Eight things to love about Piemonte

Sunset Novello treeBetween AWOL geometras, pointless planning committees and a frankly incomprehensible health service, Italy has been giving us a tough time of late. In various fits of frustration, I’ve made a few lists of things I just don’t get about the place, but they just seemed a bit too negative.

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.

2. Passion

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!

Italian Riviera Portofino

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.

Novello mountains view

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…

Stra cheese

6. Traffic

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.Stra tasting

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.

8. Aperitivi

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…

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30 thoughts on “Eight things to love about Piemonte

  1. Excellent article and exactly why were are still here nine years on! Bravo! You should also remind yourself how frustrating the health system was in the UK. Yes, one has to wait in queues here, however, at least you get a specialist appointment or blood taken pretty quickly and the results arrive in the post two days later! You also keep all your own results, X-rays etc so nothing gets lost in the system!

    1. Thanks June! I’m not sure my “system” is any safer than the NHS’s, but I get what you mean… 🙂

      I’ve found the key is just to keep plugging away until you find some who is willing and able to help. If you ask enough questions of enough people, you eventually get there. And pressing every button on the ticket machines at the hospital helps too! Everything works here (possibly unlike in the UK…), it’s just a case of figuring out exactly how it works.

  2. I agree completely with your positives! I don’t live in Italy but have visited quite a number of times and what you describe is exactly what I think, too. I would move there too if I could! 🙂

  3. Keep writing pieces like this and you’ll want to shoot yourself after the hordes move in! I was only in Italy for a week and the thing that struck me immediately was the way that life there is so rich and full yet it ambles by in such a laid back and pleasant way, all at the same time. Nice post!

  4. I thank you for this articles that describes my connationals so well ! I miss living among people like that. Here in Idaho near Boise the Health System works very smoothly and quickly. I think it is because there are fewer people seeking medical help. An area of square km: 216 446, only has less than 2
    million people (1,596 million people at the 2012 census). In California, so crowded, the HS was often hellish too.

    1. Thanks Vera. I think, compared to the English at least, the Italians like to seek medical help quite often… I’m already catching that bug (if you’ll pardon the pun), I’ve never been to the doctor and hospital so much in my life! In its own, slightly hectic way though, it does seem to work, it’s just a case of navigating your way through it.

      1. Ciao Richard, very interesting post, thank you for point of view. Yes italians love their doctors. In Italy if you are ill (even simple flu) and you go to the General Practicioner without an appointment, in any case you will be examined by your doctor and you will get out with a prescription. NHS works differently, and maybe this discourages a frequent use of their services. Of course, basically, there is also a cultural difference on this.
        Sorry for my “inglese scarso”

      2. Ciao Alberto, thanks for reading and commenting! Your English is absolutely perfect, don’t worry about that. I think you’re right… in my experience in the UK I would only go to the Doctor if I was really unwell. It would take three or four days to get an appointment so most minor illnesses would have cleared up by the time I got to see anyone. I like the system in Italy of just turning up, and also of being able to telephone the doctor directly during surgery hours. It took me some getting used to after being raised in the UK, but I think it may be a better way of doing things. I’m not sure I agree with always prescribing drugs, but as you say, there are cultural differences at play here as well. In the UK, we have our ‘stiff upper lip’ which means we only go to the doctor when we think we may be dying 😉 whereas here in Italy, people go whenever they get even the slightest sniff of something wrong.

  5. This is a great list and I must say I’m delighted that I inspired you to write it. It sounds like our areas are fairly similar and even more appreciated hailing from good ol’ Sarfend!

    1. Thanks, and thanks for the inspiration! I tried to not to copy you too much, but I think there are quite a few similarities… just substitute beer for wine and sausages for pasta and you’re about there. Ahh Southend… should I feel bad that I really don’t miss it!?

  6. Love no. 8. I’m in Rugby at the moment, home of ‘ambulances waiting in the side streets on a Friday and Saturday night’ – definitely prefer the Italian way of doing things!

    1. I always take that as a sign I’m probably in the wrong part of town, or maybe just in the wrong town. I think the ambulances on standby is a uniquely British thing… always be prepared!

  7. I love this and your other snippets of Italian life 🙂 Italy is the country I keep returning to most and I hope that one day I will end up living there a bit so I can experience first hand what you’ve just described.

      1. Well, I adored Florence and visited twice. I love the architecture, the art, the history, but also it’s a bustling city. But I would love to explore more of the countryside around the whole country!

  8. Try and look on the bright side! When all is said and done, there HAS to be a best-seller in the offing…….. Perhaps I could even hire you as a ‘ghost writer’ for my trilogy – yes, I have more than enough fodder – as well as a share in the rights to my guaranteed ‘comedic’ Hollywood blockbuster???!!!

    My best advise is to take lots and lots of photos along the way – you will truly be amazed at the end by what you have finally achieved – as well as continuing to frequent the local wineries for copious amounts of taste-testing!!

    You will get through this…….. there are a lot of us out here rooting for you, so keep the blogs coming!

    Buona Fortuna!

  9. It us almost a comprehensive encyclopedia of this part of Italy. Funny but perfect as concise and to the point. Well done, looking forward to some exploring when next there with you…4! B

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