by Gina DePalma, with thanks to Diana Strinati Baur
The Roero belongs to a trio wine-producing districts in south-central Piemonte, and together with the Monferrato and the Langhe, this area produces some of the most important DOC wines in all of Italy. The Roero itself is often confused with its closest neighbor, the Langhe, which is actually separated from it by the Tenaro River. The twenty-odd towns of the Roero are occupied with two agricultural interests, winemaking, based in the town of Canale, and cattle, concentrated in and around the city of Bra, also the headquarters of the Slow Food movement.
The landscape of the Roero is characterized by sharp hills that cascade into gentle valleys. In between are dense forests that provide the Roero’s bounty of white truffles and marroni, the local variety of chestnuts. The soil is sandy and fine, presenting a significant challenge to winemakers. Grapes are primarily cultivated on the ridges of the hills, locally known as bric, rather than in the valleys. Over the centuries, winemakers have manipulated the angles and slopes of the bric to maximize the sun’s exposure to the vines. This display of Piemontese masochism has paid off, and the Roero produces three top-notch wines: Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC and Roero DOC, both red, and the white Roero Arneis DOC.
In Canale, you can visit the crucifix hanging in the San Bernadino Chapel. The local legend has it that the hair on the statue of Christ is genuine, and in the event of a disastrous vintage, it is said to grow noticeably. The crucifix is carried in a procession through the narrow streets of the town and into the surrounding vineyards each spring, to protect the vines in coming growing season, and bring about a successful vendemmia in the fall. Visit Trattoria Tre Galline, in Piazza Ternto Trieste 70, for lunch.
A few kilometers to the north is the village of Montá, built around the Morra di Lavriano, a towering, late-Renaissance castle that dates back to 1647. The castle is closed to the public, but you can and should visit the Santuario dei Piloni, or the Sanctuary of Piloni. Behind the Romanesque façade are breathtaking walls with Roman reliefs depicting the Holy Sepulchre. From the sanctuary is a road that winds its way through forests of chestnut and pine to the hill town of Santo Stefano; along the way are fifteen chapels, each devoted to one of the Stations of the The Cross. Before you leave Montá, you may want to stop for a bite at the excellent restaurant in the agritourismo Belvedere.
The medieval village of Santo Stefano Roero is perched on a precipitous ridge that seems to defy gravity. With a population of about 1,300 inhabitants, and surrounded by woods frequented by foxes and wild boar, a visit to this tiny town is like a journey back in time. Leading from this hamlet is a road that will take you directly to Montaldo Roero. Climb the medieval 14 th-century tower that is the emblem of the village and you will be rewarded with an expansive views of the valley below, a patchwork of chestnut forests and strawberry fields that extend all the way to the neighboring town of Baldissero. There, you can relax at Trattoria del Roero, Strada Belvedere, 10, for meal of traditional Piemontese specialities presented with a creative flair.