Most people go to Barolo to sample the wine for which the village and municipality of the same name are famous. When I was there I did, of course, enjoy the wine, but what I really loved about Barolo was being immersed in the beautiful scenery everywhere I turned. Each morning, as I started my day, the first thing I saw were the Alps in the distance and a very clear view of Monviso; it is said that Paramount Pictures designed their logo based on this mountain. I’m not sure about that, but even if it’s not true, it’s believable.
But wait…where is Barolo and why should you care?
Barolo is a small village located in the municipality of Barolo in the province of Cuneo, in the region of Piemonte (Piedmont), in far northwest Italy. To complicate it a bit further, it is located in the wine country referred to as the Langhe. But collectively, the wine country is called Langhe – Roero – Monferrato. I spent five days there and I’m still confused. You can read more about it on Wine Pass, a lovely website which focuses exclusively on Piemonte and the wine country. I’m certain it will be easier to understand there than any explanation I can offer.
Barolo is not only the name of the village, but also the name of the wine produced in the area. Barolo, the village, is famous because of this wine, which is often referred to as the King of Wines, made from the Nebbiolo grape. This New York Times article explains more about the history of Barolo and why it’s so popular.
Why go to Barolo?
Obviously, to drink wine. But even if wine is not your thing, you can still enjoy Barolo. If you appreciate beautiful landscapes, ancient castles, good food, and warm and welcoming people, you will like Barolo and the surrounding wine country. The people of Piemonte are rumored to be a bit closed and not as friendly as I as I might be used to (being a frequent traveler to Rome), but I found them to be a lovely people with a great sense of humor and a ready smile.
The whole area (Langhe, Roero, Monferrato) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. In a happy accident of being in the right place at the right time, I was visiting the town of Barolo on the anniversary of the UNESCO designation. I was asked to participate in this commemorative video to celebrate and to promote tourism in the area. There are clips from the ceremonies and concert that day, as well as some great shots of the landscape. My five seconds of fame are in the beginning.
What to do in Barolo
The main attraction here, besides wine, is Castle Falletti.
The castle is thought to be from the 10th century, and was originally a fortress for defense against invading Hungarians and Saracens. It was later taken by the commune of Alba, which then passed it on to the Falletti family, where it became the home of the Marquis di Barolo, Carlo Tancredi Falletti and his wife, Juliette Colbert also known as Giulia di Barolo.
The Wine Museum info is here.
The Enoteca Regionale (wine cellar and tasting room) is also housed in the Falletti Castle. Here, you can sample wine from each of the eleven Barolo DOCG zones. DOCG is an Italian wine designation indicating the highest quality and strictest standards of production. In theory, you cannot get any better than a DOCG wine. However, thought the wine is excellent, the prices for tastings are very reasonable.
On the way to the Castle, you will see the Corkscrew Museum. It will be almost behind you and to the right, but the place is so small you really can’t miss it. The Corkscrew Museum also offers tastings.
The Corkscrew Museum, Museo dei Cavatappi, offers 500 specimens from the 18th century to today, of various artistic periods, countries, and types. The display is designed to trace the birth and evolution through the centuries of this accessory of everyday use. ~ Corkscrew Museum
Visit a winery
In 1814, a lovely French noblewoman, Juliette Colbert, daughter of the Minister of Finance for King Louis XIV, married the Marquis Carlo Tancredi Falletti of Barolo.
Juliette is responsible for the wine known today as Barolo. Her interest in the land and the vines helped to put Barolo on the map, though I’m sure she had no idea it would become the cult-like wine it is today. There’s a lot more to this story.
Approximately 100 years later, another wine-making family, the Abbona family, bought the winery and vineyards of the Marquis di Barolo from a non-profit, the Pia di Barolo. (The Marquis and Juliette did not have any children and the estate was donated to Pia di Barolo) Today, the Abbona family continues the tradition of cultivating world-renowned wines.
We took a short tour of the historical cellars, admiring the ancient barrels and other antique relics. There’s a wine library with over 40,000 bottle of wine dating as far back as 1859! If you’re really into how wine is produced, this is a lovely tour. Everything about the Cantina Marchesi Barolo speaks of sophistication, style, and heritage.
Don’t let the name fool you, Cantina Marchesi di Barolo also produces Barbera, Barbaresco, Moscasto, Gavi and several other wines. Be sure to try them all! The winery is open for tastings daily from 10:30 – 5:00 pm. I recommend making an appointment in advance.
Another thing about Barolo and Piemonte that surprised me: the food. I did not expect to like the food as much as I did. I tend to like simple food, not too much meat, lots of green stuff. But I went with an open mind and tried everything put in front of me. In upcoming articles, I’ll write about some other regional dishes and wines not mentioned here.
Besides Marchesi di Barolo there are a couple of other wineries with tasting rooms: Bartolo Mascarello and Azienda Agricola Brezza. As with Marchesi di Barolo, I recommend calling ahead for a reservation.
This link has a list of other restaurants and tasting rooms in the town of Barolo.
Where to eat in Barolo
La Foresteria at Marchesi di Barolo
Do plan to dine in La Foresteria, the restaurant above the winery. The atmosphere is very elegant and the staff will make you feel like a rock star.
Piemonte is the home of the slow food movement, and this is a great place to sample regional dishes perfectly paired with local wines – produced by Marchesi di Barolo, of course.
There are several menu options allowing you to sample three to five regional dishes. Since it was my first visit, I chose the five course menu so I could try everything.
Each dish was a lovely surprise; I consider myself fairly adventurous but confess that some of these dishes sounded awful to me. However, once I tasted them I understood, and truly enjoyed every bite. I’m still talking about this meal – it was that good. The wine didn’t hurt either.
Chef Valk is a native Piemontese, and takes great pride in preparing dishes that are not only full of flavor, but are works of art, as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.
The five course menu consisted of:
Veal in tuna sauce
Wine: Gavi di Gavi 2014
This is a dish that I thought I would not like and ended up loving. The tuna sauce is more like a very light mousse on top of a paper-thin slice of veal. Delicious!
Wine: Barbera Peiragal 2013
Agnolotti del Plin (a local pasta), with butter and sage
Wine:Barbaresco Serragrilli 2012
This is a dish I ate more than once while visiting Piemonte. It’s served everywhere and really delicious.
Brasato al Barolo (beef cooked in Barolo wine)
Wine: Barolo del Comune di Barolo 2011.
A trio of small desserts: Panna Cotta with a light dark chocolate drizzle, Moscat Zagara Jelly with berries and fruit (this was my favorite) and Bunet, a typical Piemontese dessert that is a sort of chocolate and amaretto pudding.
Wine: Moscato di Asti Zagara 2014
Coffee, or tea and bottled water were also included with the meal.
I also tried a small restaurant called Il Buon Padre which serves fresh local food at a very reasonable price. I had lamb chops one night for only 14 euros. The traditional pasta Agnolotti del Plin was 9 euros.
Where to stay in Barolo
There are more options than you might imagine, though not all of them are in the town itself. Here is a great list of accommodations.
Stay at an agriturismo
Prefer to wake up with the roosters over an alarm clock? Then try staying at an agriturismo. What is it? An agriturismo is a working farm with some rooms used for accommodations. Usually the owner or farmer also lives there, or at least in the area. I think it’s a great way to get to know the area more intimately. If you’re looking for 5 star luxury, this is not for you. Sometimes even wifi is hard to get. But what you lack in wifi connections is more than made up for by the fresh food, usually grown on the farm.
I stayed at Ca San Ponzio, just four kilometers from the town of Barolo. Ca San Ponzio has been in the same family for several generations and is owned and managed by two affable brothers, Maurizio and Luciano.
A lovely breakfast with plenty of fresh fruit, homemade flourless hazelnut cake, and an assortment of regional cheeses and meats are available every morning, along with fresh coffee and an assortment of cereals, juices, and occasionally boiled eggs.
In the afternoon, you can sit by the fireside, or if the weather is nice people sit outside on comfortable lounges, enjoying a glass of wine and antipasti from the brothers’ entoca. If you fancy a nip late at night, you can help yourself to a glass and pay by the honor system.
I stayed five nights here, but I discovered that many people passing through the area stayed for one night only. Depending on when you go, you’ll want to book in advance. For example, I was there in the height of the harvest season and they were full. You’ll definitely want to book in advance then.
Both Maurizio and Luciano are happy to help you plan your time in Barolo and provide reliable information on the area. In addition there are plenty of books and information for tourists in the reception area.
The best way to get around Barolo
If you’re going to be here for more than a couple of days and you plan to cover a lot of ground (explore more than just the village of Barolo), you’ll want a car, or a guide. I chose the latter because I don’t enjoy driving. There are also scooter rentals at various places. Now that I know the area a little better, I think a scooter could be a great way to explore all the little hilltop villages and admire the scenery.
How to get to Piemonte and the wine country
I flew from Dallas to Milan’s Malpensa airport, then took the train from Milano Centrale to Torino Porto Nuovo station. From there I took a train to Asti where I was met by a guide from Meet Piemonte who picked me up and took me to my agriturismo. Here’s the link for TrenItalia.
Torino (Turin) also has an airport. Once you are in the area the best way to see it is by car. Check out this guide for getting around the Langhe from Girls Gotta Drink.
Many thanks to Valentina Abbona who I first met in Dallas and then again in Barolo, for arranging my tour and tasting at the winery.