I was born in Turin, the capital city of Piedmont, so it’s only natural that this northern Italian region is near and dear to my heart. But this isn’t the only reason why I think you should add it to your travel list. Piedmont is surrounded on three sides — stunningly — by the Alps (the name means “at the feet of the mountains”). So on a clear day, you can actually see white mountain peaks from almost anywhere. Plus, there’s a little bit for everyone: swanky winter ski resorts, Game-of-Thrones-worthy medieval castles, and perfectly Instagrammable hills and vineyards that are great for hikes and bike rides. And don’t even get me started on the food and wine. I’ll just say three words: Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera. The region makes some of Italy’s most iconic wines—and the food is among the best in Italy: rich pastas, hearty braises and the signature hazelnut chocolate, gianduja, the inspiration for everyone’s favorite spreadable snack (yes, I’m talking about Nutella).
So let’s go. Here’s my idea of a perfect week in Piedmont.
Start in Turin
A trip to Piedmont wouldn’t be complete without at least a couple of days in the region’s elegant capital. This is a city that, for better or worse, has long been synonymous with Fiat—and as the home to the car manufacturer since the early 1900s, it’s had a bad rap as the Detroit of Italy. But now that the old Fiat Mirafiori factory in the middle of town is barely operational, Turin has finally been able to show what it’s got beyond the four wheels: beautiful baroque churches and palazzi, miles of porticos, a vibrant art and cultural scene—and, of course, killer food and wine.
WHAT TO DO
When in Turin, you must visit one of the city’s historical cafés. Quick background note here: Turin played an important role in the unification of Italy: it was the epicenter of the Risorgimento, the movement in the 1800’s that helped awaken the Italian national consciousness. During this time, Turin was a city of intellectuals, political thinkers and literati, who loved to convene in cafés and discuss the matters of the time. Many of these old coffee shops are still around today. The oldest is Al Bicerin, which was founded in 1763 and is where Turin’s famous coffee drink, the bicerin (espresso and dark chocolate topped with cream), was invented. Caffè Mulassano and Baratti & Milano in Piazza Castello are also worth a visit. Mulassano is the birthplace of tramezzini—small sandwiches made with fluffy white bread filled with anything from prosciutto to smoked salmon. Caffè Fiorio in Via Po makes a pretty darn good gianduja ice cream.
The unmissable Mole Antonelliana, the tall building you see from almost anywhere in a city with virtually no skyscrapers, houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (the cinema museum), which traces the history of Italian film from its birth—in Turin—to modern times, including cool BTS photos from classic neo-realism flicks. Be sure to take the glass elevator to the top for amazing city views (and for the thrill of it).
Finally, let Turin’s piazze be your guide for a tour of the city, starting with the most central of them all: Piazza Castello. Within a half-a-mile range are many of Turin’s main sites: the cathedral that houses the famous Shroud of Turin; Palazzo Reale, the former residence of the House of Savoia; Palazzo Madama, with its late-baroque façade and medieval rear; and the Porte Palatine, Turin’s best preserved ancient Roman remains. Don’t miss the Giardini Reali, the royal gardens, a great place for a quiet stroll away from the city bustle. One of my favorite piazze is Piazza Carignano: it’s small but packs the charm with the unique baroque facade of Palazzo Carignano, the Ristorante Del Cambio—the city’s oldest restaurant—and two historical cafés. After an aperitivo at Farmacia Del Cambio, go for a little shopping in chic Via Lagrange. Also, don’t miss Piazza San Carlo and its twin churches, and the grand Piazza Vittorio, leading to the banks of the river Po.
WHERE TO STAY
I like to stay at the NH Collection Piazza Carlina. It’s not a 5-star hotel and, yes, it’s part of a chain, but it manages to retain an appealing boutique quality, starting from its stunning location in a completely renovated 17th century palazzo. While the shell is old, the design is sleek and modern, with mid-century sofas, cool art on the walls and a beautiful courtyard. Plus, it has a great bar (which attracts locals as well), and restaurant. The hotel is in a great location in Piazza Carlina, perfect for long strolls and jaunts to some of the city’s main attractions.
Other notable hotels include the Grand Hotel Sitea for charm and good old-fashioned luxury; Turin Palace for clean design with a modern art deco flair and the best breakfast room ever; Hotel dei Pittori for an artsy, bohemian vibe; and B&B Via Stampatori for a taste of palazzo living.
WHERE TO EAT
This is a very short list of some of my favorite restaurants in Turin, from fancy to casual. I could include so many more, but this will give you a good head start.
Ristorante Del Cambio for a taste of history (founded in 1757, it’s the city’s oldest restaurant).
Cannavacciuolo Bistrot for Michelin-starred food in a convivial, informal atmosphere without giving up on flavor and elegance.
Magorabin for artsy presentations and unusual pairings.
Consorzio for super tasty, unpretentious food paired with interesting wines, many natural, from Piedmont and beyond.
Scannabue for dishes solidly rooted in the Piedmontese tradition but prepared with a contemporary flair in the hip San Salvario neighborhood.
Magazzino 52 for an amazing wine selection and fresh spins on Piedmontese cuisine.
Then, drive south to the wine country
The Piedmont wine country is arguably the biggest attraction in the region. The hills of the Piedmont countryside are just as beautiful as Tuscany’s—and the food just as lovely, if different—with the added benefit of fewer tourists. The Langhe, Roero and Monferrato were recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so as you taste your way through amazing food and wines, you’ll take in some of the most picturesque and culturally rich landscapes in Italy.
WHAT TO DO
It goes without saying that you should taste wine! Lots of it. Ceretto is probably the most well-known winery in the region but its size and fame haven’t compromised its commitment to quality—they still make incredible wines. Be sure to book a tour of this architecturally gorgeous winery and spend some time in the “acino” (grape)—a clear oval bubble suspended over the vineyards. I recommend the “Sfumature di Nebbiolo” (shades of nebbiolo) tasting, which gives you a good overview of Piedmont’s noble wines. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are made with nebbiolo grapes, yet they’re very different wines. Other wineries I like: Renato Ratti and the biodynamic G.D. Vajra in the Langhe, Olim Bauda in Monferrato and, if you drive south, La Raia, a biodynamic winery in the Gavi area.
Virtually every town in Langhe and Monferrato has a medieval castle, so castle hopping is definitely a thing here. Start at the Castello di Grinzane Cavour, where Camillo Benso Count of Cavour—the architect of the unification of Italy—lived. The castle has a great wine store, the Enoteca Regionale di Cavour, and Michelin-starred restaurant. The village of Barolo is in many ways the epicenter of the Piedmont wine country. The medieval Castello di Barolo that towers over the village houses a wine museum, WIMU. While the museum gets mixed reviews, the castle is worth a visit, especially the upper terrace with its expansive views of the Langhe hills. And if you’re in the Monferrato, I recommend a visit to the Castello di Gabiano, a fairytale medieval castle with its own vineyards and a hotel.
WHERE TO STAY
Whether you stay in a castle or a B&B, there are so many lovely hotels to choose from it’s really hard to go wrong. Some of my favorites include Relais San Maurizio, a 5-star resort built in what was a 17th-century monastery (am I allowed to say stunning one more time?), and the super cosy, family-run B&B Ca’ Alfieri Al Trenta. And if you do want to stay in a castle, look no further than the opulent Castello di Guarene, in the Roero area. In Gavi, I like Locanda La Raia, an intimate, high-end bed & breakfast with a pool and spa; and the rustic-chic elegance of the Villa Sparina Resort, a resort and winery.
WHERE TO EAT
Al Castello for Michelin-starred food in the Grinzane Cavour castle overlooking the vineyards and town of Grinzane.
Ristorante Guido for elegant takes on traditional Piedmontese cuisine in a beautiful countryside villa.
La Gallina for creative food in a quirky, sophisticated environment overlooking the rolling hills of Gavi.
Cantine del Gavi for thoughtful, well-made dishes that straddle Piedmontese and Ligurian food in a lovely setting.
Osteria dell’Arco for well-made Piedmontese dishes with no frills (it’s where the locals go).
Osteria Veglio for a fresh, new spin on regional mainstays that feel more elevated than your average osteria.
Laura Giannatempo is a writer, cookbook author and former editor who divides her time between Brooklyn and her native Italy. She’s the founder of ViaVai Travel, a company that creates immersive food and wine travel experiences to less traveled regions of Italy.