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Nizza Monferrato Travel Guide
There is probably no town as unassuming and guileless as Nizza Monferrato. Located deep in the heart of the Monferrato, one might miss it completely if one only uses it as a drive through from Asti to points south and east. After all, the Piazza you must drive around is fairly nondescript, and leaves little to the imagination.
So keep driving.
There's always the option of parking the car in that big Piazza and stretching your legs. And if you are so inclined, if it is a nice late afternoon and the weather is being kind, you might walk across the Piazza Garibaldi and head down the little pedestrian street which you find at the northeastern corner of the square. It is here, through Via Carlo Alberto that you will enter the pedestrian area, with its seventeenth century arcades and balconies, hip little shops, restaurants and enoteche.
Nizza Monferrato Commune Municipio
It is usually at this point that one says, "oh. How nice." "Nice" because it is very nice. "Oh" because somehow it is unexpected. And while you can't expect for people to talk to you in English (look around, what's missing? Oh, yeah. Tourists.), you will find a shy friendliness here which will make you feel most comfortable. I love to just hang out in Nizza.
Nizza Monferrato is, at its heart, a working man's town. The vineyards literally come to the edge of the city. Within a minute of leaving the town border, you are swept into Barbera Country – and anyone who really knows Barbera will tell you that the wine made "vicino di Nizza" is truly the best Barbera there is. It is Barbera d'Asti DOC and it is here that Barbera started its comeback. It is in the vineyards in what I call the "Golden Triangle" of Nizza Monferrato, Canelli and Acqui Terme where some of the most noted producers started experimenting with single vineyard productions. It is here that Barbera started to make its comeback from an acidy, basically undrinkable wine which used to get dumped in bulk into the Bormida River to one which can easily sit on the long, wooden table next to Barolo and Barbaresco, its larger and more largely priced brothers.
If, on this lovely late afternoon, you are inclined to sample a tasting of some of the area's best Barbera, you might want to walk over to La Signora in Rosso Enoteca on Via Crova 2. Descend into the labyrinth of Piemontese bricked tunnels and take a look at the selection of wines all around you. If you are feeling a bit hungry, order some of La Signora's simply prepared but very tasty dishes, prepared almost in a "tapas" style, and try a bottle of Coppo Camp du Rouss 2003. If you are sticking to a slightly tighter budget, try Coppo L'avvocata – a lighter, but very pleasurable alternative.
If you speak Italian, you might want to try to make an appointment for a wine tasting at La Barbatella. Located directly above the city, on a long winding road with small wineries left and right, La Barbatella is simply one of the best. Small, about four hectares, or ten acres. In Piemonte, if you bring out a bottle of La Barbatella ANYTHING when serving your guests dinner, you will be considered to have good taste and know something about wines. It is that simple. Having said that, Vigna dell'Angelo Barbera Superiore would be the bottle to buy for a special occasion.
One of my personal favorites comes from Cascina Christiana, which is a B&B and vineyard owned and run by a couple from South Africa. Christiana and Peter Kaplanski are gracious, lovely people. And humble – something that occurs to you during a degustazione and taste their Barbera for the first time. Every time we open either Reiss, their simple Barbera d'Asti or La Mota, their Barbera Superiore with its rich wooded undertones, we look at each other and say, Geez, they make a fantastic Barbera. Our guests agree.
Back to the centro storico in Nizza Monferrato. While walking through, you will probably walk by La Maragliana Agriturismo Store, a lovely gourmet shop selling the specialties from their Agriturismo which is located halfway between Acqui and Nizza. For guests who have visited us, this group also owns a restaurant which we highly recommend, Antica Osteria, in Castel Rocchero, which is near the La Maragliana Agriturismo.
Stop in the shop and pick up some of your gifts to take home with you.
La Maragliana Farm Store
The third weekend in May is celebration time in Nizza. The Festa is called NIZZA é BARBERA – the town is alive with Barbera events and tastings.
The Nizza Antique Market takes place in Piazza Garibaldi the third Sunday of every month. I buy wonderful antique linens there.
A small note about the name. Nizza Monferrato was named so to distinguish it from Nizza, or Nice, in France. If you say to locals here you are going to Nizza, they would never imagine that you are heading down to the French Riviera. Instead, they would assume that you are going to buy some wine supplies up the road.
See, and if had just kept driving around that non-descript piazza, you would have missed the beauty of Nizza Monferrato. That is the thing about Piedmont—sometimes it requires a little digging before it rewards you in full. Which, for me, makes it all the more special.
© Diana Strinati Baur, 2007
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