Posted at 04:10 PM ET, 01/27/2006
Panorama: Ivrea's Centro Storico
For the final stop on our journey around the Piemonte, we headed east and then north to Ivrea, headquarters of Olivetti, known as the makers of Italy's typewriters.
Ivrea was also the home of my maternal grandmother, Angiolamaria Salvioni. But I know next to nothing about her life there. By the time I was born, my grandparents lived in a beautiful big apartment in Naples overlooking the bay. That's where I would visit them in the summers from the States.
As always, we headed to Ivrea's "centro", the hub of activity of any Italian town. I went to the Caffe Roma in the main piazza and asked for a local phone book to see if there were any Salvionis I could call.
Posted at 02:24 PM ET, 01/27/2006
Let it Snow
Panorama: Snow in Asti
I'm happy to report that the Torino Winter Olympics have been officially saved from a snowless fate. Because boy, did it come down today.
We heard on the radio that there was significant snow all over northern Italy, so I'm hoping that that lovely white powder is accumulating up in the Piemontese Alps, just in time for Bode Miller's arrival. (They love him here. They call him Boh-Day.) Even Milan's airport was closed because of snow.
We were far from the mountains today, continuing on our circle journey around Torino. From Alba, we headed northeast to Asti, the capital of Italy's best-known bubbly, Asti Spumante....continue >>
Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 01/27/2006
Besides wine and truffles, Alba is also the home of Ferrero, Italy's premier chocolate company. The multinational confectionary giant makes Ferrero Rochers, Nutella and Tic Tac mints. Besides the company's corporate headquarters, Alba is also the home of a massive Ferrero chocolate factory. You can actually smell the chocolate when you walk by.
For breakfast, Italian kids love nothing better than a piece of crusty bread with Nutella slathered all over it. And I have to admit my boys picked up the Nutella-loving habit when we lived here when they were little. (It's not a hard habit to acquire).
So the idea of touring the factory and seeing how they make the Nutella was just too good to resist.
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 01/27/2006
Drop Dead Gorgeous Italy
Panorama: Snowy Red Rooftops
Just a few minutes outside of Alba, you're in serious wine country...and in the Italy you always imagined. The rolling hills are covered with precise rows of grapes, still beautiful even though now completely bare. Medieval towns sit atop the hills. About a dozen massive castles grace towns nearby.
It was breathtaking even though the clouds were so heavy with snow we could hardly see anything. I can only imagine what this area is like in the spring when the plants are just blooming, or in the fall, during the wine harvest. I can safely report that this part of Italy, called the Langhe, rivals any part of the country I've seen. Trust me: It's worth it.
And then there's the wine....continue >>
Posted at 02:10 PM ET, 01/26/2006
A Very Nice Bottle of Wine
Ms. Boffa convinced me quickly I wasn't going to be able to eat any white truffles. And God forbid some fake Tuscan one might pass my lips. But she was so generous with her time, and her restaurant, La Libera, was so full of people that we thought, heck, let's eat here anyway.
We sat down and she brought us the one-page menu...and the 22-page wine list. The wine list, which had pages upon pages of locally-made Barbarescos and Barolos (listed by years, of course), included wines that cost more than 200 Euros a bottle. We wanted to sample one of the area's renowned wines, but we weren't too sure where to start.
Turns out Ms. Boffa knew a whole lot about wine too....continue >>
Posted at 11:05 AM ET, 01/26/2006
Hunting for Truffles
For our first dinner in Alba, I was determined to try the famous white truffles shaved on pasta that this area is known for. I'm ashamed to admit I have never eaten white truffles. What kind of a daughter of a Piemontese am I? I was determined to change that. And to change it here, not in some up-market Italian restaurant in Washington.
I knew, of course, that this wasn't the height of truffle-eating season. That's earlier in the winter, usually October through December. But sometimes the season extends into January, and even late January, so I thought maybe, just maybe, I could snag some and so live down this culinary shame. On a walk through town, we had seen some white truffles for sale, preserved in jars.
We looked at the menus posted outside at several restaurants we passed. None mentioned white truffles. One mentioned black truffles. But that's not what we were looking for. The manager of the hotel had told me that eating black truffles was as banal as eating potatoes. I couldn't commit that faux pax. I'm still living down the grapes....continue >>
Posted at 03:19 AM ET, 01/26/2006
No Grapes Here, Stupid
We woke up this morning in Alba, Piemonte's capital of food, wine and castles, and it was snowing! I bet the folks up in the mountain resorts are happy. Maybe enough will fall to silence the big snow cannons, or at least slow them down. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to tell you about our journey here...and our extraordinary dinner last night.
The land began flattening as we headed southeast out of Pinerolo towards Alba and was soon just a plain as far as the eye could see. It was hard to believe that just an hour before we had been high up in the Italian Alps.
Now, neat rows of planted trees and shrubs lined the road on both sides. Were we getting towards wine country already? Some of the plants looked like grapes, we thought. But we're no experts. And all the plants are bare now. So we decided to stop and find out....continue >>
Posted at 03:08 PM ET, 01/25/2006
We left Sestriere and headed southeast towards Pinerolo, the lively little town where the Olympic curling competitions will be held.
As we descended down from the mountaintops, we passed through a few adorable old towns lined with yellow, cream and sandy-colored houses with Alpine-style wood balconies. Many of the houses sported those same beautiful interlocking gray slate rooftops we had seen on our way up to the mountains.
Pinerolo sprawls a bit but is redeemed by a charming "centro storico", or historic center, with narrow, curving streets, pastel-colored houses and Torino-style porticos.
But are the Pinerolesi excited about the upcoming curling competitions?...continue >>
Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 01/25/2006
Finally some skiers
Panorama: Border: France and Italy
We found the skiers...they're in another country! They're in France, actually, which is only a few miles from here.
Half an hour out of Sestriere, traveling pretty much due west, you hit the French border at the Italian town of Claviere (sounds French, I know, but it's in Italy). And just about a mile into France, we saw what we had been expecting to see here. People skiing! People sitting outside drinking and eating at quaint bars with their faces turned towards the midday sun and their skis and snowboards leaned up on the railing. On vacation, having fun. What a concept.
Montgenevre, just a bit more than a mile from Claviere, is connected to the Italian Olympic ski resorts as part of the Milky Way ski circuit. But at the moment, it's a whole different story on the French side of the border....continue >>
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 01/25/2006
Skiing the Milky Way
What Sestriere lacks in architectural appeal, it makes up for in skiing. It's the main resort in the ski circuit known as the Milky Way, which covers 250 miles of slopes in five resorts in both Italy and nearby France.
The 211 slopes of the Milky Way -- or Via Lattea in Italian -- are all connected and are served by 91 ski lifts, which rise from 4,430 feet up to a majestic 9,190 feet. The downhill, cross-country, freestyle and biathlon Olympic events will all be held on the Italian section of the Milky Way.
Sestriere is the highest of the Italian resorts here, sitting at 6,680 feet up. Soon after it was built in the 1930s, it began attracting a wide variety of Italians to its long runs....continue >>
Posted at 02:10 PM ET, 01/24/2006
No Snow and Lots of Cranes
Panorama: Construction in Sestriere
Sestriere is one big construction site. And because it's so much smaller than Torino, you feel the impending Olympics here much more than in the Piemontese capital.
Everywhere you look, there are diggers moving earth back and forth and big, tall fences with Torino 2006 flags on them keeping passersby out of the building sites. Workers are still finishing the hundreds of apartments they've built here to house the Olympic athletes, which after the Games will be sold as condominiums. They're also still working on the viewer's platform at the base of one of the slopes, among other things.
It's a mad hubbub of activity. But what's blatantly missing are the rich Italians who normally frolic at this resort. And the snow that usually falls here....continue >>