Italy's second-largest region is arguably...
Its most elegant, well preserved, undisturbed, unchanged. The land of a thousand hilltop towns. With magnificent castles, stunning palaces, lush vineyards, inspiring landscapes. A top purveyor of Slow Food, and fine wines, and rare white truffles. This is Italy!
Piedmont is the second largest region in Italy after Sicily. Italian regions are kind of like states in the U.S. Piedmont is in the northwest corner, bordering France and Switzerland. Its largest cities are Turin, Alessandria, and Asti. Milan lies just to the east of the Lombardy region border and Genoa lies just to the south of the Liguria border.
From the center of Piedmont, you are approximately an hour and a half from Turin, Milan, and Genoa.
Piedmont is the land of a thousand hilltop towns. The landscape and the feeling of Piedmont is quite rural. However, unless you are in the more mountainous regions to the north (the Alps) or south (the Apennines), you are not isolated. There is almost always a town or a hilltop town or a small city within a 5 to 15-minute drive. The hilltop towns were developed over time to be a day's ride and back by horse so the distances between them are not vast. In comparison to the United States, Italy is not a large country. Italy is about 3/4 of the size of California but has nearly twice the population.
In Piedmont, you can live in a large city, a small city, a town, a hilltop town or in “the country”. Piedmont, at 25,387 km2, is about the size of Vermont. Even between the small towns and hilltop towns, there are not vast spaces of open, uninhabited country in between.
Piemont is one of Italy's oldest and most important wine and nut growing regions. Much of the landscape is covered in vineyards and nut tree groves. Barolo and Barbaresco wines are produced only here in Piedmont from the Nebbiolo grape grown nowhere else in the world. Piedmont grows and produces many other fine wines including Barbera, Ruché, and Spumante. Ferrero Rocher gets many of the hazelnuts for its world-famous Nutella spread and chocolate hazelnut candies from Piedmont. The flat banks of the Po River is the main carnaroli rice (risotto!!!) producing region in the world.
Piedmont is the world's most famous region for white truffles - a fungus delicacy that is one of the world's most expensive foods. White truffles can not easily be cultivated and grow best in the wild near oak, hazelnut and certain other trees.
The landscape of Piedmont is greatly varied, from the high peaks of the Alps, to the mountainous lakes region. From the flat lands of the River Po to the gently rolling vineyards of Monferrato and Barolo. From the rocky green ridges of The Langhe to the forested mountain lands near the Apennines.
Unless you are in the mountainous regions, Piedmont -- like most of Italy -- lies in a temperate zone. There are four seasons. Summertime temperatures can climb into the 90's and above, but the interiors of the classic stone houses stay cool and comfortable. In the wintertime it does snow, it has snowed about twice, a few inches, each winter we have been here. It rarely gets below freezing during the day, with general winter daytime temperatures ranging between 35-50 Fahrenheit. The spring and fall are lovely. My favorite time is mid-May through the end of June when everything is absolutely bursting with growth and green and life.
I consider our house to be "in the country" yet a five-minute bike ride down the road and I can be in my local hilltop town having coffee, or at the bank, post office, pharmacy, or general store. Within a 10-minute drive in any direction, I can be at any one of six hilltop towns. It is a 20-minute drive to one of my favorite small cities in Italy that has a historic center, opera house, theater, and a famous monthly antique market. It is an hour and 20-minute drive to the major international Malpensa airport outside of Milan. It is an hour and 20-minute drive to the Italian Riviera with its beautiful beaches and seaports.
Internet service is very good. We are both self-employed and are online all day long.
Almost every town has a general store, a cafe, and a pharmacy. Many have several restaurants. Many have weekly farmers' markets.
From where I live, there are several large grocery stores within a 10 to 20-minute drive. There are three hospitals within a 30-minute drive.
Where I live and travel every day, in and around the small towns and villages, I don't hear of much crime. I never feel like I have to worry about my safety or the security of my house. In nearly three years, I have heard of one attempted house break-in. There are no guns. Even in the cities, you don't hear about person-to-person violence happening.
During the 18the and 19th centuries, Piedmont was a very wealthy and prosperous region, when the House of Savoy ruled and Turin briefly became the capital of Italy. The magnificent castles and palaces that populate the hilltop towns and cities are testaments to this. Turin is arguably one of the most magnificent cities in Italy, with its immense squares, grand palaces, and architectural wonders. Turin is the home of Fiat, and Alba the headquarters of Ferrero Rocher, two companies that have created much wealth and stability in the region.
In the towns and countryside, there is a very strong local economy system. Residents are producers (vegetables, fruits, crops, wine, cheeses, meats, etc.), distributors (stores, restaurants...), and service providers (electricians, doctors, pharmacists, plumbers...). It is absolutely possible to live all year long on food that is grown within a 50-mile radius. These local economies have always existed and as such, they still provide resistance and protection against the upheavals of political and world events.
I describe my existence in Piedmont as old-fashioned, timeless, in a land of abundant natural beauty. The rural parts of Piedmont offer a simpler way of life and a people who want to hold on to tradition. Many hilltop towns have not changed much in the last hundred years. I have found that this is a place where it is very easy to slow down. But it is also easy for me, if I want, to venture out of my locale to any type and size of modern city or popular area within an hour's drive or so. A thirty-minute drive takes me to the train station where I can depart for nearly any location in Europe!
Piedmont has fewer tourists. Piedmont, outside of the Barolo wine regions, has not been developed for tourism, does not cater to or rely as much on tourists, especially non-Italian travellers. It has fewer restaurants, shopping possibilities, and sleeping accommodations per town.
The Piedmont elevations are more varied, the hills are higher, the valleys lower. There are more mountain views as it is surrounded by the Alps to the West and North, the Dolomites to the East, the Apennines to the South. Piedmont has more forests. Piedmont is greener year-round.
Piedmont is more affordable, with a lower cost of living. House and land prices in Piedmont are more affordable, about half the cost of those in Tuscany.
Piedmont is an Italy of Italians. Many parts are unchanged, unscrubbed, imperfect. Tuscany is often picture perfect, buttoned-up, dressed to impress. Tuscany is where I love to visit. Piedmont is where I love to live.
The essence of Piedmont captured in sights, sounds and a few words and frames.
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