Gourmets get ready to indulge: the rolling hills, valleys and townships of southern Piedmont are northern Italy's specialist pantry, weighed down with sweet hazelnuts, rare white truffles, Arborio rice, delicate veal, precious cheeses and Nebbiolo grapes that metamorphose into the magical Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
A once-powerful city-state – its centre sported over 100 towers – Alba is considered the capital of the Langhe and has a big city confidence and energy while retaining all the grace and warmth of a small rural town. Alba's considerable gastronomic reputation comes courtesy of its white truffles, dark chocolate and wine.
Just 30km apart, Asti and Alba were fierce rivals in medieval times, when they faced off against each other as feisty, independent strongholds ruled over by feuding royal families. These days the two towns maintain a friendly rivalry – workaday Asti sniffs at Alba's bourgeoning glamour – but are united by viticulture.
The Milky Way
Neither a chocolate bar nor a galaxy of stars, Piedmont's Milky Way (Via Lattea) consists of two parallel valleys just west of Turin that offer top-notch skiing facilities. The more northern of the two, Valle di Susa, meanders past a moody abbey, the old Celtic town of Susa and pretty mountain villages.
Bra & Pollenzo
Bra seems like a small, unassuming Piedmontese town, but as the place the Slow Food Movement first took root in 1986, it's also something of a gastronomic pilgrimage site. There are no supermarkets in the historic centre, where small, family-run shops are replete with organic sausages, handcrafted chocolates and fresh local farm produce.
This tiny, 1800-hectare parcel of undulating land immediately southwest of Alba knocks out what is arguably the finest vino in Italy. Yes, it's Barolo (after the eponymous village where it is produced), long hailed as the 'wine of kings' and currently the next big thing with Anglophone collectors.
A viticulturally inclinced village for at least four centuries, Barolo is far too deeply rooted in the soil and the seasons to have wine-snob attitude. The hilltop village is delightful enough itself to warrant a stroll; being able to taste its precious, aromatic wines in a relaxed and welcoming tasting room make visiting a sublime experience indeed.
Ping-ponged between Alba and Asti during the Middle Ages, Neive is a quieter proposition these days, its hilltop medieval layout earning it a rating as one of Italy's borghi più belli (most beautiful towns). Come here to taste the village's four legendary wines – Dolcetto d'Alba, Barbaresco, Moscato and Barbera d'Alba – amid sun-dappled squares and purple wisteria.
Varallo & the Valsesia
Situated 66km northwest of Vercelli in northern Piedmont, Varallo guards the Sacro Monte di Varallo, the oldest of Italy's nine Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains), all a Unesco World Heritage site from 2003. The complex consists of an astounding 45 chapels, with 800 statues depicting the Passion of Christ set on a rocky buttress on the slopes of Monte Tre Croci.