb to the rooftop overlooking the vivid scenery far below. The Duomo’s city and long range views are incomparable from this perch among the spires. Go for the architecture, stay for the peace.
Noteworthy: as of Summer 2022, renovation ongoing. Advance tickets a must. Strictly enforced rules require women to cover head, shoulders and knees. Even with scaffolding, drop cloths and ladders, don’t miss this sacred spot. An exquisite visit.
Highly recommend: The Turin Palace, an hour from Milan by rail or car, this solid 4 star offers quiet, spacious rooms, classic decor, excellent cuisine in Les Petites Madelines. Bonus: upscale amenities (indoor pool, full service spa, steam room, adequate fitness center), with friendly staff and attentive service.
In Milan – the magnificent Excelsior Hotel Gallia Milan, situated directly across from Centrale Rail station. Everything imaginable in a 5 star hotel: Shiseido spa, 24/7 fitness center, rooftop indoor pool, golf simulator. Incredibly comfy, quiet sleep space with plush bedding. Major attraction: rooftop terrace (reservations required, it’s small). While this is a few Metro stops from the Duomo and fashionista shopping (more city central), the Gallia is surrounded by a few local shops and plethora of international bistros, easily walkable.
In reviewing my 300 plus trip photos and writing this remembrance, so much to savor about Piemonte. With a keener eye and enhanced appreciation for pecorino and provolone, I am still enjoying my liquid souvenirs. With every sip, bite and visual, I surrender to il dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing.
“It is my privilege to pay for this. I don’t want to die the richest man in the cemetery.” ~Alessandro, tour guide, friend, benevolent host