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Very soon, the world's attention will be focused on the Piemonte area of northwestern Italy where the 2006 Torino Olympics kick off in a little more than two weeks. Even though millions of Americans travel to Italy each year, they don't often get to Torino, or the surrounding mountainous Piemonte region, which translates from Italian to "foot of the mountains."
When was the last time a neighbor told you they were just back from a great trip to the Piedmont region of Italy? (No, the Cinqueterre don't count). "Where is Torino anyway?" is the more common question you get when you bring it up. It's just not on the tourist map.
I don't know it either. And I really should. My mother, Luciana, was a "Piemontese" who grew up in the Olympic city. My Italian parents met in Torino and married there and my older brother Massimiliano was born there in 1947 before the Iaconos moved south towards Naples, where I was born. My parents then emigrated to the United States, settling in the Washington area, when I was 3 years old and my brother 11.
And it's not like I don't know Italy. I do. I lived there for 10 years as an adult, moving back after college to get in touch with my roots and launch my journalism career. I speak Italian. I met my husband in Italy. A few years ago, we bought a house on a lake near Rome.
But yet, the misty, mountainous Piemonte of my mother's side of the family is as unknown to me as it is to most Americans. And with the Olympics just around the corner, I decided the time had come to change that.
If you read the guidebooks on the area (it's left out of many Italy books entirely), there's plenty to see there. Torino is a Baroque jewel, they say, with an architectural purity that rivals other Italian cities. It's not just the gritty industrial home of the FIAT car company, or the hard-to-see Turin Shroud, but rather an elegant, Paris-like city with big boulevards and a vibrant cafe culture thriving under graceful stone porticos.
Near Torino, there's the towering Alpine resorts where the Olympic skiing competitions will take place, an area smack up against France. It's not hard to see why French is this region's second language.
Piemonte is also a food and wine center, complete with ultra-expensive, super-rare truffles and the production of some of Italy's best-known wines. It's also the home of Nutella, that yummy chocolate spread, and it's where the Ferrero Rochers we just gave everybody for Christmas are made.
Come discover the Piemonte with me this week, on this blog, which will run from Monday to Friday. Pierre Kattar, a videojournalist from washingtonpost.com, and I will start off in Torino and then travel in a big loose circle around the Piemonte to check out if the guidebooks - and tourism officials - are right. That this area has always deserved more of a look-see. I'm not sure who's right on that. But we'll find out together.
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