So, inspired by Bavariablogger’s fantastic list of the best things about living in Bavaria, I’ve decided to cast the negativity aside and remind myself why we’re here. Inappropriately-lycra-clad-cyclists and lazy-prescription-writing-but-no-advice-giving-doctors, you’ll have to wait your turn (it will come though, trust me), now is a time for positivity. Here are the eight best things about living in Piemonte…
1. Proper seasons
We lived in Bristol before moving to Italy. It rains there. A lot. It rains in the winter, then in the spring it gets a bit warmer and rains a bit more, in the summer the sun briefly comes out, then it rains again, and then autumn, well, it rains even more than it did in spring and summer, but it’s a couple of degrees cooler.
But here in Piemonte, there are proper seasons. Right now it’s hot and sunny. I haven’t worn trousers in weeks (I have been wearing shorts though, I’m not a pervert…) and my tan’s coming along nicely. In the winter it gets really cold, and there are loads of beautiful crisp, clear days. Spring brings rain (or at least it did this year), but it’s interspersed with warm, sunny days that give just a hint of the summer to come, while autumn is often foggy and atmospheric. Real weather.
Not the sleazy, Italian-type passion you might be thinking of, though I’m sure that has its place… I’m talking more about a passion for life, a certain pride. The people around here really care. They care about the vines, the weather, their food, their family and their friends. They even care about their neighbours. They’re proud of where they live and they take pride in pretty much everything they do. That’s the kind of thing that rubs off on you pretty quickly
3. Amazing landscapes
In terms of landscape, we’ve got pretty much everything within an hour of our house, except desert, but nobody likes desert anyway, it’s all dry and sandy. We have the sea, the mountains, steep-sided valleys, vine-covered hills, forests, plains and hundreds of great little towns and villages. In the winter we can pop up to the mountains for a day’s skiing, in the summer we can head down to the Italian Riviera. Turin isn’t far if we need a bit of city life, and we can even be in France pretty quickly if we get really desperate!
Driving around I’m constantly hit by the beauty of the place, the colours constantly changing, the views stretching out in all directions. Each corner reveals a different set of sharp-ridged hills and another hilltop castle. Sometimes the mountains reveal themselves, at other times they disappear behind the haze. The vines, in their impeccable straight lines, give a real texture to the hillsides. They’re incredibly green right now, but it’s only a matter of time before they take on their next hue. It really is a special place and I can’t imagine I’ll ever get bored of it.
4. Friendly people
People here ask a lot of questions, and they’re not shy about giving their opinions. To begin with I mistook this as nosiness, but I’ve come to realise that they just want to know what we’re up to because they are genuinely interested, they’re excited about what we’re doing and why we’re here, and they want to see if they can help in any way. And they even put up with my faltering Italian and do their best to understand me, even with my soft R’s.
5. Fresh, local food
Food is a big deal around here, even by Italian standards. The Slow Food Movement is based just down the road, in Bra, and there are countless local specialities, like Carne Cruda (raw beef made from the local Fassone cows, which apparently contain less fat than many white fish), tajarin (an eggy pasta), agnolotti (little ravioli), bagna cauda and quite a few cheeses, including Robiola and Castelmagno. All the food is locally-sourced, fresh and healthy. Even a trip to the supermarket is enjoyable here. Fruit and vegetables actually have flavour, nothing is packed full of preservatives, and don’t get me started on the hundreds of different types of salami…
Or lack thereof. I used to spend half my life stuck in traffic jams on the M4, but now if we need to go somewhere, I look up how long it should take and that’s exactly how long it does take. In a year I think I’ve been stuck in one jam. There aren’t even many traffic lights around here. You get in your car, drive and turn up. And when you arrive, it’s easy to park. No driving round for hours, trying to figure out deliberately obscure parking rules and then paying several pounds per hour . It’s all so much less stressful.
7. Wine, wine and more wine
Every last centimetre of land around here is covered in vines. It might be just me, but I reckon any wine tastes better when you’re drinking a glass of the stuff right next to the vineyard it comes from. There’s a wine here for every situation, and they’re all delicious… from Dolcetto, which I’ve heard referred to as a breakfast wine, through to Barolo, a big, heavy red for big, heavy dinners.
And there’s no better way to pass a couple of hours than with a wine tasting. You get a look around the cantina and then they pour you glass after glass of amazing wine, usually accompanied by a bit of cheese or prosciutto… all for free. You’re not obliged to buy anything, but I guess it would feel a bit rude if you didn’t. And anyway, everyone needs wine.
Sticking to the drinking theme… back in England I used to love a nice evening in the pub. In fact, that was what I expected to miss the most when we moved here. But Italy does evenings even better… It all starts with aperitivi, an early evening drink, usually outside in the warmth of the fading sun, watching the world go by. Wine or beer is perfectly acceptable but Spritz is really where it’s at. Admittedly, it’s not the manliest of bright orange drinks, but it tastes good. And they give you free food. Plate after plate of prosciutto, pizzette, grissini… so long as you keep drinking, the food keeps coming.
I don’t know if it’s the food or the metrosexual drinks, but there’s something particularly calming about an evening out in these parts. Everyone seems happy and relaxed. There’s no rush to get drunk, no danger of any fisticuffs, no short-skirted women passed out on the pavement with their mother and daughter passed out next to them (ever been to Swansea?), there’s just good-looking people sitting around in the open air chatting, drinking and eating.
That’s it for now, and I’m already feeling a bit happier. It works! I’m sure a few more will come to me, so maybe one day I’ll write the eight things to love almost as much about Piemonte…