Truffles and Turin
In October 2017 we’re escorting a select group of gourmet explorers on a tour of Italy’s sophisticated and picturesque Piedmont region. Famed Barolo and Barbaresco wines, the chocolate and hazelnut concoction gianduja and the star of the culinary world: the rare white truffle, vermouth, cinematography: all were born in the Piedmont. Yet the region still flies under the radar, overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Tuscany. Elegant Turin, pristine mountains, authentic food and a fascinating insight into a period of Italian history ruled by the latter day equivalent of oligarchs and magnates – our Piedmont tour offers it all. It is a fantastic introduction to an area that is less visited, and definitely off the well-trodden path of the ‘Grand Tour’ that most people follow when they first visit Italy. The tour will also appeal to those who are interested in exploring a sophisticated wine and food culture that goes well beyond the ‘red sauces’ that most people identify with Italian cuisine.
We start the tour in Turin (Torino), one of the most sophisticated and vibrant cities of Italy. Who knew there was anything there but the Shroud and Fiat? So much more! Settled by Rome, it is laid out in a typical Roman grid, so no navigational challenges. Beginning in the 11th century and until they led the unification of Italy in 1861, Turin was part of the Savoy dynasty, which originated in France and modern day Switzerland. The French aesthetic has a significant influence here. The sense of order and symmetry they share with the Romans has given Turin a particular elegance and formality, and it is further embellished by lavish Italian Baroque ornamentation. Most of the Savoy palaces and government buildings are still there to see. Industrial giants, notably the Agnelli family of Fiat fame, have made modern contributions as well.
The Slow Food Movement also began in Piedmont and its philosophy has now spread to many other parts of the world. We’ll explore the Langhe, an area with its own agricultural traditions that date back centuries and home to many renowned wines. We’ll be trying many regional dishes and will even go in search of the elusive white truffle. Our wines at meals have been hand-picked by a Piedmontese sommelier, which is nice to know when touring one of Italy’s most storied wine regions. The wines of Piedmont are as diverse as the region itself. Cool air from the Alps combines with the warm, sun-drenched Mediterranean climate, to produce a varietal playground for wine lovers. Manicured landscape gives way to rolling, vine-clad hills, heavy with the grapes that make this region so unique. Piedmont is home to more prestigious DOCG wines – the best Italian wines – than any other region in Italy. Our visit should fall during the thick of the harvest season.
We’ll stay in just two hotels over the 8 days to ensure we minimize the time spent packing and moving. Our bases for the tour are Turin (4 nights) and the Langhe (3 nights). Piedmont—recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site—is a feast of Italian culture and cuisine; come experience its bounty with us.
Day 1 – TURIN (TORINO!)
The tour begins in Turin, where you can check into the hotel (independent arrival by plane or train and taxi) during the day to rest up for the excitement ahead or get a head start on sightseeing. In the early evening, we meet on the hotel terrace for an aperitivo overlooking the Roman Porte Palatine and the Medieval Duomo where the Holy Shroud is housed. We’ll then head out for dinner at a restaurant beloved by locals, whose tradition goes back nearly 500 years. Local sommelier Alessandro enhances our appreciation of the vino this evening. Welcome drink, D
Lodging for the next 4 nights: Hotel Santo Stefano, in the heart of Turin’s fashionable Quadrilatero Romano district. Chic, minimalist design meets rustic elegance in this comfortable and stylish hotel.
Day 2 – Turin’s Movie Museum; lunch at Fior Food; Head to the Hills
Cinematography was born in Turin and they have the museum to prove it! Buckle up; you will be wowed this morning when we head to the Museo del Cinema housed in the Mole Antonelliana building. This bizarre yet magnificent edifice was meant to be a synagogue when initially constructed in 1863. The Cinema Museum boasts brilliant interactive exhibitions including films, original scripts, props, costumes, movie cameras, etc making it one of the most important in the world. Our bright and amusing local guide will navigate us through the highlights of this experience. Afterward, we’ll head over to the Galleria San Federico where a myriad of dazzling local products will be served for lunch at Fior Food. We’ll hop in a van this afternoon and “head to the hills” — the so called “collina”, along the Po River, where we can take wonderful pictures of the Alps surrounding Turin. A stop at the quaint Borgo Medievale (Medieval Town) in Valentino Park is a must see: built in 1884, with everything you would expect to find in a 15th century Piedmontese village.
Back to town in late afternoon and free night to explore one of the many fabulous restaurants. Turin is famous for its many restaurants, cafes and bars. B, L
Day 3 – The Heart and Soul of Turin
We will spend the morning visiting Turin’s historical center with a local guide. We start right in our hotel, in the oldest area of Turin where there are still traces of medieval and even Roman times. We continue on to Piazza Castello, the heart of the city, admiring its many palaces and churches before venturing into elegant Palazzo Madama. The principal architect for the Savoy court (who essentially owned Turin for centuries) was Filippo Juvarra, a Sicilian whose talent blossomed here and who later moved to Spain. We will see many of his works during our stay here. On to the Royal Palace (a UNESCO site), the astonishing Church of San Lorenzo (a masterpiece of Italian Baroque) and the main central squares – all together unveiling the life and genius of the city that hosted Italy’s royal family and also became the first capital of Italy.
Food lovers will enjoy the fact that the Torinese were the first to develop a means of solidifying chocolate, which they combined with drinking coffee: a match made in heaven. We’ll visit historical cafes and an artisan chocolatier with the opportunity to taste some of their specialties, awarded the Gold Medal in 2015!
Free time for lunch and shopping in the city center this afternoon. Early evening finds us learning about one of the secret treasures of Piedmont – Vermouth. This exclusive experience will introduce us to the world of mixology; we’ll be assisted in selecting our personal flavor profiles to mix our own bottle of Vermouth. End an amazing day in one of the leading restaurants where we’ll enjoy a gourmet dinner: Restaurant Circolo dei Lettori. Sommelier Alessandro will again be our wine guide! B,D
Day 4: Racetrack on a Rooftop; Unforgettable City Views
After breakfast our van will whisk us to a crazy idea, a test racetrack on the rooftop of a former Fiat factory! Inspired by Ford’s assembly line plant in Detroit when originally built in 1920, “Lingotto” has been converted by architect Renzo Piano into a multifunctional building. Among other things, you’ll find the Museo dell’Automobile (same architect as the Cinema Museum) and the small private art collection of the Agnelli family. Continue on to the Basilica di Superga, a city symbol, to enjoy a stunning view of Turin. They say that this panorama convinced Le Corbusier that “Turin is the city with the most beautiful natural setting.” The magnificent baroque church is another Juvarra masterpiece.
The afternoon is free for shopping and final sightseeing. Susan and Claudia will be heading over to the impressive Egyptian Museum before dinner and you’re welcome to join us. Second only to the museum in Cairo for its wealth of Egyptian artifacts, the museum is fun to visit in the evening, when the shadows and mummies seem to come to life. Free night for dinner in the city center. B
Day 5: To the Langhe! Vino! Vino!
On the outskirts of the city, the Savoy family had a number of hunting palaces, one of the biggest and most extraordinary of which is La Venaria. It expresses beautiful extravagance with its endless rooms and vast gardens and will keep you absorbed for the morning. At midday we’ll lunch at Il Convito della Venaria, just next door to the palace. After lunch we make our way towards the Langhe, the hilly area that is synonymous with superb wine and food. The Langhe is a particular haven for wine lovers and produces varieties including Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Asti, Arneis and Cortese. We’ll sample many of these wines during our time here, starting today with a visit to one of the region’s oldest producers of the king of wines, Barolo.
Late afternoon finds us in the small town of Alba. Many of the towers that once crowded its medieval skyline have long since gone, but the layout (and some of the Roman ruins) remain. It is easy to wander and appreciate this city: famous for its wine, hazelnuts and white truffles. In fact, Alba is the center of action for the famous truffle festival, which is just getting started as we arrive. Our home here: a completely refurbished historic home in the center of town.
Dinner on your own tonight at one of the excellent choices in this lively wine town, including an excellent Slow Food outpost. B,L, wine tasting
Lodging for the next 3 nights: Palazzo Finati, a tastefully restored early 19th century city dwelling with only 9 rooms. We love all the local products featured in the breakfast, served under a suggestive vault.
Day 6: Truffling in the Hills; Barbaresco and Grappa
In the forested hills of the Alta Langa, search for white and black truffles with an expert forager and his canine companion, who will teach us how to hunt for these indulgent delicacies. Enjoy a truffle based snack lunch, with local salami, cheese and more. We will then move to Neive, one of the “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (Most Beautiful Villages of Italy), where we will have the chance to visit two really amazing places. First, the Cantina del Glicine (the winery dates back to 1582 and produces a fantastic Barbaresco); followed by the Distilleria Romano Levi, which raises grappa production almost to the level of alchemy — in a way found only here. Return to Alba, where we’ll dine together in a wonderfully unconventional restaurant. B, snack, wine tasting, D
Day 7: Truffles 101; WI-MU; Michelin starred Last Supper
After breakfast we will hone our expertise at “Truffles 101”, a tasting experience led by one of the judges of the International Truffle Fair. Afternoon finds us at Wi-Mu, a wine museum that’s like nothing you can imagine. Descend five floors of the Castello di Barolo, on a sensory journey that spans wine-making from its beginnings through present-day debates about “old” versus “new” -world methods. Return to Alba, with free time for packing. Farewell dinner tonight in the Michelin-starred restaurant Locanda del Pilone. B,D
Day 8: Departure
Transfer after breakfast to Milan’s Malpensa airport, train station, or hotel. Flights home must be booked NO EARLIER THAN 12 NOON. Those who remain in Milan can enjoy a half-day private highlights tour, complements of Adagio Travel. B