There is never a bad time to visit Piedmont by camper, but the All Saints long weekend is a truly special chance to enjoy a weekend of cultural visits and tasting sessions. The word “Piedmont” immediately conjures up images of the classic Piedmontese wines, but also of landscapes that are at their most colourful in autumn. The region offers not just quality wines, but a rich cuisine and excellent quality cheese, so here are our five recommendations for a camper trip to Piedmont.
All Saints long weekend in camper
Our first stop was the Royal Castle at Racconigi, which features on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its exterior is a splendid sight for visitors, as is its Park, and it is immediately obvious why it became a Royal residence for the Savoia household, even if today there are many aspects of the building, as in many cases in Italy, that need restoration. There are many rooms that you can visit, laid out in two wings, corridors that feature a splendid collection of portraits of members of the Savoia family, and marble busts, including those of Carlo Alberto and Camillo Benso, count Cavour. The Park is well worth a visit as well, particularly as sunset approaches. There are many paths in the park, and dogs are free to enter without problems.
As the sun sets on Racconigi, we take the road that goes to Bra (province of Cesana), a small famous town between Langhe and Roero, known above all for the Bra ham (veal sausage) and cheese. The Slow Food association was created here in 1986, to promote a culture of good quality food, to preserve biodeversirty and promote all aspects of “slow” tourism. Bra is one of the founder councils behind the Città Slow project.
The town is also known for its famous Cheese fair, where cheese-makers and cheese-lovers come together from all over the world. It is very easy to lose yourself in all the good food and excellent wine, and the many monuments that you can visit in Bra. We park our camper in the dedicated area near the council leisure centre and take a nice walk towards the town centre, looking for a restaurant that offers the typical first courses the area offers. But first we stop in a bar called “Local”, for a quick aperitif of excellent organic wines and Bra Ham and cheese, and organic vegetables of the zone. We leave in the morning, and travel the 6km towards Pollenzo. We park the camper and walk round this small village that dates back to the Romans (who called it “Pollenzia”), but which today hosts the Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche, the Pollenzo Kitchen School and the Wine Bank. So you should definitely take the time to stop and see the town. The walk through the centre is very pleasant, above all thanks to the young people and gastronomy students who you find everywhere. In 1998, Slow Food organised a project to restore the entire area, and from 2004, it was included in the first university project in the world dedicated to food culture. 2001 saw the creation of a co-operative that seeks to keep alive the history of the best Italian wines, choosing wines from all across Italy: each wine chosen is represented by a sample bottle and a handful of the earth from which it grew, to form a historical “database” of our most excellent wines. It is especially nice to lose yourself in the cellars, some of which date back to 19th century, to enjoy tasting sessions (tickets sold separately).
One positive aspect: dogs are accepted here.
We leave Pollenzo and head towards Cherasco, a Comune Bandiera Arancione of the Italian Touring Club, home or the International Institute of Snail foods, and the National Snail Producers Association. We walk through a very historic town centre, that dates back to 1200: since then, ownership of the town passed from one family to another, until 1700 when the fence walls were replaced by the tree-lined streets that you can see today: but the old quartered layout that divides the town in four remains. You immediately notice the “grid” of parallel streets that run perpendicular to the main roads, where you can see historic buildings, museums, and the church that symbolises this ancient town.
But now it is lunchtime, so we weigh up a couple of restaurants, looking for one where we can taste the famous snails and the bagna cauda, typical dishes of the area. After lunch, we leave and now we start to go deeper into the hilly panoramo covered with vines typical of this region. Going up and down the hills, we find Barolo, we park nearby and head to the WiMu, a wine museum inside the town’s Castle, and home to the Regional Wine Association. There are many wineries in the town that offer guided tours of their underground cellars.
Unfortunately, dogs cannot be taken into the interactive museum, so we divide our group for the visit. The museum is suited to children as well, and you can wander about at your leisure. The displays are a feast of shade and light, sound and music that recount the work and the experiences of wine culture from prehistoric times to the modern day, which are often expressions of history and art.
After Barolo, we head to La Morra where we spend the night in a campsite with connected B&B in a splendid winery: it was not our first visit to this place and it is an excellent place to stop as you travel through the area. La Morra has a splendid Council cellar, where you can taste selected prestigious wines.
Next we move to Castiglione Falletto, for a beautiful walk through the town, which is buried in the vineyards, and which features a Medieval castle, open to visitors on request. Follow the path alongside the road that goes round the entire town. Once again, as in many places in this area, there is a Historic Council Wine Cellar, at the base of the Castle, where you can taste and purchase local produce. After taking a few pictures, we decide to have lunch, and so we visit a terrace Bar and we sit in the warm sunshine enjoying the specialities of the area, and a good glass of Barolo! After lunch, we enjoy an excellent Torrone of Alba which is just as good as the equally-famous Torrone of Cremona.
Happy after our brief stop, we head to Serralunga d’Alba where we briefly visit the town, which has one of the best 14th centuries castles in the country, partly since it was never involved in military campaigns and therefore retains to this day its original structure. We now head down to Grinzane Cavour, where there isa comfortable camper park with discharge/refill facilities, to visit the Castle, home of a well-known restaurant, and the Cavour Regional Piedmont Wine Association, but above all the World Auction of the Alba Truffle! We see magnificent aisles of the prize Tuber magnatum Pico (as it is properly known) in this UNESCO-protected castle, which belonged to the famous 19th century Piedmont politician Count Cavour. These truffles are auctioned together with the best bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco. People come from all over the world to participate in the auction, but few manage to get their hands on the much-desired Tuber! A pleasant visit to the Wine Museum, a few pictures, and then we head to our final destination, the agritourism/campsite where we will stop for the night and make our selection of wines.
This time, we are in the province of Asti to taste and buy Barbera and Moscato d’Asti, and we spend a pleasant evening in our camoer, parked deep in the Asti hills. We are between Alba and Canelli, and the view up here is enchanting.
On the morning of the third day, we get up under a cloudy sky, and we are waiting for our friends from Parma to arrive, to go to Alba together for the Truffle Fair. So we buy our wines, set out for the town, and park in the dedicated camper area at the Fair.
The Alba Truffle Fair
We go into the Fair, and we are immediately struck by the smells of cheese and truffle: even if those in the sector tell us that it has been a bad year for the truffle, there are still many companies and stalls on display. And that it is to say nothing of the prices, which have risen noticeably this year!! We spend a beautiful morning tasting cheese, sampling wines and buying a few items, before we set out for a walk through the historic centre of Alba.
We would like to join the Alba Underground guided tour, but it is full-up all day, so we give up on the idea, since we need to get to Canelli by evening for other visits. We head to a local wine producer we have met in the past, and sample their excellent products. It is always nice to meet producers like this, and exchange information on the production, the yield and how the year compares to others. The passion and love that such people demonstrate for their land makes them very special indeed. We make our purchases, and say goodbye hoping to return soon, particularly since they are always ready to host our camper!
Photo by Unisg
So now we leave all together for Canelli, but first we pass through Costigliole d’Asti, a beautiful little town when we stop to meet a friend who will take us for a guided tour of the Beccaris Distillery. This was our first time in a distillery, and it was an interesting experience. In Emilia, we say “no part of the pig is thrown away”, and we could coin a similar saying for the grape. After gathering, the grapes are taken to the distillery, one of the few left open in the area, since there are many customs rules, and regulations on polluting emissions, and the grapes must be thoroughly filtered. We can understand why few remain active, given the high costs of the anti-pollution equipment required by law.
The distillery we visit distills its own products, a tradition that started in 1951. the owner tells us a funny story about its origins: “My father decided to open a business, but he could not decide whether to create a wine cellar, a vinegar cellar, or a distillery. So he decided that me and destiny would decide for him, and in fact when I was only three months old, he put three pieces of paper in a cap and had me pull one out”. Now the distillery, which has been expanded over the years, produces 11,000 quintals of distilled wines annually (a quintal is an Italian term for 100kg), from Nebbiolo to Barbera, plus white wines.
Photo: Beccaris Distillery
After distillation and aging in 3-10 year old casks, the distilled wines are bottled for market. The residue left from the process is then used to heat the entire facility, including the offices and shop. We make our purchases and say goodbye to what is an entirely new world for us, before moving to Canelli, where we stay in teh courtryard of our new friends. There are many historical buldings, museums and churches to visit, plus the private Gancia Castle, and famous people were born in the town, including the creator of Spumante, Carlo Gancia. You must visit the underground Historical Cellars, which are booked up way in advance as they are not always open, but well worth the trouble!
And so our camper voyage through Piedmont comes to an end. Looking at our pictures and swapping impressions on the way back, we come to realise just how fantastic Italy actually is, with its little towns and large historical cities, and seeing it by camper makes it even more special!
Download the itinerary PDF: The All Saints long weekend in Piedmont