Walking Piedmont: Roddi to Grinzane Cavour & Dinner at Al Castello

Sunday morning was the day of my first Piedmont walk. And it was HOT. Italy is experiencing a heatwave right now. I gathered my bags and had my briefing with the Headwater team before they dropped me at my first stop.

A little about the Headwater setup first. As you will have read in my last post on Piedmont, my trip to Piedmont was part of the #30activedays blogger project with Headwater Holidays. 5 bloggers were involved in Italy, France & Austria, each doing an activity holiday. Not my usual travel style, although I am keen to be more active, I love slow travel and I love to walk. Headwater make it easy, the walks are already detailed in notes and maps which they send you before you go to Italy.

Every morning that you walk, the team move your bags to the next hotel, not just that, they have a wine delivery service and will pick up any wine that you buy too, delivering it to your final hotel for you to collect before you go home. Easy! Headwater also book your dinners (and they pride themselves on their local food and wine knowledge – the restaurants booked were testament to that). Lunch is your own affair with mention in the notes of local restaurants, trattorias and shops, picnic location suggestions and also advisory on where you can buy food en route. I stuck to the local restaurants, I love them and wanted to maximise my pasta scoffing opportunities while I was there.

My first walk started in Verduno, a sleepy place where all awake were at morning mass. The streets were deserted but I heard the familiar mass refrains and singing through a net curtained window. It was hot, very hot, so I hid every now and then in the shade an occasional wood might offer or in a hazelnut grove, arriving a couple of hours later at Roddi, my first stop, and where I had planned to lunch.

Roddi is a university town, not that you would know it to look at it. It is tiny, and there is hardly anyone about. But a university town it is and it is home to the Truffle Dog University, which was founded in 1880. Bright canines can be taught to sniff out one of the worlds finest delicacies here, Albas white truffles are some of the best. Have you ever tried one? They are incredible, so pungent and gorgeous with just an egg, perfect on a vacherin cheese. Truffles love fat, they are very indulgent, and quite pricey, but I do try to treat myself to one every year, just a small one for one dish. 

I had to eat. But it was Sunday and nowhere was open and I hadn’t planned anything. I started to worry, could my first lunch be foiled?! I spotted a restaurant down a side street. It didn’t look open, nothing did, but I was just the first customer. Around here people don’t lunch until 1pm and it was 12.30. La Crota was open and was serving home made pasta. Hello! I will have that, yes, please. 

I started with a typical dish, Tajarin with Ragu & Black Truffles. It is summer truffle season now and while summer truffles are just a hint of what is to come with white truffle season, when fresh as they are here, they are good. Tajarin is a thin cut egg pasta and the ragu here is served sparingly, as I have found often in Italy. Which on a hot day makes perfect sense. With some crisp white wine, a local Arneis, even more so. Then I packed my bag again and made my way. 

This was when it got challenging. It was hot. Really hot. So I continued to dip in and out of hazelnut groves having gentle rests and reading my book. Down a hill, and a gentle walk through some woods, a stretch on a quiet road, and then the ascent through a wooded park area to my next stop, Grinzane Cavour, home to a UNESCO heritage castle and the annual World Truffle Auction. I had a little lie down en route and luxuriated in the shade of a passing cloud. I ascended the final stretch, turned on to the street and, then – boom – loud speakers. I had landed there on the day of their annual fiesta, Fiesta della Madonna del Carmine.

Later that evening, all of the locals gathered in a marquee to eat a set menu cooked by some local volunteers. It was served by those in the area who had been born in 1997 (and they all had a t-shirt that said 97, too!). Next year it will be 1998 etc. It looked like fun but I was headed to Al Castello Ristorante.

Marc Lanteri is chef here, originally from Tende in the French Alps, Marc’s food reflects both cultures, but with a twist. Marc started cooking with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, before working in Paris and then in Piedmont where he was worked primarily in michelin starred kitchens since. There is a terrific wine list too, which Marc’s wife Amy, front of house and a sommelier, looks after, matching being a keen skill, so do take advantage of that should you visit.

Hand chopped raw beef (or crudo, as it is called here), served with beautiful raw red prawns from San Remo and perfectly ripe buttery avocado started my meal. I ate lots of crudo in Piedmont, and this was one of my favourite executions.

Tajarin with piedmont hazelnuts and a wonderful rich ragù of pigeon and chanterelle mushroom followed.

Piedmontese beef is renowned, so I opted for it a second time in one meal, this time cooked as a steak served with potatoes and mushrooms with Barolo wine reduction. Served medium rare, the flavour of the meat was deep and the reduction rich but not overwhelming. I did also taste the duck, just a bit, and it was one of finest I had tasted in a while, I would order that on my return (which I hope to).

I couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert of spiced pineapple carpaccio with Piña Colada sorbet with a little rum on the side.

At which point something sounded like a canon, and I jumped out of my seat. I was in a castle after all. Seconds later I spied that it was the fireworks to finish the fiesta that evening, a lengthy spectacle, impressive for such a small town, which I watched through the castle window.

The party was still in full swing when I returned to Casa Pasevi, my hotel. A townhouse with a terrace perched over the hills and vineyards beyond, my room had a balcony overlooking it all. I had breakfast on the terrace before hitting my next Piedmont town, and my next walk. More on that soon! 

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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Written by Niamh
Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.