Alba, Italy

October 2018

Alba, Italy

Returning to the Piedmont region in Italy was never a question of if, but when. Our last visit was highlighted by so many wonderful memories- the wine, the festivals, the food- it was an experience that exceeded all expectations. We were told that the next visit to Piedmont had to be for the International White Truffle Festival– the gem of Alba.

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When planning my birthday trip for (gasp) 30 years old… my biggest desire was to eat incredible food and indulge in our favorite wine. A trip back to Piedmont fit the bill perfectly. The International White Truffle Festival started the exact weekend leading up to my birthday, the plans were set and off we go- andiamo!

Wednesday

Packed up our trusty backpack for our gastronomic adventure!

We took a red eye flight to optimize our time for this quick long weekend trip!

Thursday

Arriving in Milan Malpensa airport, we look a series of trains amounting to four hours to get to the town of Alba (Airport–> Milano–> Torino–> Alba). This trip of trains ended up being a four hour adventure. The train from Milano to Torino was late causing us to miss our connection to Alba. Luckily the train system in Italy is flexible for these types of delays. If you book online for a regional train, you have four hours before and after the scheduled departure where the ticket is still valid.

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We arrived at our Airbnb and our host graciously picked us up from the train station before showing us around our place. A converted convent with only one room furnished, we had the entire place to ourselves. We had no choice but to dig up Catholic church hymns to sing as we entered and left- the echoing made us both sounds pretty good! Nice amenities, homey touches, and a private terrace were all great benefits, not to mention the prime location for all of Alba right next to the Duomo. Our only complaint was the WiFi as it was non-existent most of the trip but the owner did mention that was being worked on for the future.

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Ready to explore… and starving… we freshened up after an extremely long travel day. With dinner in a few hours, aperitivo would suit our needs perfectly. Aperitivo is Italian happy hour- you order a drink and free snacks accompany ranging from bruschetta and other toppings on bread to pasta, depending on the establishment.

Voglia di Vino was a short walk down the pedestrian only street, Via Vittorio Emanuele, that is lined with cafes, gelaterias, high end fashion stores, and specialty food shops. Tucked before the main road was Voglia di Vino where we indulged in a few glasses of wine (Nebbiolo, of course!) and a piedmontese cheese plate with prosciutto crudo (raw). It was the perfect start to our gastronomic diary in Alba.

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Wandering down Via Vittorio Emanuele, we found the soon-to-be entrance to the truffle festival (marked the spot in our heads for tomorrow!) and ended in a piazza with a merry-go round and several tents selling novelty candy and another roasting chestnuts. From the Duomo to here it was less than a ten minute walk so everywhere in Alba is very accessible.

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I recalled that at this end of the town was the best rated gelato shop and while it was probably too close to dinner, we could not turn down the amazingness of Italian gelato. Gelateria La Romana featured over 20 flavors for anyone’s desire. We opted for cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and Kevin added pistachio to his.

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Always impressed by the immense flavor, we were just thrilled to be enjoying this dessert again. And the greatest surprise- at the bottom of my cono (cone) was melted Nutella- the perfect end to my chocolatey snack.

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After more exploring, we decided to see if our dinner reservation would take us early. We were told multiple times that this popular weekend in Alba would require reservations for every meal, even if just for two people. Lalibera was able to accommodate an earlier seating and as we sat at our table, the excitement of experiencing tartufo bianco (white truffles) was at an all time high.

Read about our first white truffle meal at Lalibera here!

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Overall we were thrilled with our first dinner in Alba at Laliberia- fresh pasta honestly has no match as it melts effortlessly in your mouth, great new desserts, elegant wine, and oh, white truffles we took turns inhaling throughout the meal.

Luckily after this meal we had a nice passeggiata (an evening stroll) to our Airbnb to help our digestion before bed.

Friday

An early morning had us out to grab breakfast before our long day wine touring the Barolo wine region. If it was going to be anything like the last time we toured this area, we were in for a lot of wine so we thought it best to hydrate and get some food beforehand. I found a small grocery shop to buy some fruit while Kevin ordered un cafe (an espresso) from Caffe Vergnano which has one of the largest espresso machines we have ever seen.

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We met our guide for the day, Matteo, in the center of town and he drove not even ten minutes and we noticed the landscape change from the town to the rolling hills of Piedmonte. The views from the car alone had us longing for this view every day.

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Quick recap on Nebbiolo! Nebbiolo is the grape most prominent in Piedmont. Nebbia means “fog” which is typical over the hills of Piedmont, giving Nebbiolo the success to grow (nebbia= nebbiolo!). Barolo and Barbaresco (other than being villages in Piedmont) are the names of the two wines that Nebbiolo grapes make. What makes one Barolo and one Barbaresco is all where it is grown. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barolo, the Nebbiolo makes Barolo. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barbaresco, the Nebbiolo makes Barbaresco. If the Nebbiolo grape is grown somewhere not in the DOCG regions of Barolo or Barbaresco, it makes Langhe Nebbiolo. This is a high level overview but it certainly helped me get a start in understanding wine in this area. The same also applies to wines in Tuscany with Chianti and Chianti Classico. The Italian wines are highly regulated so there is little left up to interpretation when making wine.

A few more photogenic photos of the Piedmont hills scattered with vines and we made our way back to Alba.

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Read the all the wonderful details about our day here!

We were very happy with our day in Barolo and pleased that Piedmont Food and Wine scheduled another wonderful experience for us. Three vineyards all with different style and flare, an unbelievable view over traditional Piedmontese lunch, and an extremely knowledge guide. Thank you Matteo and Piedmont Food and Wine!

Back in Alba, we took a quick nap before making our way to dinner. Enoclub is a restaurant in a cave and hoping for a similar experience as in Siena, we were excited to try it.

Read about the meal an Enoclub here!

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Another walk home, we were very impressed by the components of this meal and happy we got to experience another truffle dinner in a cave!

Just before we walked into our Airbnb for the night, the restaurant next door caught our eye- fresh pasta preparations for the next day’s meal.

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Saturday

The Truffle Festival was here! Getting a late start, we got in line for the Truffle Festival just before 11AM and was getting there a difference experience. Each time we walked Via Vittorio Emanuele, the street was mostly empty. Today, not only did the number of people in Alba double but there was an outdoor market going on in the middle of the road so there was very little walking room for people.

The 88th Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Abla takes place during weekends of October and November.

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Read all about the details of the festival here!

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We noticed that the Duomo was open for visitation, which it had not been all trip, so we took some time to see it.

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The inside was modest- not like the gaudy city churches- that depended on painting on the stone to bring elegance to the church.

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One of the chapels definitely had all the finishings or marble and gold, perhaps a more affordable approach to decorating a church. We sat inside for several minutes enjoying the silence before leaving.

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Not wanting a risk gelato experience, we walked the ten minutes down Via Vittorio Emanuele for La Romana again where we tried biscotto di nonna (cookie) and fiordilatte (milk) in addition to cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate). Each flavor was just so rich and perfect!

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There are many programs that occur during the weekends of the Truffle Festival such as cooking demonstrations, truffle sensory experiences, and wine tastings. Since it was the first weekend of the festival, there were only a few events so we got tickets to participate in the guided Barolo tasting experience. 

Read about this event at the festival here!

After the tasting, we returned back to the festival tent to learn more about white truffles. If let’s say we were to buy one, what is the shelf life? How do you store it? How do you pick one?

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Once you buy a white truffle, the clock begins for it to be used within seven days, less if you do not get a good truffle. Storage is preferable in a glass container wrapped in a paper towel in the refrigerator. Picking the right one was more difficult information to extract from the truffle hunters than I wanted, but to be fair, they had been at the far for twelve hours at that point packing up.

So (with our weak internet), I did some research on my own.

  • Do not go by the shape, go by the smell- you want a strong smell since that is what you are buying the truffle for- the aroma
  • Do not be bothered by holes- holes mean that snails made homes and they love the best truffles!
  • Make sure the truffle is firm- not too firm but not soft, soft means it is old
  • Make sure the dirt is rubbed off- adds to the weight of the truffle and that means more money

Now you can buy a white truffle!

How did we go? Read here!

Dinner was at La Piola, the sister restaurant of the three Michelin Star Piazza Duomo. While my birthday time (and non-birthday time) is filled with tasting menus, I opted against this several hundred dollar meal at Piazza Duomo. My intent was to be eating pasta that was averaging 10 euro (minus white truffles) so I did not feel the need to indulge. Fresh pasta is all I need! La Piola was right by our Airbnb so it was a nice change to eat in our neck of the woods- Borgo San Lorenzo.

Read about our meal at La Piola here!

We loved La Piola and if it was open on Sundays and Mondays, we may have tried to sneak in again. Happy to have had the opportunity to dine here.

Sunday

Our last full day in Alba! But definitely the most jam packed full of Festival kick off fun. Today was the Palio and display of medieval traditions. This Palio is special in comparison to the Palios of Asti and Siena. Story has it that “back in the day” Asti invited neighboring villages to participate in their Palio. Apparently, Alba won so consistently that they were uninvited to participate. As a proper “F-U”, Alba started their own Palio race… except with donkeys. Makes me laugh but we have heard this story from different people and it is always consistent. And so, on the first Sunday of the Truffle Festival, Alba holds the Donkey Palio.

Read all the details of this amazing event here!

We walked outside to start the morning with breakfast to find right outside to Duomo were all the donkeys right in the square awaiting their selection for the Palio.

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We just had to laugh! All different shapes and sizes and colors and personalities, there was no way they could be raced with.

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Read about the donkey selection, medieval parade, and the entire race here!

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We were all exhausted, leaving the track at 18:30 (6:30PM)- four and a half hours here! I am glad none of us had plans that evening because we all assumed the race would occur at 1500 and be over in a half hour- we were all wrong and that was ok by all of us! We experienced someone incredible.

In dire need of a snack, we stopped by La Romana for gelato, reminiscing over the races and looking at each other’s videos and photos capturing the event. We then parted ways, so grateful that we got to share this with someone because I am not sure anyone would believe what we just saw if not!

As we walked, all the Borgos were march back to their neighborhoods so we always found ourselves surrounded by horns, drums, and flag throwing.

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We decompressed at the Airbnb before making our way to our final dinner at Osteria dell’Arco. The inside was a traditional osteria, no fancy frills, just old school serving up piedmontese dishes the old fashioned way.

Read about our final meal in Alba here!

Our final walk to the Airbnb down Via Vittorio Emanuele- quiet now after a full day of celebration.

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Monday

Long and early travel back to Milan for our flight back to JFK airport. Perhaps next time we will consider renting a car and driving as it was another four hour trek back to the Milan Malpensa airport. The trains were on time and comfortable but 6AM departure for a 1PM flight was a but much! But if that is the way, it will not stop us from returning to Piedmont again soon.

This was certainly a short trip but we were able to accomplish so many things for the perfect birthday trip. We ate the most incredible food, drank exception wine, tasted wine through the vineyards of Piedmont- even from the barrel, explored the white truffle and participated in one of the oldest traditions in Alba. I cannot think of a better way to learn about a new place then to live these types of experiences. There is something so magical that brings us back to Piedmont and will keep us coming back for more.

RESKRIB

Activity Food
Wednesday Evening Flight to Milan
Thursday Morning
Afternoon Explore Alba Voglia di Vino

La Romana

Evening Lalibera
Friday Morning Barolo Wine Tour Caffe Vergnano
Afternoon Cantina Comunale
Evening Enoclub
Saturday Morning Truffle festival Caffe Vergnano
Afternoon Festival food
Evening Barolo tasting La Piola
Sunday Morning Donkey Assignment
Afternoon Medieval Parade Voglia di Vino
Evening Palio La Romano

Osteria dell’Arco

Monday Morning Travel to Milan
Afternoon Flight home

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