Rosie Meleady discovers the hidden treasures of Autumn in the hills and valleys of Piedmont, home to some of Italy’s most prestigious wine producers including Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Alta Langa, Roero and Moscato to name a few.
I have a group of five good friends who are literally, scattered around Europe, each busy running their own successful, if not all-consuming businesses. Finally, after much planning, we pledged to meet up and explore a different region in Europe once a year. Having agreed to down-tools and spoil ourselves at our annual retreats we agreed that the weekend must include a luxury spa, wine tasting, fabulous food and a sumptuous setting (so it’s unsurprising that it usually is an Italy Trip).
There is a twist… each of us have to organise an activity that we absolutely can’t do at home. We jointly agree on the region and a hotel which will be our base for the weekend and we submit our ideas to a VIP tour company in secret. They then arrange the itinerary, without revealing the full details to any of us, so it becomes a magical mystery tour!
Our most recent magical mystery tour took us to Piedmont during the truffle festival and our gorgeous setting of choice was the 5 star luxury Italian hotel, Il Boscareto Resort and Spa.
The hotel kindly organised for a car to collect us from Milan and within a couple of scenic hours we were winding our way past hazelnut groves and up the drive to Il Boscareto, suitably perched in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of rust-tinted vines.
It was late Autumn and while the vines had lost some of their autumn glory the swathes of colour the hills offered was still oil painting worthy. However, we had no time to waste, there were vineyards to be visited and wines to be sampled!
First up was Prunotto at Monforte d’Alba, one of the oldest producers of Langhe. This vineyard is in the core of Barolo and we were treated to a guided tour and tasting of wines from its Barolo ageing cellar. A delicious and excellent start to our afternoon before we were driven to Alba.
Alba is a fascinating town as it is a town of two layers. The Italians had a habit of building towns on top of old towns which archaeologists are continuously unearthing. Alba is one of these towns, with the current town built on an ancient Roman town with evidence of Etruscan too (their layered building habits started early). It was fascinating to walk down into the underground city with many of the sites only accessible with an experienced guide.
Dyana had arranged a private tour of the subterrainean city as her chosen activity for the group, which was expectedly led by an archaeologist from the local university, which was a wonderful dose of history and culture before the over indulgences began at the Truffle Fair at Alba. I love truffles, so this was the first part of my weekend activity contribution. At the fair you can not only buy prize quality truffles and truffle products but a whole feast of Italian artisan gastro delights.
After a good deal of sampling the most exquisite varieties of truffles we headed back to our Italian hotel’s La Sovrana SPA where we enjoyed the jacuzzi, pool, sauna and Sharon’s pre-arranged activity; an Aufguss Ritual with full body scrub in the steam room! An experience that intoxicates all of your senses led by the wonderful Barbara Tarditi. It was difficult to drag ourselves away, but our reservation for dinner at the Michelin Starred La REI Restaurant was excellent motivation.
We selected the seven course tasting menu which was masterfully prepared by Pasquale Laera. Plate after plate of stunning culinary creations appeared before us as we dined on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients including of course the obligitary truffle infused delights. Wild mushrooms, sheeps cheese and pigeon all took their turn, each deliciously celebrating the season’s rich earthy flavours.
Ending on a high-note we left for bed in our spacious suites and drifted off to subtle sounds of the countryside at night. Having slept like a log (must have been the fresh air, not the wine) we all met again for breakfast and to take a moment to enjoy the panoramic views from Le Veranda.
We had been blessed with the most idyllic Autumn morning which was perfect for part two of my activity; Truffle hunting! My lady friends were a bit dubious when I had asked them during the planning for their shoe size, but now they understood as we were fitted out for wellies for our tramp through vineyards, hazelnut groves and into the woods with expert truffle hunter Marco Varaldo and his trusted truffle expert dog Roki.
A fabulous two hours later, we were all in love with Roki and had successfully unearthed three truffles which would fetch between €25 and €80 per truffle!
Annie’s choice of activity was next; a fantastic ‘farmer’s lunch in the cantina of Villa Sylia Sebaste. The wine tasting of the Barolo turned more into wine feasting while we experienced the original taste of some typical dishes of ‘merenda campestre’, farmer’s break – salami, cheese, anchovies – and to make it even more special we were joined by Marco the truffle hunter, who did not hold back with his generous grating of our found treasure atop of each course.
All quite merry from our farmer’s lunch we bid our farewells to Marco, our beloved Roki and Villa Sylia and pressed on to Lisa’s activity. We were driven to the heart of the town of Neviglie and pulled up outside, what looked like, a tiny gingerbread house that had landed from a children’s fairytale. Lisa double checked we were in the right place as it seemed there was no way five of us could fit into the tiny house. ‘Si, si’ smiled our guide Barbara Cardi. One of the most welcoming women in Italy stood ushering us in through the doorway. She was tiny and floured. Once through the door there was no other option than to go down the stairs, and that is when the tardis effect happened. We had entered Dindina’s sprawling home to participate in her cooking class led, of course, by Dindina and her 6.5 foot chef son. I could tell we were all having the same thought; how did such a tiny woman and tiny house produce such a tall man?
Our two-hour cooking class made us proficient in preparing Tajarin, Piedmont’s fresh egg pasta, and the ancient traditional desert typical of Piedmont, called Bonet Bunet (based on eggs, sugar, milk, cocoa, and amaretti).
We usually say we will never repeat the same experience twice but our luxury Italy tour and Italy trip to Piedmont may be the exception to the rule!