Piemonte has an adventure for everybody, from fine wine lovers and foodies to outdoorsmen and quirky curiosity-seekers. This list of ten things to do in the UNESCO World Heritage lands of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato takes you off the beaten tourist path (which, in Piemonte, is still relatively and happily untrodden). It goes a bit beyond the classic and much-loved wine tastings, dinner spreads, and vineyard walks to bring you recommendations from locals and tips extracted from our own archives. But don’t worry; we didn’t completely leave out the food and wine.
1. Go spelunking in the world of wine.
This is a more refined version of “caving.” Dive into the underground world of Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante in Canelli, the capital of these two iconic sparkling wines. The subterranean wine cellars, known as cattedrali sotterranee, or “Underground Cathedrals,” are not only vast and impressive, but are historically and culturally significant for the city, as its recent recognition within the UNESCO World Heritage of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato attests. Its excavation began by hand in the 16th century, and, chiseled away bit by bit, today the caverns stretch to 11 miles (18 km) long and are filled with bubbly.
Read more about the history behind the wine caves with our itinerary: Canelli Underground
Underground Cathedrals. Photo from www.roero.it
2. Satisfy your sweet tooth.
If museums of curiosities are more to your taste, then the Sugar House in Nizza Monferrato is just the thing for the incurable sweet tooth. The Figli di Pinin Pero & Co. of sugar instituted this museum to explore the everyday use of sugar through culture and history. Apparently, some people collect sugar packets; if one were ever to take on such a hobby, this is the place where inspiration will hit. At the very least, you can say you’ve seen the world’s biggest collection of sugar packets.
Beyond the Sugar House, Nizza Monferrato is full of history and famous for its Barbera d’Asti DOCG wine: read our Focus and News piece on the newest DOCG “Nizza” wine
Photo from Pay No Mind, Creative Commons. License found here.
3. Discover how distillation works
Ah, that after-dinner grappa that “burns away” your agnolotti del plin and delicious, abundant plate of local cheeses and salumi you couldn’t eat enough of. What better place to appreciate this Italian liquor than in a distillery? In Neive is a traditional grappa producer that has attained cult-like status, the Distillery of Levi Serafino. This modest distillery is one of the few in the world (perhaps only) to still make their grappa by the direct flame process: the water and grape must rest inside the copper alembic, which is suspended over direct flame to extract the alcoholic vapor. All the labels are hand drawn and original works of art, with the Wild Woman as a recurring, favorite character (read more about the beguiling story behind her here). You may have a hard time buying a bottle – production is small and demand is high. But, stop by and take a look around this distillery that is a piece of history in our own time and quench your thirst for curiosity (they don't give "official" guided tours, but if Fabrizio is free when you stop by, he'll happily show you around! Tel.: +39 0173 67051 | "Real" tours in English are given two times a year, during the Lighting of the Flame in October, Accensione del Fiammifero, and Spring in the Village in April, Primavera del Borgo).
Who recommends it? Diego Schiappapietra @SchiappapietraD
Neive is a romantic and ancient town, small but full of old buildings, wine shops, and tiny restaurants. Read more here!
4. Follow the trail of the bee and find the pot o’ gold at the end.
An artisan honey is a unique delight; it could even be said that each jar demonstrates its own terroir. Honey from the Roero is characterized with flavors from the acacia trees and chestnut groves in the area. Taste it for yourself and bring back a sweet souvenir from nearby Montà d’Alba. For the full experience, contact the Ecomuseum of the Rocks of the Roero (Ecomuseo delle Rocche del Roero) for a guide (€10 per person, €20 per person if in English; call and reserve at least 3 days ahead of time at +39 0173-976-181), who will take you from beehive to beehive, and even to an apiary to watch the bees at work.
Meet the bees and read more about their communities (they’re 9000 hives strong!): The Honey Trail
5. Go horseback riding.
Have you ever felt the call of the wild to live undisturbed, far from asphalt and cars, in the midst of nature; to pack your worldly goods, your cat, dog, and two horses, and leave all that noise behind? Well, perhaps not yet, but a lovely Swiss family did just that in 1988 and moved to the Langhe. Today, their two horses have become a few dozen, and they give riding lessons and offer a day on horseback. Ask for Michael or Sara, both competent experts of the Associazione Ippica of San Bovo (+39 328-327-3404).
The tiny towns surrounding the horse ranch are charming, too: San Bovo, a Microcosm of Ancient Culture
Horseback riding near San Bovo. Photo from www.sanbovo.it
6. See the first three bottles of Barbaresco ever produced.
A trip to discover Barbaresco could not ask for a more ideal starting point. In the quaint Degiacomi Museum of rural culture located in the Drago Farmhouse (property of Poderi Colla winery), ancient tools show the extraordinary enological heritage of the region. The estate’s previous owner, Dr. Luciano Degiacomi, was a meticulous preserver of the local farming culture, and collected farming tools and equipment long vanished from old barns and farmhouses (cascine). Amongst rare and interesting pieces, the first Barbaresco bottles produced are on display, resting their noble selves with the other artifacts. The handwritten labels date them back to 1870.
The road to the museum is nothing short of spectacular in this itinerary (go by bike, vespa, or car): In the Heart of Barbaresco
7. Treat yourself to a Michelin starred dinner.
The cuisine of Piemonte is, modestly put, world-class. Paired with the region’s incredible wines, you’re sure to have at least one meal here that is unsurpassed. To discover the crème de la crème of the region, save up some pocket money for a Michelin night out. Piemonte has 38 starred restaurants, the second highest number of all Italian regions after Lombardy. Two of our favorite chefs in the Langhe and Roero are Enrico Crippa of the 3-star Piazza Duomo in Alba (Piemonte’s only 3 star restaurant) and Davide Palluda of the Ristorante all’Enoteca in Canale, Michelin-starred since 2000.
Find more great food is in this city of the Roero: Read more about Canale and its peaches
8. Go castle hopping.
Piemonte is home to so many castles, it’s almost embarrassing. The Savoy family was keen on luxurious summer homes, while many other noble families, marchesi, lords, and dukes held power over swaths of land from one century to the next (or decade, as their power waxed or waned). Pick any town or several square kilometers of the region, and more likely than not, at least one castle will be open to the public for a visit. In fact, several Regional Wine Shops (Enoteche) are located inside castles, like those of Barolo, Monferrato, and Grinzane Cavour. That of Nizza is located inside the elegant Palazzo Baronale Crova, presumably built on top of old castle ruins.
Read our Events page for special castle openings during the weekends (with the Castelli Aperti, Open Castles, association). Or, start castle hopping in the Monferrato with our itinerary Residences of the Marquise.
9. Get an even better view from the best lookout point in Barolo
As anyone who has visited the Langhe knows, La Morra in the Barolo wine zone is known for its fantastic belvedere. At the peak of this hilltop town, the wide piazza in the castle’s square (Piazza Castello) presents a postcard-perfect panorama of the Langhe. But look behind you…and find an even better view that most people don’t realize they can climb: the bell tower, or campanile, built in 1710. We challenge you to go up five minutes before the hour and not jump out of your skin when the bells toll.
Who recommends it? Elisa Vimercati @Eli_Vime
While you’re there, don’t forget to wander around the charming little town: Focus on La Morra
10. Combine hiking + art + wine in one trip.
Some believe that wine is the poetry of sunlight captured in a bottle, art swirled in a glass. German winery owner Sabine Ehrmann certainly does, and believes that wine and art pair more perfectly than anything. Her passion for Piemonte and for the Monferrato in particular is clear when gazing upon the breathtaking scenery of the land this native German now calls her home. To understand, hike up to her estate Tenuta La Tenaglia, taste their highly-praised wine, and take in the sculptures and fine art created by her husband Giuseppe Olivieri, local artists, and that of the countryside surrounding you.
What’s the trail like? Check out our itinerary here (by car is also possible): Crea, from the Sacrilege to the Sacred
Wine & art, Tenuta La Tenaglia. Photos from www.tenutalatenaglia.it