At harvest time in northern Italy, layers of fog drift romantically over hillside vineyards of ripened nebbiolo grapes. Those from five tiny villages near Alba, the sleepy capital of the Langhe region of Piemonte, will go into the country’s greatest red wine, Barolo.
Right now, the crisp autumn air is accented with the scents of wood smoke, pungent, fermenting wine, and the fragrant, earthy-musky aroma of white truffles, sold at an annual market in Alba during October and November.
What could be better than wine and truffles at the source? The combo makes this region, the home of the Slow Food movement, a gourmand’s paradise, especially during harvest season.
Surprisingly, Piemonte is still not as well-known a tourist destination as, say, Tuscany. But it should be. The past several years have seen a wave of new boutique hotels carved out of centuries-old buildings and an updated culinary scene with unforgettable food.
Here’s how to navigate your stay.
To soak up the Barolo harvest atmosphere, drive the twisting, scenic roads with hairpin curves to one of the many hilltop towns near Alba, where you’re guaranteed to have fabulous views of vines.
In the impossibly lovely La Morra, you’ll find Palas Cerequio Barolo Cru Resort, a wine estate restored several years ago by Michele Chiarlo (of the eponymous winery). It’s surrounded by vines whose grapes go into his single vineyard Barolo “Cerequio.” A visit feels as if you're staying in very fancy friend’s country house: nine suites, some with Turkish bath, offer panoramic views at €210 to €580 ($236 to $651). You can spend a day cooking with the resident chef, and the cellar wine shop holds daily tastings of older vintages.
New hotel and wine bar UVE, which opened in the historic village a year ago, has eight sleek, art-filled rooms surrounding an internal courtyard with a casual wine bar. Suites are the best bet (€180 to €280 a night).
Twenty minutes away, in Sinio, near Serralunga d’Alba, is Hotel Castello di Sinio, a 12th century castle that an American has converted into sumptuous stone walled rooms and suites with luxe fabrics. The sunny Tower suite (€380) overlooks both church clock tower and vines.
For utter tranquility at the end of your stay, go farther afield, to the secluded 30-room Relais San Maurizio, a former 17th century monastery in Santo Stefano Belbo, near Barbaresco. Now a soothing hotel with lush gardens and spa with salt grotto, its new Villa San Luigi luxury suites (€720 and up) offer private butler service.