In and around Torino

by Vicky - Spirit of Italy Tours on November 23rd, 2011

Spirit of Italy Tours recently returned from a visit to discover the Piemonte region of Italy, located in the north-western part of the country. I was invited as guest of the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) who prepared an itinerary for me and 11 other people – travel and food journalists, bloggers and travel professionals – that was just fantastico! I was a guest of ENIT in November 2010 to attend their Rome Symposium for travel professionals, and true-to-form, they remain the most generous and gracious hosts ensuring that the trip was top notch and that we were taken care of royally from start to finish.

Here is a link to photos from the trip to the Piemonte:
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=vickyambientpr&target=ALBUM&id=5678355908328181137&authkey=Gv1sRgCPeex-zExYKL7QE&feat=email

We were on the go from early morning to late at night in Torino and surrounding areas as we explored historical sites, caffes, restaurants, museums, wineries and a number of hotel properties ranging from 5-star luxury hotel/spa properties to charming agriturismos. In short, the areas of the Piemonte region that we visited were stunning. The Piemonte tourist board is well organized and makes available information and specials on things like passes that provide discounts on everything from sightseeing to shops, to restaurants and caffes, etc. Here are helpful links: www.torinopiemonte.com and www.regione.piemonte.it/turismo. Spirit of Italy Tours is also happy to help you plan your trip to the region.

If you would like more detail on the places we visited in Piemonte, please read below.
Much of the trip was spent touring Torino, an incredibly charming city and capital of the region. I had been to Torino many years ago and it was nice to see that the city seems to have a more cosmopolitan vibe but still offers so much in the way of cultural heritage. Everywhere we toured in Piemonte the people were exceptionally friendly, hospitable and eager to show us around.
Torino is serious about chocolate! The city is one of the chocolate capitals of the world and the place where chocolate first made its way from a beverage to a solid form. (People of Torino, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!) They invented the perfect sweet called gianduiotti – a small chocolate bar with hazelnut filling of which I am now very acquainted with. We visited several chocolate shops and cafes which are located all over the city and had a formal chocolate tasting at Streglio, a purveyor of fine chocolates since the 1920s. The small shop is located in the baroque area of the historical city center in the beautiful Piazza Carignano where we strolled and saw the palace of the same name. At Streglio we were offered a tray of 12 varieties of some of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Later in the trip, we also visited the historic Caffé Al Bicerin, located at the Piazza della Consolata, to unwind over the traditional “Merenda Reale” an amazing hot beverage comprised of three layers – chocolate on the bottom, coffee in the middle and cream on the top
Several days were spent touring in the Langhe Roero area of Piemonte which is located about 50 minutes east and south from Torino. There are numerous towns and villages that produce some very well known wine varieties including Barolo, Barbaresco and Moscato; palaces and castles throughout, as well as incredible art. The landscape is lush and hilly with rows of vineyards and views of the mountains in the distance. With the fall foliage and leaves visible in stunning colors, it was a beautiful time to be there.

In the Langhe Roero, we did quite a bit of food and wine exploration. We were privileged to receive a guided tour through one of the most historical wine cellars in the area, Fontanafredda. The expansive property and estate is enormous and dates back to the early 1800’s. The Villa Contessa Rosa, given to the Countess Rosa Mirafiori by Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy has been renovated into a hotel and restaurant. The Fontanafredda is still considered one of Italy’s oldest and premier wine producers using state-of-the-art technology today in its production. We also toured the new Wine Museum (opened in September of 2010) situated in the quaint town of Barolo in what was once the medieval Falletti Castle. At the Albergo Agenzia, a hotel located in what was once one of the palaces of the Savoy ruling family of Italy, we saw some gorgeous suites. On the same property, we also toured the Wine Bank, a sort of super storage facility for prestigious wines from all over the country located in the historical cellars of the Agenzia di Pollenzo which is also a museum aimed at acquainting visitors with Italy’s wine heritage. There were several other wine tastings arranged for the group. One of them took place at the Fondazione Cesare Pavese, in the town of Santo Stefano Belbo, birthplace of the famous Italian writer, Cesare Pavese. Upon arriving, our group was greeted personally by the town’s Mayor, Luigi Icardi, who gave us a warm welcome and gifts to take home of their famous Moscato wine.
In addition to wines, the Piemonte is renowned for its white and black truffles and hazelnuts. A definite highlight of the trip was joining Renato Agnello – a 73-year old truffle hunter (who has been hunting truffles since he was a young boy) and his truffle hunting dog, Gigi, to learn about truffle hunting. We joined them in the woods behind a vineyard in the hills of the Langhe outside the town of Barbaresco for what we were told would be a “staged” truffle hunt. (i.e., the truffle was pre-planted). Gigi found the planted truffle soon after we arrived, as expected, which was a lot of fun. Then, moments later, on this beautiful fall afternoon Gigi quickly sprinted to another spot and unearthed a truffle that was not staged which took us all by surprise! It was really exciting and Renato was beaming as he showed us his latest find. {Friend Arlene Santos from Destinations and Adventures captured the experience on video. --http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwcMwV9kkWI.}

Following the truffle hunt, that evening at Il Vigneto, a charming trattoria and agriturismo, we were served traditional pasta with shaved truffles that was outstanding. The truffle is a kind of fungi that grows underground and has a very intense, musty smell that can be quite overpowering which is why it is often served only as a garnish. We were also fortunate that during our stay the 81st International Alba White Truffle Festival was taking place in conjunction with the weekly street market. The market in Alba, as it is in other cities and towns throughout Italy, takes place in the streets and piazzas of the town where local vendors set up stalls selling everything from fresh produce to clothing items. At the truffle festival we grazed on samples of truffles, wine, cheese and chocolate in a festive atmosphere.
The Piemonte region offers a range of accommodations for virtually any preference. As noted, we inspected quite a few hotel properties during our trip, several in what were once royal residences. While all of those we saw were special in their own right, the stand out properties included:

Torino
- Hotel NH Santo Stefano -- Stylish and trendy, the NH Santo Stefano is located in the fashionable Quadrilatero Romano. The 4-star hotel has ultra modern amenities and is considered one of the premier destinations in Torino for both business and leisure travel. The hotel has a striking yet minimalist design and reminded me of the W Hotel chain in the U.S. {We spent the night here and every aspect was fantastic.}

- Hotel Victoria -- Located in the heart of downtown Torino and convenient to everything, this small hotel features traditional furnishings and overlooks a lush garden. {We spent the night here and the accommodations were very comfortable.}

- Grand Hotel Sitea – This property is located in the heart of Turin, just off the very central via Roma and Piazza San Carlo. The rooms are elegantly furnished and the hotel prides itself on offering a more traditional style of hospitality. {Our group was treated to delicious aperitivos and appetizers in honor of our visit.}

Langhe Roero
- Il Vigneto di Roddi --This is a charming and intimate bed and breakfast located in the heart of the Langhe with a restaurant and six tastefully appointed suites all with spectacular views of the wine country. [We ate a delicious dinner here that included a traditional pasta served with truffle shavings.]

- Le Querce del Vareglio -- Located in one of the most truly pristine and private areas of the Roero countryside, the property is a 17th century farmstead that was recently converted into an agriturismo and offers spacious, comfortable and tasteful furnishings with exceptional views. [We had an incredibly delicious pasta lunch here.]


- Rocche Costamagna -- This is a charming historical residence in the quiet and beautiful town of La Morra. On the uppermost floor of the house, proprietor Alessandro Locatelli and family, offer 4 well appointed suites each with unique art works on the wall, patios and views of the countrywide scenery. [We were treated to an elegant lunch and wine tasting here.]

- Il Boscareto Resort & Spa -- This is another exclusive 5-star property with incredible views of the Langhe and is furnished in chic and minimalist style. [We were treated to an elegant dinner in one of the private dining rooms.]

- Albergo dell’ Agenzia -- The 4-star Albergo dell'Agenzia hotel is situated in the town of Pollenzo in what was once the estate of King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. The site is also home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences and the Wine Bank and sits on 5-beautiful acres in the countryside.
- Relais San Maurizio -- This 5-star hotel/spa and Michelin Star restaurant was once a 17th century monastery that has been converted into a breathtaking, elegant resort nestled in the hills and vineyards of the Langhe. The property reflects the architectural beauty of its past but has exquisite contemporary comforts and several beautiful indoor pools including a therapeutic salt pool. [We were treated to a wonderful lunch.]
This was a trip to remember. If you haven't seen this region of Italy before, it is seriously worth considering.


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