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Report 1104: Perfect Piemonte and Bella Bologna: A Succulent Journey for the Senses and Soul

By Palma from California, Fall 2006

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Page 5 of 18: Vineyards and Castles

photo by Palma

Barolo Castle

I woke up very early. There was no reason to get up yet. But I realized that I always do this in Italy. Every morning I feel like a child with the excitement of Christmas morning. My first thought is “You are in ITALY! Get up and don’t miss a minute!” The afternoon naps help this to work for me, and Brad lingered a while longer. I showered, had coffee, and journaled until our breakfast at 8:30. We begged Diana for a tiny breakfast, so we could eat again later in the day. With promises of another marathon breakfast soon, she reluctantly allowed us a “meager” spread of fresh croissants, fresh bread, toppings, and juice.

Diana sent us off with directions, and a short cut to Bra and Alba. Since Bra was farther, we went there first. We parked easily near the main street, and had a quick cappuccino before starting our walk around town. We soon found ourselves in front of the SlowFood office where Brad bought two aprons. I added time to my cell phone at a tabacchi, and found a small jewelry shop where I purchased two gold charms for my Italy bracelet: a 10 lire coin, and a tiny espresso coffee pot. Way too cute! At 1:00, we stopped for a soda to revive, as it was very warm and humid.

We returned to the air-conditioned car and headed toward Alba, with a stop for pizza along the way. Brad had sausage/gorgonzola, and I had mozzarella/prosciutto crudo. We arrived in central Alba, did a quick drive through (although in all fairness, we didn’t even get out of the car or walk through the pedestrian–only zone), and pulled over for a brief decision-making chat. I was thinking, “Hmmm, another good sized town. It is probably larger than Bra, and similar to Acqui in size. I already had my daily shopping fix, food, and coffee (and everything is closed now, anyway). I want to explore some sweet tiny hill towns, or see a castle.” I expressed these thoughts to Brad, who was in total agreement. Soon we just let the car take its choice of roads out of town at the traffic circle. We decided Barolo must have wine ... let’s head that way.

We drove through beautiful, green wine country. Luscious bright blue grapes ready to burst, still clung to the vines. How many times would Brad pull over and let me run into a vineyard with my camera? Every time I asked! (He was well-trained on our first May Val d’Orcia trip by me jumping out of the car every kilometer for poppy photos.).

Our first stop was Grinzane Cavour. This tiny village’s centerpiece is a large square castle that is now the seat of the Piemonte Regional Enoteca. The castle sits high on a hill with a patchwork of vineyards in all directions. It contains a restaurant, a spacious wine room with tasting, local food products, and many wines for sale. Brad spent some time making his wine selections, while I delighted in the assortment of local honeys, chocolates, cookies, and other food products. It was so warm; we were soaked, so we stopped at a local bar for sodas and water. An hour after our arrival, we were on the road with a couple of bottles of vino, acqua fresca, and some biscotti di miele.

We continued along the road toward the very cute small town of Barolo. Here, we saw locals playing cards at the bar, a few women chatting on a front porch, lazy kitties asleep in the sun, and lots of flowers on the short cobblestone street winding up toward the castle. This castle with late afternoon sunlight hitting it, looked like bright yellowish stone with a rust-colored stone checkerboard pattern framing every window. It reminded me of a Martha Stewart wedding cake in the shape of a castle and tower. The entrance faced a tiny square with the small parish church of San Donato, just across the street. The castle now houses a library. What grabbed Brad’s attention, on our way back down the hill from the castle, was the Corkscrew Museum. There, he found what he thought to be great “guy gifts” for his wine enthusiast friends.

We continued climbing vineyard-covered hills to La Morra. This was the highest hill around with absolutely stunning views of the Langhe in all directions. It was our favorite tiny town of the day, with a round piazza at the top of the steep stone street. Here families were gathered in plastic chairs, visiting, laughing, and watching little ones play. We stopped here to soak it all in, and again admire the apparent “live, love, laugh,” (eat and drink well), philosophy of these lovely Italian people.

We returned to Acqui for a glass of wine in the beautiful "Balalah." This is an innovative Enoteca/Caffe that also contains a book section, Internet Point, beautiful home goods, and clothing section. It seems to be a gold mine. You can come here for a snack, light meal, drink, coffee, shopping, or online fix! Everything we needed, in a lovely contemporary setting with marble floors and steps, comfortable seating, complementary appetizers and chips with your vino, and great bathrooms!

After some wine, and a snack, we were ready to walk again, so we strolled the streets of Acqui during the evening passagiata, ending up at the other end of town for gelato and coffee. We returned from our long, lovely day to visit with Diana for a while before bed.

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