Family travel blogger Katie Gregory recently returned from a short break in the snowy Piedmontese countryside. Here’s what she thought of visiting Italy during the festive season…
Italy is often considered a summer destination, and I should know. I’ve visited several times with my family, but only ever during the warmer months, and had never really given much thought to a winter trip.
That all changed this year when we heard about a Christmas event for families in the town of Govone, Piedmont (about 30 minutes’ drive from Serralunga d’Alba and Pollenzo), and booked a flight to Turin to see it for ourselves. We’ve just got back, and we’re total converts: I think Italy in winter is possibly even more beautiful than the version I fell in love with in the sun.
Here’s why you, too, should consider visiting this part of Italy when the mercury begins to drop…
To see the magical Christmas village in Govone
Il Magico Paese di Natale was the reason we found ourselves in northern Italy this December. It’s a huge Christmas festival (the name translates to ‘the magical Christmas village’) that runs from the end of November to Christmas every year.
The focus falls on families: there are pop-up theatre performances, children’s workshops and meet-and-greets with Santa himself in the castle of the nearby town of Monticello d’Alba. Plus, the Christmas market here is second-to-none, stacked with handmade Christmas decorations and gifts, plus piles of festive foods.
To savour the Langhe e Roero’s wine
The landscape of the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato – an area of Piedmont blanketed in vineyards – has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which says it all really. And when you visit in winter, you get to sample the results of all that summer sunshine in the form of the region’s fantastic wines.
The Langhe and Roero are actually separated by the Tanaro river, which runs between the two. From the Langhe side you get famous reds like Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape. Roero’s rising star, meanwhile, is the white Arneis wine, and there’s also Asti – home of sparkling Asti Spumante – right on your doorstep in the plain of the river.
To fill up on hearty winter food
On the subject of food, Piedmont is a culinary paradise. And what better time to overindulge than winter, when skimpy bikinis are but a distant memory, and bulky thermals hide a million sins?
In Govone, the food ranges from street market staples like roasted chestnuts, weighty hazelnut cakes and silky hot chocolate courtesy of Baratti & Milano, to hearty gourmet fare at upmarket restaurants like Le Scuderie. This sleek eaterie in the castle’s old stables serves up all sorts of regional favourites, including vitello tonnato – a weirdly wonderful combination of cold cuts of veal and tuna mayonnaise.
To visit the Alba Truffle Fair
Piedmont’s list of towns reads like a who’s-who of gourmet gems, but nowhere is quite as famous with foodies as Alba. This town hosts the International Alba White Truffle Fair from October to the end of November every year, just before il Magico Paese di Natale takes the spotlight.
The huge truffle market is the biggest international truffle exhibition in the world, and local trifolao – or truffle hunters – sell their wares here every weekend. For something really special, book a truffle-hunting trip with one of these local experts and head off in search of some to call your own.
To play in the winter snow
On our second morning we looked out the window to find a huge dump of snow had descended on us overnight and transformed the landscape into something straight from a Christmas card.
Team that crunchy white snow with beautiful blue skies and glorious golden sunshine, and winter in Piedmont really is as good as it gets. Plus, the peaks of the Alps border the horizon like a jagged skirting board, so skiing and snowboarding are on the agenda – providing you’ve got the energy…