Piedmont, Italy | July, 2017 | The first days of our year abroad
The first leg of our trip was hard to plan. We knew we were going to start in Europe and had plans of meeting my family in Northern Europe in mid-August but with so many cities to choose from it was challenging to pick a spot to start. We settled on Italy with the intention of crossing paths with some friends, and we figured we couldn’t go wrong with the scenery and incredible food and wine.
I found a reasonable flight to Milan and from there the first few weeks quickly worked themselves out. We, of course, wanted to drink lots of wine, so a few nights in piedmont would be essential. From there we’d work our way down to Rome with a few stops along the way.
When we first began to talk about traveling through Europe, I assumed we would be traveling exclusively by bus and train. It didn’t cross my mind that a car would be an option. However, we quickly realized that without a car we would miss most of the small wine growing towns of Alba, Barolo, Grinzane Cavour, and Bra. The train system is wonderful through most of Italy, but to get to the quaint towns and hills of vines we needed our own car. It also turned out to be more affordable than the train after splitting it between the 3 of us, and it gave us the flexibility to stay in more affordable accomodation.
We arrived in Milan early in the morning on July 4th. We took a shuttle from Milan Linate Airport to Milan Malpensa Airport where we would be staying at an airport hotel so Melina could crash with us when her flight got in at 2am and where we would pick up our car the following morning. After a short nap, we took the train into the city and wandered the streets for a few hours, people watching and enjoying the sights. After a light lunch and visiting the Duomo, we settled into some wiry sidewalk chairs and enjoyed a few beers and negronis along the Naviglio Pavese Canal.
The following morning we picked up our car and hit the road. We intentionally chose to stay near the airport so our first driving experience in Italy wouldn’t be in the tight and crowded streets of Milan. We ended up on small roads off the freeway for most of the trip, guided by our trusty Waze app. It was nice to be on the scenic path, aside from the nearly constant, “in 100 meters - at the roundabout - take the second exit to continue straight.”
We stayed in the tiny town of Grinzane Cavour for a couple of nights at an airbnb with an incredible view. The town consisted of a castle, of course, and I think just two restaurants. It was a beautiful place to stay, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to visit the area.
The towns in the area are pretty close to each other, but not very walkable so we drove from town to town during the day, stopping in for tastings where we could and walking around Barolo and Alba. It’s always a bit of a gamble to show up to a winery in this area unannounced, their tasting rooms are nothing like the commercial giants of the Napa Valley. Despite what their website might say, whether they will be open seems fairly unpredictable. I would advise to call ahead if there are any wineries you really wish to visit.
The vineyards are so beautiful and we were anxious to get out of the car so we decided to walk into Cascina Boschetti Winery in Barolo. I had done a hike through some vineyards when I was in Barolo with my parents a few years back, and was unable to find much information online about different trails so we decided to do part of the same path I had done before. The walk in from Barolo was just a mile or so, but it felt much longer in the scorching sun. When we arrived at the winery it was hard to say if they were open, but after a few moments we were welcomed in and given a private tour of their facility, the fermentation tanks, barrel room, bottling line and tasting room on a patio looking out onto the green Barolo Valley.
From Piedmont we planned to drive to Bologna for a few nights, and decided to add a few hours to the drive for a pit stop along the coast. The summer temperatures in Italy are slightly unbearable so a few hours on the coast wasn’t quite enough but it was well worth the detour. Melina and I had both been to Cinque Terre before and we had heard how busy it is this time of year so we opted for a dip in the Ligurian Sea in the small town of Camogli. The water was incredible and the scenery every bit as romantic as the shores of Cinque Terre, lined with a rainbow of picturesque old buildings jetting out along the rocky coast line.