Monferrato – Italy’s best kept secret
The Monferrato wine region, beautifully situated in the Asti and Alessandria provinces, is (according to some) Italy’s best kept secret. This area of red and sparkling wines is wonderfully sheltered from mass tourism.
Casa Monteverdi is nestled between the hills of Castelnuovo Calcea and Vinchio. In these little villages you can find a bakery, a café, a small shop, a couple of charming restaurants, some small and beautiful churches, houses and farms. The locals are friendly and hospitable and love welcoming guests to their wine tastings accompanied by local delicacies. The town of Nizza Monferrato is only a 20-minute bicycle ride and offers lots of restaurants, shops, supermarkets, farmer’s markets and outdoor patios. At a half-hour’s drive you’ll find yourself in the historic centre of Asti or the town of Alba, known for Nutella and the renowned White Truffle Fair. Within 1,5hrs you’re in the centre of cultural cities such as Turin, Genova and Milan.
Casa Monteverdi is a perfect base for your city trips and cultural excursions. The following is a quick introduction to everything the region has to offer.
Turin: Piedmont’s Royal Capital
Of the three cultural centres in the region, Turin has undeniably won our hearts. Surrounded by the snow-peaked tops of the French and Swiss Alps, this former capital of Savoye harbours more than just the splendour of the palazzi and museums. Turin is one of the liveliest cities of Northern Italy. It’s famous for the Winter Olympics, Fiat, Juventus, the Mole Antonelliana, endless shopping, the Porto Palazzo and the Salone del Gusto – the world’s biggest Slow Food fair. But walk the narrow, criss-cross streets of Turin, and you’ll discover its intimate atmosphere and the locals. Markets, shops, galleries, wine bars, street art… you’ll be able to endlessly explore this city without ever getting bored.
Liguria: Piedmont’s coastal region
Liguria, known for the Italian Riviera, is one of Italy’s smallest regions. Popular with tourists because of Genova, Cinque Terra, San Remo and the caves of Toirano, it’s a must for any Italy lovers who don’t mind the crowds. But those who would like to visit the coast would be better off visiting one of Liguria’s pearls, such as the beach town of Noli. Noli is part of ‘Il borghi pui bella d’Italia’, or ‘the most beautiful villages in Italy’. Enjoy swimming, sunbathing on the beautiful beach, walks to the old palazzi, or relishing the fresh fish, fresh pesto and legendary white pizza. You’ll find no shortage of cosy restaurants and sea-side terraces here.
Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera: Piedmont’s exceptional wines
There’s a reason the wine regions of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see and exploring the area on foot or bicycle never ceases to amaze. The triangle made up of Asti, Acqui Terme and Alba is the wine region that produces the Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, three of the best red wines of Italy. Casa Monteverdi lies in the middle of the Barbera region and has a small 800m2 vineyard to honour the tradition of this old wine farm. Our Italian friends in the area produce some of the best Barbera wines, and guests who would be interested in an introduction and exclusive wine tasting need only ask.
The Slow Food Movement
Piedmont is known for its incredible, unique cuisine. Notably, in 1989 Carlo Petrini founded the ‘Slow Food Movement’ in the nearby village of Bra. 30 years later and Slow Food is a well-known concept all over the world, with Piedmont at its heart. This area has embraced everything ‘food’ for centuries. The local delicatessens, the farmer’s markets, even the supermarkets are full of the region’s delicacies: prosciutto, hazelnuts, fresh fruit, white and black truffles, pastas and, of course, cheese. Many of the Italian cheeses such as mozzarella, parmeggiano, gorgonzola and castelmagno carry the prestigious cheese quality brand DOP.
Mombaruzzo and Murazzano – Piedmont’s village life
Their names alone speak to the imagination. Mombaruzzo is a 15-minute drive and one of our favourites. This hilltop village is famous for its grappa and Amaretti biscuits. With a bit of luck, you’ll be able to attend a workshop at the Morondo Virginio family business. A tour and tasting at the Destillerie Berta is also highly recommended. It’s here the best grappas of Northern Italy are produced. Murazzano is an hour and a half south of Casa Monteverdi, and the drive alone is worth the trip. In 2009 our friends Monique and Hermando single-handedly transformed a ruin into the heavenly Casavabene. Monique loves to show their guests around this historic pastoral village, home of the Murazzano cheese.
Barolo: Piedmont’s King of Wines
Thanks to a century-old tradition, the powerful Nebbioli-grape and clever marketing, the Barolo has become the ‘king of wines and the wine of kings’. Barolo is named after one of the most beautiful wine villages in Piedmont. This charming hamlet lives and breathes Barolo wine: the castle housing a wine museum, the corkscrew museum, the many restaurants and wine bars. It’s a popular tourist destination, so make sure you visit early in the day. While you’re there, don’t forget to pop into the Cravero bakery, where they make incredible grissini, a beloved Piedmont delicacy. On the way back, take the exit leading to the wonderful chapel of American artist Sol Lewitt, situated in the vineyard of the famous Barolo-family Ceretto. It’s a real local treasure.
Alba: Piedmont’s White Truffle Town
About a half hour drive from Casa Monteverdi lies Alba, the culinary heart of Monferrato known for its famous white truffles and for being the birthplace of Nutella. In October and November Alba hosts the International Truffle Fair, and the streets and squares are filled with the enchanting aroma of white truffles. This festival is a must visit, but be sure to make your reservations early, as restaurants and wine bars book up weeks in advance. Everything in Alba is centred around slow food, wine and Italian cheese. The historic centre of Alba is car-free and a paradise for lovers of Italian fashion. Just outside Alba you’ll find the Nutella factory, the biggest employer in the region as well as the biggest wholesale buyer of every single hazelnut the area has to offer. Anyone with a bit of fallow land (including Casa Monteverdi) makes sure to plant some hazelnut trees.
Piedmont’s Market Towns
Italy’s lively market squares are an integral part of the culture. Every town and village has at least one weekly farmer’s market. This is where Italians come to buy their fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, bread and pasta. The most incredible Italian cheeses are sold all over, from busy cheese stalls to little tables where a nonna sells her local wares underneath a parasol. For these markets, food is only the half of it: here you can find clothing, shoes, bedding, kitchen supplies, gadgets, knick-knacks, and anything else you can think of. Market day is a social engagement, it’s traditional to finish the shopping with an espresso or even a prosecco at the local bar, as everyone and anyone gathers here. Bigger cities, such as Turin, Asti, Acqui Terme and Nizza Monferrato regularly organise organic markets or antiques markets. Here you can find authentic and reasonably priced Piedmont paraphernalia.