The Windows of Asti, Piemonte, Italy

A collage of 9 different windows (and architectural styles) in the city of Asti, in Italy's Piemonte region.

Perhaps best known for its annual Palio, a 700-year-old bare-back horse race replete with pageantry and tradition, Asti also has a lot to offer architecturally and gastronomically. The Northern Italian city once had more than 70 towers, which symbolized wealth and power. While there are less of them punctuating Asti’s skyline today, the city also features impressive churches and palazzi, beautiful brickwork, and varied architectural styles ranging from Gothic to Baroque to Renaissance.

Which of these finestre are you most drawn to?

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Piedmont, Italy: The Wine Landscapes of the Langhe

In the vineyard-dressed landscape of the Langhe, in Italy’s Piedmont region, hillsides rise steeply on one side, then drop off more gradually on the other. The name ‘Langhe’ is believed to have Celtic roots, meaning ‘tongues of land,’ alluding to these steep hillsides, and the area’s raised valleys. Our host, Marco Scaglione, from Meet Piemonte, described it this way:

“The Langhe’s soil has more of a clay composition, whereas the neighboring Monferrato and Roero districts tend to be more sandy. Imagine if you dropped a handful of sand onto a table top; the sand would form into a cone of sorts — more rolling, more gradual. Clay, however, can be molded into more steep hillsides and valleys.”

Like the Roero and the Monferrato, the Langhe landscape is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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The Renaissance of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard in Milan

 

Leonardo da Vinci vineyard wine

In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci moved to Milan, where he would work for the ruling Sforza family doing engineering, sculpting, and architectural projects, and most famously, painting his mural masterpiece, The Last Supper. What’s less known, though, is that the Renaissance genius also tended to personal grapevines in Milan. This vineyard was in existence for nearly four centuries and is located just across the street from the chapel in which Leonardo created The Last Supper.

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Pastoral Piedmont: An Agriturismo & Epicurean Experience in Italy

When you think of Italy, it’s likely that home-cooked pasta, verdant agricultural landscapes, and gourmet food products like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and traditional balsamic vinegar come to mind. A lesser-known concept is that of the agriturismo — a compound noun that marries the Italian words for ‘agriculture’ and ‘tourism.’

As the name implies, an agriturismo is a place where visitors can find lodging, meals, and even hands-on experience on a working farm. Some agriturismi are elegant and resort-like, while others are more informal places where guests can get their hands dirty and learn the art of viticulture, olive harvesting, or virtually any aspect of small-scale food production. Most agriturismi serve food that has been grown on-site, or sourced locally. In addition, income from tourism helps supplement profits earned from traditional farming pursuits.

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Piedmont, Italy: Monferrato’s Slow Food, Wine & Truffles

Motoring through Italy’s Piemonte or Piedmont region, I sometimes felt as though I’d been whisked back in time a few decades, perhaps even centuries. The dramatic hills of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato districts were wrapped with rows of grapevines and orchards, crowned with handsome fortresses, and dotted with villages wearing terra-cotta rooftops. Large-scale industry was largely absent from this swathe of the Northern Italian landscape, and that’s much of what made it so visually appealing.

With just weeks to go before the grape and white truffle harvests, the enthusiasm among the locals was already palpable. Together with our local guide, Marco from Meet Piemonte, Shawn and I would spend two days exploring pockets of Piedmont. This article highlights our time in the Monferrato district, to include the city of Asti, home to the famous Palio horserace, plus wine-tasting and truffle hunting excursions in the countryside. My other post in this series focuses upon the nearby Langhe-Roero hills, including the elegant city of Alba.

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Magnificent Motors: The Enzo Ferrari Home Museum in Modena, Italy

 

Seen from above, Modena’s futuristic Enzo Ferrari Home Museum is said to bring to mind the hood of a sleek, buttercup-yellow roadster.

At ground level, the sparkling-glass gallery is a state-of-the-art showroom – one that contrasts with its Old World, red-brick neighbor, the building in which Ferrari was born in 1898.

Admittedly, despite having maneuvered a Bavarian driving machine on Germany’s famed Autobahn for a decade, I am not by nature, an automobile aficionado. When Shawn and I embarked on our Southeast Asian, North American and Southeastern European adventures in 2011, we sold our cars, and have embraced slower-paced bus and train travel ever since. Nevertheless, we appreciate good design – and since Modena is as well known for its automotive makers, as its mouth-watering cuisine, and classic architecture, we found that the Ferrari Home Museum foray gave us a more complete picture of life in the Northern Italian city.

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A Perfect Pair: Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese & Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in Modena, Italy

 

Modena cheese maker Carlo has been producing Parmigiano-Reggiano for more than 50 years. Still, the farmer-turned-cheesemaker does not tire of the prized Italian cheese.

“I always have Parmigiano-Reggiano in my mouth. (When not at work) I constantly keep eating it,” he joked, as we toured the Hombre Organic Cheese Farm in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, just outside of Modena. The opportunity to learn about another Modena prized delicacy, traditional balsamic vinegar, would be next our next stop.

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Delving into the Details at the Modena Cathedral in Northern Italy

The Modena Cathedral offers an elegant canvas onto which to watch the world go by in this enchanting northern Italian city. Commuters pedal past its weathered walls on bikes; a gentleman reads a newspaper on its stairs, made smooth from hundreds of years of wear; children ride sculpted lions, which appear to blush at times because of their pink marble composition; and a couple embraces.

It’s also enjoyable to change perspective and look at the bustling piazza and lively cafés while sitting atop the cathedral’s foundation. We did just that one sunny afternoon while enjoying a picnic of twisted breadsticks, Sicilian cheese, and Pesto Genovese — all procured from Modena’s nearby Albinelli Market.

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