We tried a new strategy for traveling on a budget in the French countryside with almost too much success, so when we headed onward to Italy, we decided to put our grand theory to the test a second time. After a 2-0 record on totally relaxing, somewhat fattening, and pretty much stress-free stops, we're ready to pass it along to you too.
It goes a little something like this:
The secret sauce
1: Pick a region you think would be great to explore and relax in for about a week (and by relax, we mean sample the food and wine with dionysian gusto). This time, we chose Piemonte, Italy, famous for Barolo's incredible wines and Alba's abundance of truffles.
2: Start your search on Airbnb by zooming out on the map to include the entire region and countryside, disregarding cities and points of interest. You can always make the schlep into town if there are sights worth seeing, but a peaceful home base in the country really sets the tone for your trip. From our little abode, we ventured into Torino for an afternoon to take in some of the beautiful architecture and vistas from the Basilica di Superga, then retreated home to cook dinner.
3: Find yourself the best deal on a house with a great host. This is important, as staying with a super host means you're in for a laid back week and will usually get some very local tips. In our insanely lucky case, it also amazingly gave us access to a ripened orchard of pears, plums, and apples, some fresh eggs from the neighbor's chickens, a sweet house dog, and a jar of our host's homemade jam.
4: Rent a car from the major city you're flying in/out of so you're totally free to explore the area. If you can stay at least a week, you'll probably get a great deal on this too.
By renting a car, we were able to cover way more ground in Piemonte and also take an incredible side trip to Cinque Terre for a day. We parked the car in La Spezia and took the train to visit two of the five villages, Manarola and Vernazza, for some famously colorful views.
5: Pack your loosest pants.
There you have it: our recipe for a refreshing, yet off-the-beaten-track vacation.
And while Italy or France are less feasible for a week-long trip from the USA, you don't need to go that far for an interesting time. Once we're back, we're definitely going to employ this strategy in the Pacific Northwest when we find ourselves with a few days of PTO to work with.
In between exchanging energetic buongiornos with our geriatric neighbors as they tended to their tomato plants a la The Godfather and tucking into the truly wild variety of fresh filled pastas our local grocery store offered, we took a few notes for the folks back home interested in wine.
Here are a sampling of our favorites from Piemonte:
- Fontana Fredda. If you're a fan of deep, jammy dark fruit flavors but a totally smooth finish, Dolcetto d'Alba is the grape for you. We got our first taste of this varietal under the winery's Mirafiore label, and in addition to being exceptionally good it was an absolute steal at 12 euros per bottle. We sampled their spicy 2011 Barbera and full-bodied 2008 Barolo under this label; both were impressive as well.
- Borgogno. We got extremely lucky on this one, booking an appointment just after some importers had visited. As a result, the bottles that were open for tasting were only the seriously good stuff. Our minds were blown as we tried a whole slew of aged Barolos, but our favorites were the 1996 Barolo Riserva, with its even tannins and spicy, almost anisette nose, and (if you're looking for a big splurge) the earthy flavors, silky mouthfeel, and burnt sugar aroma of the 1982 Barolo Riserva. On the lighter side, or, as our host liked to call it, "breakfast wine", the Langhe Nebbiolo was easy to drink, with a delightful strawberry nose.
- Fratelli Alessandria. We tried the incredibly well-rounded 2008 Barolo Gramolere with dinner, to proclamations of "MMMMMM," and, "If I had to drink only one red wine for the rest of my life, and this was it, I'd be pretty okay with that".
- Marziano Abbona. It's usually a good sign when a winemaker is willing to name a label after a beloved family member. The Papa Celso Dolcetta d'Alba was no exception to this rule, with the similar smooth, deep characteristics we've come to love in the varietal.
Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo! We've got an action-packed week coming up, with a visit from our friend Mac and some gnarly hiking in Grindelwald, Switzerland.