By Gina DePalma
I consider myself super lucky to have friends who live and work in one of Italy’s coolest areas: southeastern Piemonte and the beautiful Roman city of Acqui Terme in the province of Alessandria. Diana and Micha Baur own and operate the Baur B&B, just outside the heart of the city, and they are passionate cheerleaders for their carefully chosen Italian home.
These intrepid innkeepers spent a good deal of time and effort searching for the perfect location to open their business in the early 2000’s. They searched all of the usual suspects: Tuscany, Umbria, and even the Ligurian Coast, before deciding on Piemonte, and Acqui Terme in particular.
Luckily, Diana has a slew of answers ready for the question of, “Why Acqui?” Having traveled extensively throughout Italy, she is quite proud to pronounce it the nicest city in the country. She clears one thing up off the bat: there’s no Renaissance art here. “If you want Renaissance Art, go to Florence,” she says plainly. But if you want fantastic food, postcard-pretty cities and towns, Roman ruins and thermal spas, friendly people and damn good wine, head to Acqui.
I can speak about some of this from my own visit to the area a little over a year ago. One thing that is undeniable is Diana’s assertion that Acqui Terme is well, hip; as hip as any street in the West Village of New York City. There are lots of local artists, designers and architects who have settled in the area, and consequently, uber-hip hangouts to cater to these types that have also found a home there. Strolling the pristine, colonnaded streets will reveal a treasure of coffee bars, cafes, clothing stores and places to find all sorts of eclectic jewelry, home furnishings and local crafts.
Diana taught me to pay close attention to the architecture in this part of Piedmont. In Acqui and neighboring towns, there are particular characteristics that are directly related to the geography and history of the area. The pastel colors of the buildings are borrowed from those of the nearby Ligurian coast, but the graceful colonnades and the occasional brick facade are borrowed from Torino, where the house of Savoy left its mark; curlicued iron balconies remind me us of the same French Baroque style found in Naples, terra-cotta roof tiles tell us that we are still firmly in Italy.
The aforementioned thermal spas are visited by travelers from all over Northern Italy, who visit the city to enjoy the healing treatments and engage in some spa indulgence. Diana recommends you stay in town for a spa weekend; the Grand Hotel Nuovo Terme, in Piazza Italia is her pick, where they speak English and will be happy to arrange appointments for you at spa facilities throughout town.
The charms of a small Italian town translate to a haven for tourists willing to depart from the tried and true; because there are so few tourists here, people are more than happy to see you. Everyone I encountered wanted to stop and chat, learn about who I was and why I came for a visit. A sojourn through the weekly market introduced me to local vendors, anxious to show off the local cheeses, vegetables and fruits, honey from nearby farms, and other hometown favorites.
The area is also a terrific spot for a base to see the rest, and best, of Piedmont. Torino is an easy hour or so away by car or train. Acqui is perfect for taking a day trip to the Cinque Terre; in just 45 minutes you can drive through the hills that border Liguria and Piedmont to Genoa, a fascinating port city ripe for exploration. Or consider visiting enchanting little Camogli, another of my favorite small towns on the Ligurian coast. In Piedmont, you will wind your way through the swooping, terraced hills of the Monferrato and Langhe, discovering villages famous for their sweets, like Cherasco, Tortona and Mombaruzzo. A bit further takes you to the utterly charming village of Barbaresco. In truffle season, you won’t want to miss the activity that bustles around Alba. In the fall, the smell of burning wood, roasting chestnuts and truffles fill the air.
And finally, there is the food. Remember when the New York Times compared the food of Piedmont with that of Emilia-Romagna? Depending on your bias, Piedmont’s cuisine got the slight edge when all was said and done. The truth is that this is a region that has more than its fair share of delicacies, and some the most classic dishes come from the area around Acqui. Agnolotti del Plin, Farinata, and Bagna Cauda all originated here. The surrounding land produces fresh porcini, creamy goat robiola, amazing local asparagus, succulent peaches and cherries, everything hazelnut, roasted veal, chestnuts from the Langhe, chocolate from Cherasco – the list goes on and on. Need I mention the wines? I’ll let our sommeliers give you notes on that area, but we are in Piedmont, so get ready for Italy’s best.
Since I’ve known Diana and Micha, I’ve had the pleasure of sending many friends to their little piece of heaven, high on a hill and within walking distance of this charming city. Each and every visitor here has left completely and utterly transformed by the experience. The next time you travel to Piedmont, consider making Acqui Terme your temporary home.