dates: October 4–9
• Two distinctive regions of Piedmont rolled into one tour: the Langhe hills, home to Barolo & Barbaresco, and the white-wine region of Gavi
• Private, sit-down tastings at the Marchesi di Barolo, Silvio Grasso, Giacomo Bologna, Villa Sparina & more
• Kick off truffle season with an exuberate medieval festival and crazy-funny Palio degli Asini (donkey race) in Alba
• Feast on artisan cheese and salumi during a buffet lunch at a cheese farm in the Alte Langhe
• Hunt for truffles in a hazelnut grove with a truffle hunter and his dog
• Enjoy a hands-on cooking lesson at the company owners’ medieval townhouse near Gavi, and catch a peek at village life
DAY 1 – A DAY AT THE RACES
Alba is the white-truffle capital of Piedmont, and every October truffle season kicks off with a medieval festival and artisan food fair. After a pick-up at the Tortona train station, we'll shuttle to our hotel in Alba (1 hour).
A welcome lunch introduces Piedmont cuisine, then it's on to the medieval festivities! These include a colorful parade of a thousand costumed locals, followed by the day's centerpiece: the donkey race or palio, a comedy of errors which dates back to Alba's defeat by Asti in 1275. Afterwards, there's time to roam the food & food fair and taste samples of mountain cheese, salumi, wine, chestnut honey, and nougat candy.
Tonight we dine at the Marchesi di Barolo winery and delve into the French-influenced cuisine of Piedmont, such as ravioli del plin, braised veal, and pannacotta.
L, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 2 – BAROLO AND TRUFFLES
Don your walking shoes! This morning we stroll through hazelnut groves with Carlo and Lara, a truffle hunter and his dog, to see how canines are trained to sniff out the precious tubers, which grow beside certain tree roots. Then we'll hop over to the museum in the Castle of Grinzane Cavour. This castle was home to the first Prime Minister of Italy, a Thomas Jefferson-like politician who was also a winemaker—and a key player in Barolo's creation.
After lunch, we'll explore the eastern communes of the Barolo DOCG, where the magnesium-rich soil creates more structured Barolos, rich with tannins. We'll begin at Massolino in Serralunga, then continue south to Monforte for a tasting at either Elio Grasso or Fantino Conterno. All are family-run wineries with top ratings and loyal followings.
Dinner features more piemontese fare, such as vitello tonnato (veal with delicate tuna sauce), agnolotti (a variation of ravioli), and bounet (chocolate-amaretti pudding).
B, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 3 – MOUNTAIN CHEESE
One of our favorite Barolo wineries is Silvio Grasso, where the founder's wife, Marilena, always provides a warm, effusive welcome—and a generous tasting, pouring comparisons between their Barolo cru and various vintages.
For lunch, we drive to higher elevations in the Alte Langhe. Too high for grape-growing, this is cheese country. Our buffet lunch is at a Murrazzano cheese farm, where we'll have a tour, then feast on freshly made mountain cheese, salumi, fruit, and light-as-air hazelnut cake. On our way back to Alba, we'll stop at another top Barolo winery, Da Milano, whose wines have consistently offered an exceptional price/value buy.
Then it's back to Alba, with free time to explore the shops brimming with truffle oil, chocolate-hazelnut spreads, and aged vintages of wine, or visit the baroque churches. Dinner is on your own in one of Alba's many fine restaurants.
B, L • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 4 – BARBARESCO & BARBERA D'ASTI
Today as we transfer to Gavi, we'll focus on the other B's of Piedmont: Barbaresco and Barbera. More perfumed, elegant, and supple than Barolo, Barbaresco is considered the "queen" to Barolo's "king." In the eponymous village on the Tanaro, we'll visit one of the largest, most historic Barbaresco producers, Marchesi di Gresy, which makes several cru as well as a rare (and quite good) Piedmont sauvignon blanc. If we're lucky (and we usually are), the cellar master will pop in for a hello and a chat.
After lunch, we'll head to Barbera territory near Asti. Our afternoon tasting spotlights Braida, the estate of Giacomo Bologna, the man who revolutionized Barbera. This is a true Cinderella story, with a humble grape and rustic wine transformed into a polished, powerful red that competes on the international stage.
Next, we continue to southeast Piedmont, land of Gavi wine (1 hour drive). Our bucolic 4-star hotel is on the property of Villa Sparina, a leading Gavi di Gavi winery. Dinner is in one of the tiny hilltop villages.
B, D • L'Ostelliere of Villa Sparina
DAY 5 – GAVI DI GAVI
This morning we have a cooking lesson—and get to peer inside life in a small Piedmont village. We head to the frazione of Varinella (pop. 200), home of La Dolce Vita’s owners. After a tour of Claudio Bisio’s old stomping grounds and his renovation-in-progress of our medieval townhouse, we’ll have a fun, hands-on cooking lesson. On the menu: bagna cauda (vegetables with a creamy garlic/anchovy dip), risotto al Gavi, and tiramisu. We’ll also raid the cellar for a sampler of aged Piedmont wines.
After lunch, we visit the town of Gavi for coffee. Here shop windows proudly display Gavi di Gavi wine, fresh ravioli, and soft, puffy almond cookies—a local specialty. But you won’t find a single postcard or touristic t-shirt here. Being off the beaten track, Gavi is an unadulterated, locals-only Piedmont spot. We’ll also visit the Fortress of Gavi, a massive 11th C. fort perched high above the town, which once guarded the salt roads leading from Genoa to Milan.
Afterwards, we’ll have a tour and tasting at one of the leaders in Gavi wine: either Villa Sparina or La Giustiniana, both of which have a storied history dating back to the 1700s. Our farewell dinner is at Villa Sparina’s elegant restaurant, La Gallina.
B, L, D • L'Ostelliere of Villa Sparina
DAY 6 – BUON VIAGGIO!
A shuttle to the Arquata Scrivia train station (between Milan & Genoa) and assistance with your travel plans. B
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