WHILE MUCH of Piedmont is mountainous, reaching up to the heights of Monte Rosa (4,633m), the region is really one of contrasts, from its rolling vineyards to the mountain wonderland of the Gran Paradiso National Park and the verdant charms of Lago Maggiore.
Lowland Piedmont is a fertile agricultural region, producing wheat, rice and maize and is one of the great winegrowing regions of Italy. It produces wines such as Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco, which are renowned for their depth, as well as the more approachable Dolcetto. Among the region’s prized products are also truffles from the Alba area, cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Toma Piemontese and Grana Padano, and a delicious range of biscuits and chocolates. The region also has major industrial centres, with the FIAT car industry being the most famous.
Historically, Piedmont played a key role in shaping modern Italy. It provided the short-lived Kingdom of Italy with its monarchs, the Savoy family and was the springboard for Italy’s unification in 1859-1861, following earlier unsuccessful wars against Austria in 1820-1821 and 1848-1849.
TURIN AND ITS SIGHTS
Turin is the capital of the region and the great industrial, commercial and cultural centre around which much of the region’s economy revolves. After many vicissitudes, in 1280 the city passed to the Savoys and in 1713 became the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia and subsequently, until 1865, of the new Kingdom of Italy. The city has a wealth of monuments and historical buildings such as the famous medieval Palazzo Madama, a 13th-14th-century castle with a 1721 facade. Numerous fine buildings were built during the Baroque period, when urban reorganization was planned by famous architects. Of that time are the Palazzo Reale, Castello del Valentino, Villa Reale at Stupinigi, the Superga basilica, the Gran Madre and Consolata churches and Piazza San Carlo. In the 18th century the tall, bold Mole, symbol of the city, was created by Antonelli. The other main cities of the Piedmont region are the provincial capitals (Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Vercelli, Verbania and Torino), Moncalieri and Rivoli.
Being home to the Savoy dynasty that reigned as Italy’s royal family, Turin shares a culinary tradition with neighbouring France. However, the region is mostly renowned for its hill-country cooking.
In autumn, the region offers excellent game, mushrooms and white truffles, whose magical aromas enhance pastas and risottos, meats and cheeses. Pastas are dominated by tajarin and agnolotti and the plains near the river Po around
Vercelli and Novara are Europe’s leading suppliers of rice, especially the prized Carnaroli variety.
The region breeds prized beef of the razza piemontese, which is then cooked braised in red wine, roasted, grilled or simmered as the base of bollito misto. The region produces quantities of Gorgonzola from Novara, as well as Taleggio and Grana Padano, DOP cheeses also produced in other regions and local cheeses protected by DOP such as Robiola di Roccaverano, Murazzano and Bra. Piedmont is also a major producer of hazelnuts, protected under IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta - Protected Geographical Origin).
Most of the wines in Piedmont are produced on family estates made up of relatively small vineyards and the region boasts the greatest number of classified wines in Italy with 46 different DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata - Controlled Denomination of Origin) and four DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita - Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin) areas, accounting for more than half of its 170,000 acres of vineyards.
It produces the largest number of best known, noble, and world-appreciated prize-winning wines, such as Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Grignolino, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Malvasia, Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante among others.
Moreover, Turin is the capital of vermouth, which is fortified wine flavoured with herbs and spices.