This little area nestled in the Northwest corner of Italy is decidedly my favorite area in Europe – coming from me, the girl who’s generally in love with Europe as a whole. If paradise exists, then this is it. Everywhere you look, rolling hills covered with world class vineyards grace your eyes. Picturesque towns spot the landscape as you wind through the hills. This region is generally known for its wine and truffles, and with good reason. But as a travel destination, Langhe, I believe, is highly underrated. Unlike Rome or Florence, you won’t find Da Vinci’s or never ending ruins to feast your eyes upon. You won’t go running from the Vatican to the Coliseum, lugging around your camera trying to beat the crowds. Instead, you’ll stop and literally and figuratively smell the roses. Life runs on a different pace here.
We headed down to Langhe as a stop between Turin and the Cote d’Azur in France. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by Turin. I knew that Turin was a large center of the slow food movement considering its proximity to Bra, and I went with grandiose ideas that I would have some glorious gastronomic experience there. While I certainly enjoyed the food, it didn’t particularly stand out and I felt no different afterwards. The city itself was a little rough on the edges, and the areas around Turin were run down, and seemed to be economically suffering. Despite how industrial Turin is, the areas around Turin were agrarian. I started getting a little concerned about what Langhe would be like. The towns we drove through on the way were quite run-down and amidst the flat fields we only saw run down shacks.
These fears were quickly dispelled after driving up the crest of a hill, the scenery dramatically shifted. The flat landscape was no longer, as we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of rolling hills covered from head to toe in vineyards. It immediately turned from run down to picturesque. On our drive, we spotted many castles sitting atop the hills. Most of these castles are actually privately owned and not open to the public, which was a shame as we would have loved to check them out.
As we got to our B&B, Agriturismo Il Cortile, we realized that the owners, and their entire family, did not speak English. And we didn’t speak a single world of Italian. But that didn’t stop them from being incredibly kind and hospitable. The owner’s mother spoke to us animatedly in Italian, though I didn’t understand a single word that came out of her mouth, I felt like I got the gist of some of it. After giving us some water and treats upon our arrival, they took us down to their backyard where their young children showed me their chickens, baby ducks, and puppies. We didn’t need to speak because cooing at baby animals is clearly a universal language.
That night, we had dinner at the restaurant connected to the B&B and that was certainly an experience. The language barrier was as formidable as ever as our waiter tried to explain to us the items on the menu. Good thing it was a fixed menu and we didn’t have to choose any of the items. I applaud his efforts, even though we both gave up after the third dish. The food was absolutely delicious, as we ate Italian classics like risotto and prosciutto with melon. I couldn’t quite discern what a few of the dishes were but they were certainly all delightful.
After dinner, we took the opportunity to drive around Langhe, and we ended up in Alba, the heart of Langhe. Alba itself is famous for its truffles and wine, but what many don’t know is that Nutella’s (and Ferrero) home is here. I was in Alba during the weekend, but during the week, supposedly, the entire town smells like Nutella due to the nearby factory. Now, if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. As a plus, I found that the Nutella here tastes better than the ones we get here in the United States due to the superior quality hazelnuts and chocolate. I might have lugged back three 850 gram jars home. It was that good.
The town itself is absolutely charming. The streets were filled with various food shops, specializing in items like truffles, wine, coffee, chocolate etc. Right outside the old town walls sat this wonderful gelateria – Gelateria La Romana. The gelato sat safely enclosed inside shiny metal canisters to maintain their temperature and consistency. This allowed the people to spin the gelato onto the cones for you. As we were struggling to figure out the menu (surprise surprise), we were saved by a lady who studied abroad in the United States and spoke fluent English. The gelato was perfectly creamy, and I was tempted to go get myself a second cone had I not already filled myself up with other goodies earlier.
Langhe was filled with Italian vacationers. Vacationers, and not tourists. I was a tourist posing as a vacationer, and while I certainly enjoyed myself, I still aspire to someday rise up to vacationer. There was little to no english being spoke anywhere, apart from the TI offices. One of my biggest regrets was the language barrier that existed between us. I had remarkable opportunities to speak and connect with the people there, and was unable to take advantage of it. I imagine this is what Tuscany used to be – before the waves of tourists began to flock there.
A final note about transportation – a car really is the best way to get around here. There are no extensive public transportation systems that exist as far as I can tell, which might have contributed to the lack of traffic here. But the gorgeous windy roads that I was talking about previously? They great as a passenger, but it’s not easy to drive. People drive fast, the roads are skinny, and you can never see around the corners. But don’t let that deter you! What I’m saying is more along the lines of, say, perhaps try playing some Mario Kart prior for some practice?