As its name suggests, the Piedmont region enjoys a privileged location at the foothills of the Alps. The region is a natural paradise silently guarded by majestic snow-capped peaks.
Almost ten per cent of the Piedmont's total area is protected, as there are more than 55 natural parks in the region. In addition to its stunning natural heritage, the Piedmont has a large number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as palaces, castles, and abbeys that bear witness to the historical and cultural importance that this region had in the development of modern Italy. It is hard to sum up the Piedmont in a few words, but refreshing and inspiring are a good start.
Like other regions in northern Italy, the Piedmont has a continental climate, which is characterised by foggy and chilly winter days and hot summers, although thunderstorms and hail can nevertheless occur. Spring and autumn are generally pleasant, but can be wet and unpredictable too. During December and January, the temperatures often drop below zero degrees, although this is good news indeed if you are in the area to ski or to practice other snow sports. The autumn is generally considered one of the best times of the year for a holiday in Piedmont, as crowds are unlikely, the weather is not extreme, and there are plenty of opportunities to sample the annual wine harvest or to have a go at truffle hunting.
With its elegant atmosphere and unbeatable location at the foothills of the Alps, the city of Turin is a great base from which to explore the northern Piedmont. The region's capital city has managed to remain away from the spotlight despite its wide range of attractions, which means that visitors can enjoy its highlights without having to deal with the crowds that are so typical from other Italian cities, like Rome or Venice. Turin was Italy's first capital, and as such, it is peppered with imposing historical buildings, like former royal residences, synagogues, cathedrals, and castles. The city's riverside parks and open air cafes are perfect for people-watching. Street art, cinema festivals, art exhibitions, opera shows, and food and wine tours complete the range of activities on offer in and around Turin.
In the autumn, the local towns and cities proudly host a variety of truffle fairs (known locally as tartufos). A visit to these fairs can be easily combined with a cellar wine tour. For a more active holiday, head to Lago Maggiore (Italy's second largest lake), where swimming, canoeing, rafting, and kayaking are common activities when on summer holiday in Piedmont.
Enjoying good food and better wine are some of the simple pleasures that await visitors to Piedmont. The locals are proud of their fine and flavourful gastronomy, which relies heavily on locally produced ingredients, such as cheese, truffles, cured ham, and fresh vegetables. The Piedmontese are big on antipasti (appetisers), and favour entrees like fiori di zucca (stuffed pumpkin blossoms), frittate (vegetable omelettes), and tarta piemontese (delicious egg and onion tarts that are the local version of quiche).
Pasta dishes like egg tagliatelle, ravioli, or vegetable lasagne are served alongside cold salads featuring wild mushrooms, asparagus, white beans, and generous doses of olive oil. Polenta dishes, gnocci with local Castelmagno cheese, and pork and beans soup are also popular, especially during the winter. Local desserts are richly flavoured with nuts and chocolate. Don't leave without sampling the addictive zabaione (custard cooked with sweet Marsala wine) and torta gianduia, a scrumptious chocolate, amaretto, and hazelnut cake.
Renowned Piedmontese wines include Barolo, Dolcetto, Langhe Arneis, Contratto, Barbaresco, Asti Spumante, Freisa, Barbera, Malvasia, Grignolino, Bonarda, Pelaverga, Nebbiolo, Quagliano, Erbaluce, Cortese, and Moscato.
Size: 25,402 square kilometres / 9,808 square miles
Population: 4,646,000 people (2012)
Capital city: Turin (Torino)
Provinces: Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Torino, Verbano-Cussio-Ossola, and Vercelli
Landscape: dramatic mountain landscapes, huge glaciers, green rolling hills, agricultural plains, natural springs, large rice fields, lake islands