Gita Italiana 2010: Piemonte: Beautiful, Colorful and Tough

For the next stop in the Gita Italiana 2010, we’re heading up to visit with Diana Strinati Baur of DianaBaur.com in beautiful Piemonte.

Piemonte:  Beautiful, Colorful and Tough

I was in a funky little shoe store in Genoa awhile back. The girl that was helping me, a sweet little pea who had clearly spent every non-working, non-sleeping hour perfecting her tan on the beach in Nervi, asked where I came from. I told her that I was American, but living in southern Piemonte.  Her eyes widened.

“Che duro,” That’s tough, she responded. I looked at her in surprise. Had she ever been there? After all, it’s only an hour from Genoa, the town where I live. “Mai!” never – with a an expression that clearly said to me, now why would I ever in a million years go there?

It’s funny how little people really know about where I live. Italians often see Piemonte as the North Pole of Italy, because it’s surrounded by snow-covered Alps. They see it as remote, save Torino, where so many from the central and southern parts of the country once came to work for Fiat, in the days when the company had over one hundred thousand workers from all over the boot.

Non-Italians often only associate one thing with Piemonte – Barolo. And often, it’s knowledge from a safe distance – Barolo is a wine with its price and for which a great deal of time and trial must be invested to truly understand and appreciate.

Of course, none of these paradigms begin to do Piemonte justice. To begin to understand what Piemonte is, it’s actually easier to start with the short list of what Piemonte is not.

Piemonte is not the beach. Unlike so many Italian regions, not a lick of salt water touches Piemonte’s borders. If it’s sandy Mediterranean or Adriatic coastline you are looking for, you would be better off looking elsewhere.

Piemonte is not Renaissance or Baroque Art. Please, oh, please don’t come here looking for Caravaggio or DaVinci. If we have any of these works of art, they are usually on loan from Florence or Rome.

Ok, now that that’s handled we can finally get to what Piemonte actually is.

Piemonte is stunningly beautiful. Ok, this might seem like a subjective statement, but the truth is that the ocean is the only thing we don’t have. We have beautiful lakes, Orta and Maggiore, that are surrounded by the western portion of the Alps (also part of the Piemontese landscape). The Lake Region is a combination of hip, historic, traditional and overwhelmingly majestic.

Speaking of the Alps, the Gran Parco Paradiso is in the shared regions of Piemonte and Val d’Aosta. A short ride from the flatlands of Cuneo will bring you to Limone Piemonte, where the skiing is great and the views are even better. Valle di Susa and Sestriere, Bardoneccia and many other famous ski resorts are all within Piemonte’s borders.

But of course, the most beautiful part to me is where I live, the wine country. We have over 70,000 hectars of vineyard, with over half of them registered as either DOC or DOCG (the largest DOC land registration in Italy). We have vast kiwi, hazelnut, walnut and cherry plantations. The geographic makeup of Piemonte is mixed agricultural combined with woodland, a fact that helps make it so beautiful.

Piemonte is the best food in the country. Ok.  Relax, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. You too, Sicily. But seriously, this area takes the best of what Italy and France has to offer, spins the two together and produces some of the most amazing flavor combinations imaginable. It also helps that the selection of over 39 DOC wines to choose from. As the great Marcella Hazan states on her website Made In Italy:

Great wines come from (Piemonte) and it’s not a coincidence that the land that produces a great wine also produces a great cuisine.

Piemonte is part of the economic heart of Italy. It produces 8.4% of the country’s national wealth, is the cradle of the country’s auto production and invests 1.8% of its GDP back into innovation and science every year.

Piemonte is stylish and sophisticated. People often are shocked on their first visit to Torino. They somehow expect an industrial backwater. What they find is a city that is more European than strictly Italian, with fabulous shopping arcades, a gorgeous river promenade, great museums, a lively University district, great restaurants, and perhaps the most interesting café culture outside of Paris.

That sophistication trickles down to all of the smaller cities. Alba, heart of the Langhe wine region, has a wonderful pedestrian shopping district with local products and designers; the same can be said for Alessandria, Acqui Terme, Asti, Verbania, Stresa, Novara, Casale Monferrato, Cuneo and a myriad of other large towns that boast a cultured and colorful lifestyle.

Piemonte is the home of the first Italian. Piemonte is the birthplace of Italy as a singular nation. Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, who designed the contitutional structure for a unified Italian state, and for whom every town in the country has a street named, was Piemontese. Another notable street-name-worthy Piemontese: Vittorio Emmanuele II, the first King of Unified Italy.

Piemonte is close to France and Switzerland. This is not only handy for me, as a bed and breakfast owner catering to an international audience, but it’s handy for Piemonte as well, since it means that the region has a definite international flair. Our dialect reflects our proximity to France, as does our cuisine. The region is steeped in Napoleonic and Savoy history.

In short, with the exception of just a couple of details, Piemonte is what Italy is. Colorful. Strong. Proud. And yes, it’s sometimes tough as well. But that invariably comes with the territory and the culture of a land rich in tradition and history.

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Diana Strianti BaurDiana Strinati Baur is an American writer, artist, life coach and innkeeper living and working in Northwestern Italy. In 2003, she and her husband sold everything and bought an abandoned Moscato farm in Acqui Terme, Piemonte, Italy, transforming the derelict property into an elegant, top rated bed and breakfast. She used her day journals as the basis of her first blog, and has written two books: Your Truth – Changing the Path Back To Yourself, a self-published ebook about embracing risk and life change as a motor for personal growth, and True Vines, a novel to be published by Gemelli Press in October of 2012. Diana sells her hand crafted ceramics internationally.

Photos © Diana Baur.

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Grazie mille Diana!

Tomorrow we’re headed south to the Amalfi Coast, so please come back!

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23 Beans of Wisdom to “Gita Italiana 2010: Piemonte: Beautiful, Colorful and Tough”
  1. Cathy
    08.19.2010

    I am so pleased that Diana is one of the featured writers in your Gita Italiana, Michelle. I really love Diana’s blog – it is one of my favourite Italy based blogs.

    Mine too, Cathy :)

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  2. saretta
    08.19.2010

    What a lovely description of the Piemonte region. It is perhaps the only Italian region I have never been to…I will obviously have to remedy that!

    Yes! I must go too….

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  3. Gil
    08.19.2010

    Each one of these is making Italy looking better and better!!!!!!!!

    Who needs an Italian tourism board?! ;)

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  4. 08.19.2010

    Thank you Michelle & to you Diana for highlighting Piemonte in all it’s glory! People don’t always think of Piemonte when talking about Italy and sometimes I like it that way. It’s a beautiful region with lots of history and charm. Personally, I think Torino is the most beautiful city in all of Italy… and I’m proud to call it home!

    Thanks for sharing, Sonia!

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  5. I love that region of Italy (and Diana’s B&B) and can’t wait to spend more time there. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Italy. Given all that Italy has to offer in terms of beauty, that says a lot.

    I’m very interested in checking out Torino. I think there’s a film museum there.

    I haven’t been to Torino either; it sounds like a city I’d enjoy though.

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  6. 08.19.2010

    Hi Diana and Michelle….. Well you certainly sold it to me , .. I don’t have to trail through travel brochures to find a holiday we would like. I just have to read the fantastic blogs (which I have done for a while) .. but then the hard bit .. which area do I go too!!

    So many great stops to choose from Anne…guess you’ll just have to hit them all, one at a time ;)

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  7. 08.19.2010

    Grazie, cara Michelle, for giving me this opportunity to showcase my home region! It is a special place, as all of the regions are special, and it’s wonderful to have the chance to “show it off” a little….

    Thank *you* Diana, for sharing your lovely words and photos :)

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  8. 08.19.2010

    What a fabulous piece, Diana. It’s great to hear from people who love where they live so much. I admit to being a teeny bit jealous – southern Italy is beautiful and unspoiled and I love living there, but I really do miss the mountains …

    Well you *will* find some of those in Calabria, Katja ;)

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  9. Nell
    08.19.2010

    Your description is lively and humorous and entrancing, it makes me very much want to visit.
    It looks as breath taking as the Lake Louise area of Alberta Canada, I adored the mountains and the rolling hills and roads.
    Thanks for the tour de jour.

    Thanks for commenting, Nell :)

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  10. 08.19.2010

    Very informative! And now I know just a bit more about Piedmont which I haven’t had the chance to visit… yet!

    Did you know that in 1720, the Duke of Savoy became King of Sardinia, founding what evolved into the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia?

    Opposite ends of Italy but once were closely related!

    Love it, Keren; thanks!

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  11. 08.19.2010

    I have seen a little of Piemonte, but after reading this I want to explore it more.

    I’m with you Sue!

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  12. 08.20.2010

    I love the new Bleeding Espresso! And Grazie Diana for showing off Piemonte—I look forward to returning and spending time in that breathtaking countryside!

    Thanks so much, Susan :)

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  13. 08.20.2010

    In about 14 sleeps, my husband and I will be walking in the region of Aosta as part of the Via Francigena. I am presently reading “An Italian Odyssey” by Julie Burk and Neville Tencer – I have just got to the part where they make it to Aosta and go to the ristorante L’Arcanda. Will need to keep reading to see if they like it! Certainly their description of the food along the way is mouth-watering. Pane Nero even sounds nice!
    Jo

    Sounds *so* lovely, Jo…buon viaggio!

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  14. 08.20.2010

    Wow, fantastic info! I am sold! I am sold!

    Thanks for coming by, Lucinda :)

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  15. 08.20.2010

    OK, this is my next trip to Italy.

    Be sure to look up Diana’s B&B!

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  16. 08.20.2010

    Wonderful. My nonna was from Asti, this hits close to my heart. Brava Diana, and thank you Michelle for taking me on your gorgeous gita!

    Thanks so much for following along, Ele!

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  17. Marcella Hazan
    09.01.2010

    Complimenti, Diana, for your tribute to Piedmont. If it hadn’t been for Piedmont, and its king, and Garibaldi, there would not be an Italian nation today. Every region in Italy produces superb cooking, but Piedmont’s is probably the finest cuisine in Europe. No other wine producing area in the whole world has so many unique native red wines, ranging from the charm of Grignolino to the power of Barolo. Italy’s finest fabrics, its automobile designs, its cafe culture are Piedmontese.

    Thank you so much for visiting and commenting, Mrs. Hazan; I will let Diana know you’ve been by as well :)

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  18. 09.02.2010

    Thank you, Mrs. Hazan. So very kind of you to comment. I have to agree with you about our cuisine. You know, we love Grignolino. It’s our go-to aperitivo wine – it always surprises our B&B guests, because most have never heard of it.

    We are truly blessed with such an array of wines here, and of foods.

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  19. Tina
    09.02.2010

    I may be heading up to Torino for tango purposes (as, by the way, Torino is known to have a great tango community, one of the better ones in Italy). I look forward to getting to know it!
    Regarding the food, everyone tells me that if I haven’t been to Piemonte then I can’t possibly know what food is. Meaning, I will need to go.

    Can’t wait to read about it, Tina!

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  20. 09.02.2010

    Love this piece on Piemonte! I’ve copied it over on Stresa Sights… Thanks Diana and Michelle; linked back to you both. Michelle, I’m really enjoying the whole Gita Italiana series. — Dana

    Grazie Dana!

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  21. Gene
    10.25.2011

    Hi Michelle, now I know about Piemonte and what to expect when I go there. For a non italian sometimes its hard to find good info like this thanks!

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    michelle Reply:

    All thanks to Diana, Gene :)

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  22. Laura
    08.21.2012

    Thanks for sharing this post. I look forward to visiting Piemonte – in ways it sounds much like the part of Oregon where I live – only better because it is in Italy! Diana’s B&B is on my must-visit list as well.

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Recipes

 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake