The rolling countryside of the Langhe Hills in Northern Italy is incredible, with its hilltops boasting medieval towns, magnificent castles, and world famous vineyards. This stunning landscape isn’t just picturesque and historic, it also produces some of the world’s best wine, hazelnuts, cheese, and truffles. Especially when you know where to look.
Different varieties of grapes have been lovingly cultivated here for centuries, and many of the vineyards here are still family-owned. We know that Etruscans and Celts traded for wine with locals here at least as early as the fifth century BC and that Ancient Romans took note of the quality. Good news! These rich landscapes and important cultural elements should be around for generations to come because in 2014 the Langhe-Roero and nearby Monferrato were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are wonderful hikes to enjoy through the vineyards of the Langhe Hills and many glasses of exceptional wines to taste along the way. Agri-tourism (called agriturismo in Italy) thrives here. Many of the stately country homes at local vineyards have been converted into guest houses that boast spa services and curated menus. Imagine enjoying restorative treatments at a spa that’s surrounded by the richness of Northern Italy’s wine regions.
There are many wonderful wines produced here, and perhaps the best known are Barbaresco and Barolo. Both of these are made from Nebbiolo grapes, but their distinctly different soil conditions create very different tastes. The Barolo “King of Wines” has more tannin than the Barbaresco.
Perhaps the most famous crop foraged from these hills is the legendary Piedmont truffle.
And by truffles we don’t mean chocolate truffles. We’re talking about the aromatic fungus that is found growing wild underground, somewhat like a potato or other tuber. Chefs around the world pay top dollar for this Italian culinary delicacy. In 2016 a white truffle weighing just over four pounds sold at a Sotheby’s auction for more than $60,000.
Attempts to cultivate crops of truffles in Australia and North America simply don’t match the flavor of those found in the wild in Italy so demand for these naturally occurring truffles stays high. Delicate white truffles are in season in October and November, when the annual autumn truffle festivals are in full swing all over the region, but there are delicious black truffles available year round.
For an authentic Northern Italian experience, you can stroll through the enchanting local forests as you enjoy a truffle hunt with an experienced truffle hunter called a “trifulau.” At one time truffle hunters worked with female pigs to find truffles, which apparently smell like a male pig to an amorous sow! Unfortunately, female pigs are rather greedy when they find truffles and their trampling enthusiasm destroys truffle beds. So today’s truffle hunters don’t rely on swine; they work with trained scent dogs.
There is quite a bit of skill and knowledge required to find good quality truffles, which typically grow in small amounts. It’s not unusual for a truffle hunter to find a few ounces of truffle, perhaps just under a pound, at a time. You’ll notice that truffle hunters are careful to ensure there’s some truffle left behind so that spores ensure future crops.
You can eat fresh truffles raw and they’re usually paired with a full-flavoured white wine or with a local red low in tannin. They’re also delicious cooked and often served in canapés or shaved over freshly made pasta or risotto. You’ll find them on the menu at local restaurants, which also boast long lists of delicious local wines to accompany their rich, exotic taste.
We should mention that many ancient civilizations – including the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks – used truffles as an aphrodisiac when they were looking to spark a little romance and fire up the libido. We’ll let you decide if that’s because of the truffle or the accompanying wine.
There’s no better place to experience Italian truffles and wine than in the Langhe Hills. Our small group Langhe Hills Getaway offers a four-day excursion into the Piedmont region that includes a truffle hunt led by a professional trifulau, a visit to a winery, a cooking class led by a local chef, and a time to relax and rejuvenate in a spa surrounded by vineyards. Contact our friendly, knowledgeable staff at Local Wonders Travel to book your small group Italian holiday now.