I was lucky enough to live and work in the beautiful region of Piedmont in northern Italy for the summer 2015. We worked as cycling and walking holiday representatives for Headwater which consisted of greeting clients, organising restaurant bookings and cycling around the rolling Italian hills enjoying the sunshine. We lived in the tiny village of Castiglione Tinella, 30 minutes drive from Asti; famous for it’s Asti Spumante. Also nearby is the town of Alba which is famed for it’s white truffle production and the invention of Nutella!
In between airport runs and bike maintenance, we managed to spend a lot of time either cooking local Italian ingredients or eating out at some gorgeous restaurants.
Our favourite lunch stop was Focacceria Il Budego in the centre of Alba. I cannot explain how truly delicious a fresh slice of salty focaccia was, piping hot from the oven and dripping with Italian olive oil… I’m drooling just thinking about it. You could get a variety of toppings, my favourite being soft cheese and artichoke. Two big slices of focaccia and two bottles of birra moretti came to under €10.
At the very top end of our budget was Ristorante al Castello di Grinzane Cavour. This restaurant inside an historic castle is owned by a lovely couple, head chef Marc and his wife Amy who is a sommelier by profession. Amy runs the restaurant in a very friendly manner and although the setting is formal, she makes you feel at ease. Italian menus begin with an antipasti appetiser then primi, usually a pasta course then secondi the main course and then if you’re not full enough, dolce dessert. Italians do vegetarian pasta dishes extremely well. My favourite primi dish was soft cheese filled ravioli on smoked aubergine puree with pine nuts and sultanas.
There is a dedicated vegan restaurant in Alba called SODA. Their tag line is “vegan food and f*cking good drinks”. As well as having a very good alternative menu, their cocktails are like a work of art. They are made with fresh herbs, leaves and flowers. Their menu has super vegetarian choices such as hummus, Phad Thai and veggie curries. Italians are obsessed with their regional foods and having these “exotic” options on the menu is very rare! I chose a pearl barley risotto with smoked tofu purée. The only thing I was disappointed with was the portion size because I could have had double! SODA’s black interior and metal decor is quite dingy but inside there are chilled out staff and high quality food and drinks.
Another great restaurant in Piedmont is the Spaghettoteca Ristorante Campoleone in Benevello village. This awesome little place serves four types of fresh pasta with a choice of 300 sauces! There is a massive section dedicated to vegetarians and also some slightly strange options like Nutella and strawberry! You can choose 100g, 200g or 300g of pasta. We ordered the 200g feeling rather greedy and it was indeed huge! I had spaghetti with chilli, broccoli, olives and olive oil. The ingredients were basic but it was all fresh and was perfect washed down with a bottle of Barbera d’Alba.
The area is truly breathtaking, with vineyards as far as the eye can see. There is so much to see and do in this region and it is often overlooked by it’s wine rival Tuscany. Some other highlights of living in Piedmont were seeing Sting at Collisioni Festival in Barolo, eating the best pizza ever at Bra Cheese Festival, sampling some excellent wines on the Barolo Express tour and just living the beautiful life. As the Italians say vivere una vita bella.