The Beautiful Piemonte Wine Area of the Langhe

Written by on October 6, 2020 in North West, Piemonte

Showing the lovely bottles of Barolo old wines

A drive from Aosta to Alba

From our home in Aosta it is an easy two-hour drive to the historic Piemonte town of Alba, capital of the world-famous Langhe wine area. We have made several trips to Alba and relish the change of environment from Alpine to something more typically Italian.

The drive down from Aosta towards Torino along the A5 motorway initially follows the course of the Dora Baltea river. With the mountains rising steeply on both sides it is spectacular. As you emerge from the Aosta Valley after Ivrea the change in scenery couldn’t be more extreme. The snow-capped Western Alps behind Torino remain visible in the far distance but you are now entering the Po Valley. All of a sudden find yourself in a landscape so flat it is ideal for the planting of fields of rice and forests of poplars.

Following a quick skirt around the west side of Torino on the ‘tangenziale’ you reach Alba and the landscape has changed again into one of beautiful rolling hills covered in vines and occasional hazelnut groves. Uncannily like the Chianti hills in Tuscany. As much as we love living in the Aosta Valley, coming here really is a tonic for the slight claustrophobia that we occasionally feel there. Not being mountain people born and bred I guess we sometimes just feel the need for some more gentle scenery.

The Geography of Le Langhe

‘Le Langhe’ is the plural of the word ‘langa’, which means ‘small hill’ in the local Piemontese dialect.

The Langhe region is located in the Province of Cuneo and sits to the south of the Tanaro River which passes underneath Torino. The Tanaro flows from its source in the Western Alps near the French border into the river Po.

The Langhe comprises the ‘Bassa Langa’ (which are the hills close to Alba), the ‘Alta Langa’ (the higher and more southerly hills bordering Liguria) and also the Langa Astigiana.  Langa Astigiana sits towards the east, around the valley of the Bormida river, within the province of Asti. It includes villages like Bubbio, Cassinasco, Sesole and Roccaverano.

Beautiful hill-top town in the Piemonte wine area of Langhe

Langhe-Roero e Monferrato World Heritage site

The Langhe makes up part of the UNESCO designated ‘Vineyard Landscape of Piemonte: Langhe-Roero e Monferrato’, recognised for its outstanding natural beauty, for it’s rich history, its culture and its winemaking traditions.

UNESCO’s designation contains five specific winemaking micro-regions together with all of the lands in between, referred to as buffer zones. Two micro-regions are in Bassa Langa. ‘La Langa del Barolo’ and ‘Le Colline del Barbaresco’. The micro-regions of ‘Nizza Monferrato & il Barbera’ and ‘Canelli & Asti spumante’ are both located in the area known as the ‘Monferrato Astigiano’ which neighbours Bassa Langhe on its eastern edge, within the Province of Asti. ‘Il Monferrato degli infernot’ is the 5th micro-region. It is famous for its ancient underground wine cellars, excavated by hand out of the soft ‘Marl’, or lime-rich, rock. It lies within the Province of Alessandria in an area known as ‘Basso Monferrato’.

To complete the Monferrato picture, as well as Monferrato Astigiano and Basso Monferrato there is also the area of ‘Alto Monferrato’. This extends south of the Bormida River until the edge of Liguria. It is bounded to the west by the Bormida Spigno valley and to the east by the Scrivia valley. It is centered around the famous old town of Acqui Terme.

Bra – home of the International Slow Food Movement

Finally, the Roero area lies to the north of the Tanaro river, above Alba. Here is located the nice town of Bra. Local Bra resident and journalist Carlo Petrini, together with a group of local activist friends, founded the International Slow Food Movement here in the 1980’s. Its aim is to preserve regional traditions, good food and a slower pace of life. It has grown to be an important world-wide movement involved in thousands of projects.

Slow food movement was born in the Piemonte wine area

What is it like? – just like Tuscany

Enough of the geography lecture. Let’s get down there and see what it’s like.

We have spent really enjoyable long weekends touring around all of the above-mentioned places, with the exception so far of Alta Langa which we plan to get to this summer. Everywhere you go the scenery is at a minimum very pleasing on the eye and often totally breath-taking. Views of luscious green hills covered in orderly vineyards and topped with ancient villages, rolling endlessly towards distant snow-capped mountains? Describing it as Tuscany in the Alps just about captures it.

The villages of Bassa Langa are especially charming and have lots of lively bars, restaurants and wine cellars. Because of the international fame of Barolo and Barbaresco wines, these villages are very popular. Along with other villages on the main wine routes, such as Morra, Neive, Verduno and Monforte d’Alba, they can get crowded. Book ahead for restaurants and wine tastings!

Pretty colourful flowers along the cobbled streets of Alba, capital of the beautiful Piemonte Wine Area of the Langhe

Away from the Bassa Langa hot spots the villages are often just as attractive and interesting. But because they aren’t quite as famous they aren’t catering for visitors quite so heavily. Wonderful restaurants, wine bars and cellars are there all right. They are fewer and farther between though and sometimes just take a bit more finding.

Alba itself is a lovely old town with a delightfully refined atmosphere. It is a mecca for foodies and wine lovers from all over the world. Asti is also very pleasant, as is Bra.

The Barolo Boys Movie

The wonderful wines that this part of Italy produces will be the subject of many articles and blogs to come. A good way to get a taste of things would be to get hold of the 2014 film ‘Barolo Boys’. A low key documentary style film, it tells the story of how some free-thinking, rebellious young winemakers in the 1980’s managed to introduce the Barolo wine to the United States. In doing so they turned it into a hugely successful international brand, making all of the local producers rich.

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