One of the great things about moving to a different country is that all your friends want to come out to visit. We used to get the occasional weekend visitor when we lived in Bristol, but for some reason, now we’ve swapped rain and cider for sunshine and wine we’re getting a lot more interest… who’d have thought it?
I’m sure I’ll tire of it soon enough, but right now I love proudly showing people where we live; the house, the views, the villages and vineyards, the mountains and, of course, the food and wine. It also allows us see it all through fresh eyes, reminds us what drew us to the area in the first place and lets us appreciate it all over again.
I love that on the windy road down to Barolo, which we generally think of as a slight inconvenience, visitors almost always lean out of the car window, risking life and limb to try to take photos of the view, before eventually giving up and asking me to pull over so they can do it properly. I love that they continually ask questions about all the different wines and foods that they’ve never heard of, and most of all I love it when I can tell that they genuinely enjoy the area and don’t want to go back home.
Having visitors also gives us an excuse to go out for long lunches and sit in the sun drinking wine. It’s what they’re here for after all, and it would be rude to deny them. So we just suck it up and accept that that’s what we’re going to have to do…
Our most recent visitor only just left us to head back to northern England. We’ll call him the Inquisitive Semi-German… because he’s half-German and is incredibly skilled at asking questions. Constantly. Long car journeys are never dull with ISG around. He quizzed us on different types of rice grain as we drove through Vercelli, the geography of the Po and Tanaro rivers whenever we crossed a bridge, and grape varieties, growing techniques and harvests every time we saw a vineyard, which was a lot.
After a hard morning of gardening, in which I managed to not break a single tool or injure myself, we piled into the car, ready for our next barrage of questions, and headed to Serralunga d’Alba for lunch.
Serralunga (I did my research in case ISG asked) is a hilltop medieval village dominated by a huge castle, which was built between 1340 and 1350 by the Falletti family, Marquises of Barolo. There are stunning views in all directions over the surrounding vineyards and sharp-ridged hills. Much of the land around the village was once the hunting preserve of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. His first son, Count Emanuele Alberto de Mirafiore, turned the land into vineyards in 1878 and began making wine.
History lesson over, we wandered down from the castle, through the fortified walls, to Trattoria Cascina Schiavenza. Sat on the terrace overlooking the restaurant’s own vineyards, squinting in the spring sunshine, we enjoyed a few traditional Piemontese dishes – carne cruda (raw meat), crespelle agli asparagi (asparagus crepes, which were amazing!), vitello tonnato (veal with a tuna sauce), ravioli del plin (ravioli, obviously, and ‘del plin’, meaning pinch, refers to the way the maker pinches with thumb and forefinger between each mound of filling to seal the little pasta packets,) and tajarin al ragu (a golden-coloured pasta similar to tagliatelle but made from egg dough). This was all washed down with a bottle of Schiavenza’s own delicious Dolcetto. ISG couldn’t quite believe that a bottle of wine in a restaurant could cost just 8 euros… many questions about wine pricing followed, naturally.
Schiavenza is my new favourite restaurant. I’ve no doubt it will be usurped pretty quickly, but the combination of the informal, relaxed atmosphere, incredible views, great quality food, delicious wine and stupidly cheap prices makes it hard to beat.
We could have stayed there all afternoon, savouring the views, the sunshine and the Dolcetto, but gardening waits for no man, so after a stroll around the village we headed back to the house to carry on where we’d left off. We even put ISG to work pulling weeds, though his initial enthusiasm didn’t last long, especially once he remembered all the wine we have in the cantina.
Hopefully we’ll be welcoming a lot more visitors over the coming months, we’ve already got a few booked in. If you’re one of them, come prepared for some long, tough lunches, lots of great wine and a maybe bit of gardening (you’ve got to pay your way!). We might even get you to try your hand at removing some of that damned plaster from the ceilings with the power chisel.