When I studied abroad in Florence, my mother and godmother came to visit and we traveled around Italy and Switzerland. Adorably, my mother purchased a book entitled “Special Places to Stay in Italy” and we proceed to stay in a very odd hotel that she found in the book. It’s wasn’t really special, it was just weird. There were awkward paintings of naked people on horseback. When Charles and I traveled from Munich to Piedmont, I happened to find a very special place for us to stay.
We stayed at Albergo dell’Agenzia in Pollenzo (which is a tiny town within the town of Bra). It was magnificent. The crazy thing? Hotels in Piedmont are quite affordable, and this hotel was only $163 a night.
Yes, a 4-star hotel housed in a restructured neo-Gothic castle that was once the country estate of King Carlo Alberto of Savoy, is affordable. [I just told Charles the price we paid for this hotel and he couldn’t believe it].
In addition to the coolness of staying in a castle, the rooms are gorgeous. European hotel rooms can be bare bones and small, but our room at Albergo dell’Agenzia was huge, comfortable, and it had a king sized bed. The bathroom was spacious too. Our room had a great view of the hotel grounds too.
And on a clear day… you could see the snow topped Alps in the distance.
The towers in the front of the building seemed like something out of a fairy tale.
Albergo dell’Agenzia is also home to an excellent restaurant, called The Garden Restaurant, and we dined there on our first evening in Piedmont. The Slow Food project, the University of Gastronomic Sciences, and a Wine Bank are housed in the same building as the hotel, and The Garden Restaurant represents the Slow Food philosophy, and boasts a huge wine list.
We began our meal with Vitello, a very traditional Piedmontese dish consisting of cold veal with a tuna sauce and capers.
Then I had my favorite Piedmontese dish, plin with a butter and sage sauce. Charles had Tajarin, very thin noodles, with a veal sauce. Fresh plin are heavenly. The shape and texture is so satisfying.
We both had sliced veal steaks with a sauce similar to a hollandaise as our meat course.
For dessert, we shared profiteroles drown in a rich chocolate sauce with cubes of a creme anglais.
Now I need to tell you about this hotel’s wine prices. Want some of the best wine you will ever taste for $5 a glass? This is the place. The large lobby of the hotel is really more of a wine bar and we spent our evenings there drinking wine.
The next day we headed out on a truffle hunt, and then we went to visit my friend Ryan Arnold who was helping with the harvest at Vietti. Vietti is a well known winery in Castiglione Falletto, the Barolo region of Italy.
We were visiting right in the middle of harvest, so the winery was buzzing with activity and excitement.
Ryan walked us through the winemaking facility and process. The grapes were harvested at the vineyards, and placed in crates. Then back at the winery, the grapes were run through a machine to remove the stems. Next the grapes are placed into massive tanks to ferment.
The juice sinks to the bottom of these tanks, so a couple of times a day that juice is drained from the bottom of the tank and poured over the grapes at the top of the tank. This process is called a “pump over”.
After the grapes have fermented, the grapes are pressed, and they are placed in wooden barrels and stored in the cellar to age. Once the aging is complete, the wine is finished and bottled.
After we visited the wine cellar, Ryan took us into the tunnels, which lead us into more wine storage rooms.
Deep within the tunnels, there were old brick tunnels and rooms where wine was stored during WWII. There were a few bottles still in these rooms, and they had clearly been there for a very long time. It was a fun behind the scenes look at Vietti. After the tour was over we tasted some of Vietti’s Barolo, one of their most famous wines. Vietti’s Barolo is exceptional, and I have been drinking their Dolcetto d’Alba recently too. Vietti produces 16 different wines, many of which are available at Binny’s in Chicago.
After touring Vietti, we drove over to La Morra, a small village with lots of shops and restaurants that is popular with tourists.
We were going to dine at a pizzeria, but it was closed. In Europe it is common for restaurants to be closed in the afternoon and to reopen at 7:30. Instead of pizza, we had wine and cheese. Of the many cheese plates Charles and I enjoyed while we were in Europe, this was both the prettiest and the most delicious. It had a wonderful mix of cheese – soft ricotta, blue, and more with honey on the side.
I would like to thank Ryan for showing us around Vietti, we had a wonderful time. Ryan is a regional wine director at Lettuce Entertain You, and he has been a wonderful collaborator on wine content. You can read about his favorite food and wine pairings here, and you can find his tips for tasting and pairing wine on the Citi Table site.
This post isn’t sponsored by Albergo dell’Agenzia, but you should probably head there on your next vacation.