24 hours in the Langhe

The Langhe is all about food and wine. Sure, you can go for nice walks and bike rides, admire the incredible scenery, check out the hilltop villages, the churches and the castles, but let’s be honest, all these things are just there to fill the increasingly small gaps between meals and wine tastings.

We had some friends from the UK to stay a couple of weeks ago and in the space of 24 hours we were able to demonstrate this point pretty much perfectly.

It all started with an evening meal in La Morra. Not just any evening meal though, a really bad evening meal. Bad restaurants around here are hard to find, so I’m almost claiming this one as an achievement. Strangely, the restaurant had come highly recommended, both online and by some friends whose judgement in these things I really trust, so I guess we just caught it on a bad night. But it was really, really bad. The whole restaurant stank of damp (that should perhaps have been a clue that what was to come wouldn’t be great, but we didn’t pick up on it…), the service was glacially slow and the food (when it eventually arrived) was dry and tasteless. The wine list was pretty impressive, so that’s something, but it wasn’t enough to rescue the meal and save it from garnering the accolade of worst meal we’ve had since moving to Italy.

The following morning, safe in the knowledge that things could only get better and still chuckling about how bad the previous evening had been, we headed to Monforte d’Alba, a small town (though with a population of 2,000 it counts as pretty big in these parts) just to the south of Barolo.

Monforte d'Alba walks restaurants

We went mid-morning so we could have a nice appetite-building walk through the vineyards to work off our breakfast and make room for lunch. As soon as we set off though, we were lost. Well, actually we weren’t technically lost, we just weren’t able to find the path we should have been on. We walked for what felt like hours, along lanes, up hills, down driveways, even across gardens, but the path never materialised.

wine Monforte d'Alba walking

Embarrassed by my second failure in the space of just 12 hours and scolding the map for being out-of-date (it must have been the map’s fault), we gave up on our walk and headed down the steep, cobbled streets into the centre of town. Our destination was La Salita, a little restaurant tucked away down an alleyway with a peaceful, shady courtyard.

Monforte d'Alba

It smelt good (already an improvement on the previous evening) and we were greeted by a smiley, friendly waitress who brought us a lovely, chilled bottle of Arneis (a local, fruity white wine) while we got down to studying the menu.

Suffice to say, all the food was amazing. The carne cruda (raw Piemontese beef) was the best I’ve had, and I’ve tried a few, my wife had a wonderful pasta dish with pesto, potato and fagiolini, and one of our friends had ravioli del plin, a local staple, which was also among the best I’ve tried. We sat in the courtyard for a couple of hours, eating, drinking, laughing and catching up on everything we’ve missed while we’ve been in Italy. It couldn’t have been more different to the previous evening.

Restaurant Monforte d'Alba outside courtyard

A quick time-check revealed our next appointment of the day – a wine tasting, naturally – was fast approaching, so we heaved ourselves into the car and headed for Stra, a small, family-run Azienda Agricola just outside the village of Novello.

Stra is our closest wine maker, they’re pretty much our neighbours in fact, and we’d been meaning to go there for a while. It’s a lovely place, with views across the vineyards towards our house (surely the best type of views) and the mountains beyond. We were greeted with open arms, warm smiles and a large table laden with dozens of wine glasses and yet more food. Maresa, the owner, took us on a quick tour of the cantina while we waited for a few other guests to arrive and then we made ourselves comfortable at the table and steeled ourselves for what was to come.

Wine vineyard Novello

They treated us to rather generous tastings of five of their wines: Dolcetto, Barbera, Barolo, Brajas (a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera) and a Nas-cetta (a white wine that can only be grown in the small comune of Novello). For a couple of hours we sat there nibbling cheese, grissini and hazelnut cakes, drinking great wine and chatting with the other guests. We even got to try some Grappa at the end. I’ve a feeling wine tastings may become a fairly regular occurrence in our household…

Wine Novello tasting

As the tasting came to an end, we bought a few bottles (not as many as the Swiss people who were in there with us though; they filled their VW Transporter with the stuff. Talk about showing us up in front of our new neighbours), said our goodbyes and headed off. We had one more destination… the Cedar of Lebanon.

The Cedar of Lebanon is my favourite tree. That’s right, I said favourite tree. That’s a thing. It sits on top of its own hill just below La Morra. Surrounded by vineyards, it can be seen from miles around. It was planted in 1856 at the request of a couple of local newlyweds – Costanzo Falleti and Eulalia Della Chiesa – who wanted it to be a sign of their enduring love. Nearly 160 years later, I’d say it’s enduring quite well.

Cedar of Lebanon Piemonte

We parked up and walked towards it, taking photos and watching the sun dip down behind the hills as we went. Dinner time was fast approaching, but we were happy just to stare at the tree for a while, contemplating whether we would ever need to eat or drink again.

And with that, 24 hours was up. We’d had a good meal, a bad meal, a great wine tasting, a terribly unsuccesful walk and a far better walk. And that is how you spend 24 hours in the Langhe (apart from the bad meal and the terrible walk, but you can’t have it all…).

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31 responses to “24 hours in the Langhe

  1. Getting beher every toime. When next with u I want to find Franco in La Morra. He had the S Sicario restaurant in Wford. Well done! B

  2. That may also be one of my favorite trees! Sounds like a nice time, even with some spots of bad luck… Are you accepting any more house guests in the near future?

    • Good to hear you like the tree… it’s nice to know I’m not alone in having a favourite. I thought country living might be getting to me!

      We’re always accepting house guests, I think we might start sending people off with detailed instructions to do their own thing though, it’s exhausting showing people around all the time.

  3. Last week with friends over from the UK, we took them to our favourite local restaurant, when we arrived at 20.30 the place was so busy not only did they not have any tables, they had also run out of food. Lesson learned, next time get there early on a Friday.

    • Haha… that’s so typical! It always seems to be the way. As soon as as you try to show off your favourite place to your friends, something goes wrong. We’ve not known a place run out of food yet, but we have struggled to get into places that are usually pretty empty.

  4. Your posts (take this as a compliment) generally cause a heavy feeling in my stomach. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m not in Italy. Also, it’s ALWAYS the map’s fault. Always. Nice pics, as always!

    • Thanks Christian… are you sure that’s not all that good food you’re eating in Singapore though!? And you’re right about the map, it’s always to blame! This time, I really, genuinely believe it was wrong…

  5. Excellent! Richard 😊 Very mind boggling about the restaurant, though, a bad one is near impossible to find. And, yes, that tree deserves to be admired and cherished!………..Linda

    • Thanks Linda! These things only happen when you’re trying to show off to friends. We’ve spent ages telling everyone how great the food is here so it was bound to all go wrong! Glad you like the tree, I think I might be taking quite a few more photos of it…

  6. Lovely post. As for the path, maybe a local made it disappear (I had to climb over an electric fence last week because a farmer had barred the right of way…. walking in the French countryside ain’t for sissies). Pity about the restaurant. The worst thing is that you never dare to tell them, a bit like when you thank the hairdresser who makes you look like something out of a 1970’s magazine 🙂

    • Thanks! I have my suspicions that that’s what happened to the path. I’m pretty sure we found where it was supposed to be, but there was just a big ‘no entry’ sign and a lot of very overgrown weeds…

      We made it clear that we weren’t happy at the restaurant, though the waiter already knew that he hadn’t waited particularly well. He apologised, which is something. The food wasn’t bad enough that we could complain though, there was nothing actually wrong with it per se, it just didn’t taste of anything!

      And I wish the hairdresser could make me look like something out of a 1970s magazine, but moving to Italy seems to have had a rather negative effect on my hairline! 🙂

  7. Great story, cheers! If you’re interested (and can find a copy) there’s a full page article on the Langhe and its white truffles in this month’s Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

    • Thanks! That’s awesome, I’ll have to try to find that, it must be online somewhere… It’s good to hear that the area is getting a bit of coverage, it tends to be overlooked in favour of the more well-known places.

  8. So nice to read about some of the places I’ll be visiting next year on the tour! Hopefully we won’t be eating at the “bad” restaurant in La Morra!
    Was your wine tasting event how they typically do it in Piemonte ( with food and such)? Did you need an appointment for such an experience? I’m used to wine tasting in California where you belly up to the bar, pay your fee, taste and learn about your 5 or so tastings (and if you’re lucky, have a couple of crackers). Don’t get me wrong, I love wine tasting, but it seems like in Italy, it’s a much more pleasant experience! Of course, we don’t need reservations or appointments for wine tasting…and maybe I’ve just never been to one where it’s by appointment! It may be a totally different experience!

    • Haha… hopefully not! Although I still keep hearing good things about it so we must have just caught it on an off night. Bad food is really very hard to find around here!

      Wine tasting is done in a few different ways here. The one we did at Stra is my personal favourite way… at small wineries you make an appointment and you spend the afternoon sat around a table, usually with bread, cheese, maybe hazelnut cakes, with the owner talking and trying all their wines. Most places don’t charge anything and you’re not required to buy any wine at the end. Personally I always do as I figure it’s a bit rude not too. Plus, I always like the wine enough to want to by some.

      At the bigger wineries you should also make appointments. Some will be able to accommodate you without, but I think it’s always best to call ahead if you can, just to be safe. Even the big places don’t have many staff and they might all be busy if you just turn up. The bigger places tend to have a bit of food, but not quite as much, and the tastings are usually a bit more formal (in my experience at least), though still usually sat around a table. Sometimes you will talk to the owner, other times a member of staff, but they are always knowledgable and enthusiastic. Some places charge for tastings (maybe 10 or 15 Euros), but if you buy something at the end then the tasting is normally free.

      The other type is the Cantine Communale, which is a kind of wine tasting room. They have these in a lot of towns. They stock the wines of all the producers in that town and you pay per tasting. Again, you usually get money off if you buy wine at the end though. You don’t need to book for these and it’s a great way to taste lots of different producers.

      I’ve not yet been anywhere that operates how they do in the US. Most places, even the bigger ones, are family run and aren’t really set up for loads of visitors at once. It’s a more personal experience. And it’s great because you get to talk to the people that actually make the wine.

      Sorry, that was a bit of a long answer, I hope it helps though. Let me know if you want any advice on wineries to visit and I’ll try to help!

      • Wow, thanks for the explanation. I think my favorite would be the small winery experience – I always enjoy chatting it up with the owners. They are always so much more passionate about their wines. And yes…I’d love to have the names of some of the wineries. Maybe we can add them to our itinerary (if they’re not yet on the list). Many thanks for your help!

  9. Great writing. Out of curiosity what was the name of the restaurant in La Morra if you don’t mind me asking? I will stay exactly there in a few weeks and I was thinking to have dinner in town, so that I don’t have to drink and drive. Needless saying I would like to avoid this restaurant as well! David

    • Hi Davide, thanks for the comment. I’d rather not name the restaurant if that’s ok. I think it was just a one-off bad experience so I don’t think it would be fair to name them on here. I will give you the names of a few restaurants I like though… La Fontanazza is great for a really relaxed lunch or dinner. The food is great and the owner is a really nice guy. At the other end of the scale, Il Castello di Grinzane Cavour is amazing if you want a special, really memorable meal. You will need to book though. Otherwise, L’Osteria del Vignaiolo is great and Pizzeria per Bacco is nice if you fancy a pizza one night. There are so many great places around though, I think you can count yourself very unlucky if you have a bad meal! If there’s anything else I can do to help, just let me know. And have a great trip!

      • Hi Richard (I believe this is your name…) Thank you very much for your prompt reply. I am actually an Italian (born and bred in Milan) living in London. I will be travelling with a few friends for a very short weekend in November. I am the man in charge, so like you in yuor case, my reputation will be at stake! We are staying at Rocche di Castamagna for the night and I was looking for somewhere nearby so I don’t have to drive far with a few glasses of wine in my blood…I managed to get a table at Ristorante Bovio. They seem to be quite consistent judging by the feedbacks they have received on tripadvisor….any thoughts on this one? I may stop at the Grinzane castle on my way back to Milan. Also any vinyards worth while visiting in the area. I am looking for those that have historical premises to show off a little ; )). Two years ago I did Ceretto, Montezemolo and Massolino, this year I was thinking of Einaudi in Dogliani and maybe a few in/around Barolo…

        Thank you very much

        Davide

      • Hi Davide, I think with your reputation being at stake Bovio is a good, safe choice. I’ve not been yet but I hear it is good. Nice views from there too!

        As for wineries, I’m not sure any of the ones I know really fit the bill. Great wine but not historic buildings… A friend of mine knows everything there is to know about wineries in the Langhe though, her website is http://www.italianna.com, you should send her an email and see if she can point you in the right direction.

      • Thx Richard I appreciate your reply. Will take a look at Italianna.
        I will also report back my ‘humble’ impressions of Bovio to you..
        tada

        Davide

  10. SWOON….!!!! We’ll be staying at Stra June 15 and 16 (Our 12th anniversary!!) I can’t think of a more lovely and exciting place to be! We will definitely have to make a pilgrimage to the Cedar of Lebanon! How am I going to pass these next 3-ish months before our trip?!?! TORTURE!!!!! THANKS for this post as well as the Stra recommendation!
    ~Dana in Alaska

    • Awesome, I’m sure you’ll love it there. They’re such nice people, making amazing wine and they have an awesome swimming pool too. What more could anyone want!? Yep, definitely check out the tree!

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