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