Piedmont’s capital, Torino, is better known as an industry town than as a place to visit for food, wine, art, and architecture. Torino and nearby Milan were the epicenter of Italy’s industrial revolution of the 1950s, home to the country’s largest automaker, Fiat. But thanks in large part to the prosperity created by its industry, Torino (Italy’s fourth-largest city) is elegant and clean, and may be one of the most underrated food towns in northern Italy.
Pastry and coffee are particular specialties of Torino, known for its grand, often very ornate coffee bars. A restaurant called Del Cambio is one of my favorites. Outside, they sell little hazelnut fritters and breakfast pastry. Avail yourself of all three. The birthplace of vermouth, Torino also cherishes its aperitivo culture which is among the best in Italy.
And, of course, Torino is the home to the original Eataly. The store was built in the old Carpano factory which used to make Vermouth (across the street from the Fiat factory, down the road from the Nutela factory) and the whole store is heated using the leftover shells of the hazelnuts used to make the Nutela. The aroma of toasted hazelnut is intoxicating. When filling your cart, consider what will clear customs — first press olive oil will pass; salumi might be a harder sell at customers.
But for the wine and food fanatic, Torino is launch pad—a departure point for the vine-draped hills of Alba. Famous as the home of Piedmont’s most famous wines—Barolo and Barbaresco—the tidy little market town of Alba is the ultimate place to lay your head for a few days (or more) of hearty eating and drinking. Wine towns such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Neive, Dogliani, and Monforte d’Alba are not only minutes away but are loaded with stylish enoteche (wine bars) in which to sample the local wines. Some of the best known are the Enoteca Regionale del Vino Barolo in the medieval village of Barolo itself (Piazza Falletti; 0173-56277), and its counterpart in Barbaresco, the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco (Via Torino 8A; 0173-635-251). But it is no exaggeration to say that there is an enoteca around every corner in the Alban hills. Don’t worry about being thirsty for long.
As for food, the Alba hills are the place to be for earthy, foresty food, highlighted by the area’s famous white truffles in autumn but characterized by richness and complexity all year-round. Alba’s Mercato del Tartufo on the Via Cavour is the place to be on Saturdays during truffle season, and there are more great restaurants than are possible to list here. A few favorites include the Osteria dell’Arco in Alba (Piazza Savona, 5; 0173-363-974) the Locanda nel Borgo Antico in Barolo (Piazza Municipio, 2; 0173-56355), and winemaker Gianfranco Bovio’s Belvedere in La Morra (Piazza Castello, 5; 0173-50190)