If you are looking to visit Piedmont, you are not alone. The 2014 UNESCO World Heritage Site designation of Barolo, Barbaresco, Nizza Monferrato and Barbera, Canelli and Moscato d’Asti and the castle of Grinzane Cavour has brought attention from exciting places: Decanter is talking Barbaresco, The New York Times is exploring Barolo and Truffles, and The Guardian has a top 10 list for Piedmont travel.
The write-ups are fantastic and I especially love the shout-outs for producers and shopkeepers that I am lucky enough to call friends. But, for the everyday traveler a trip to Piedmont can be daunting to plan – though, the views alone make it worth the effort.
When I first started doing Piedmont travel in 2010 – no so long ago – it seemed near impossible to find any information. Few hotels or producers had websites and hardly any tour guide options existed. Today it’s easier to find lodging and more wine and food tour operators are open for business. Unfortunately though, while more sites on tourism exist, many are still difficult to navigate and the information is often in Italian only.
As a Piedmont travel planner — and local — I get questions all the time about the region. In the past six months alone I’ve done nearly a dozen articles and interviews on regional travel, food and wine, and wine tour tips. So, I thought I’d create a reference guide that captures the most important things to know about Piedmont wine travel, starting with the best time to visit Piedmont.
When to Visit Piedmont
Save for those hot days in late June and July, I think any time of the year is a good time to drink Nebbiolo. So, as far as I’m concerned you will do just fine here year-round. Each season offers its own iteration of beauty as well as bountiful food. Let’s break down Piedmont travel by seasons.
Piedmont Travel Seasonality (may vary slightly by the hotel):
- Peak Season: July, September, October, November
- High Season: April, May, June, August*, December
- Off-eason: January to March
- *A few words about August in Italy: The month of August is traditionally a time of rest in Italy. Many Italians pack up and head to the sea to escape the heat. Many used to take the entire month off, but that’s not as common anymore. In our area, people tend to do one or two weeks of riposa; generally centered around the national holiday of Ferragosto (August 15). You’ll find limited things open on the 15th and while you will still be able to explore the Langhe and Roero during the month, give yourself a little extra planning time as it may take a little longer to find things open. It will certainly be very quiet with closures varying throughout the month.
State Holidays in Italy (businesses, including wineries, may be closed):
- Good Friday
- Easter Sunday
- Easter Monday
- April 25, Liberation Day
- 1st Friday of May, Labor Day
- June 2, Republic Day
- August 15, Ferragosto
- November 1, All Saints Day
- December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- December 25 and 26, Christmas Holidays
- December 31, January 1, New Years Holidays
Annual Piedmont Weather:
Visiting Piedmont: By the Seasons
Winter: Shhh…the vineyards are sleeping — and so is much of the region.
After all the hard work of the harvest, both the vineyards and the bulk of the area’s tourism close up shop for their own winter nap. Hotels, restaurants, and effectually some of the local tour companies shutter from January to mid-March. Langhe hotels open in the winter include Hotel Calissano and I Castelli, both located in Alba.
Dates to know: If you are planning a late winter Piedmont wine trip be mindful of Vinitaly, Italy’s largest wine tradeshow of the year. It’s held in Verona and you will be hard pressed to schedule a winery visit during that week. The couple weeks leading up to it can also be difficult as many producers are at another wine industry event in Germany and / or they are prepping for the annual pilgrimage to Verona. Check the Vinitaly and ProWein websites for dates as they vary annually.
Spring: Experience bud break.
If you are looking for great weather and fewer crowds try visiting Piedmont in the spring. Hotels and restaurants have re-opened for business and tour guides and producers are less busy so you get a little extra attention during your visits.
Spring Events in Piedmont:
- Vinum: Each year the primary wine town of Alba hosts a wine festival that features all Piedmont wines. The event usually takes place around the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. Prices start at 10 euros for four tastings (includes a souvenir wine glass and a wine pouch).
- Festa della Barbera, Castagnole delle Lanze: The village of Castagnole delle Lanze welcomes visitors and locals for a Barbera celebration with local wine and food producers and live music. See site for details (site in Italian).
- Barbaresco a Tavolo: Local restaurants around town offer set menus to taste the newest Barbaresco vintage. Generally, around 20 wines are featured each night with 60 new Barbarescos shown over three nights. The wines are presented blind and participants receive a tasting sheet. Wines are revealed at the conclusion of the evening.
Summer: Watch the grapes grow.
Summer is a popular time for visitors, so it’s busier. The pros are that you can spend long nights outside, sipping wine. The grapes are turning lovely colors and the vineyards are ready for exploration. The cons are that if the mosquitoes like you, prepare for the attack. And, when booking wine tours, remember you could be tasting a lot of tannic, rich Nebbiolo in humid temperatures of 85°F / 30°C plus.
Dates to know: Don’t forget Ferragosto! After the long hot summer Italians all over the country retreat to the seaside in celebration of the August period of rest, generally kicked off on August 15, a national holiday in Italy. It used to be that Italians would either take the entire month of August off or the last few weeks after Ferragosto. Now, economic struggles are forcing more people to stay open. Be cognizant of this tradition if you plan to visit Piedmont in August as it can be very quiet.
Summer Events in Piedmont:
- Monforte Jazz Festival: An incredible jazz festival staged at the amphitheater in the historic hilltop village of Monforte d’Alba in the Barolo zone. Shows run July and August (site in Italian).
- Collisioni, Barolo: The region’s biggest music festival runs three nights in July with international musicians who play in the center of the historic village of Barolo.
Fall: Harvest and truffle season – enough said.
There is nothing quite like zipping through the hills of the Langhe as the colors change. It is incredible. Plus, it’s the start of truffle season. The Alba White Truffle is arguably the most sought-after fungi in the world – certainly one of the most expensive. A visit to Piedmont in the fall is high season for tourism. Make reservations for hotels, tour guides, and even restaurants early. You can even book a truffle hunt.
Fall Events in Piedmont:
- Asti Palio: The Palio tradition also takes place in the historic center of Asti.
- Festa del Vino: Each year the city of Alba hosts all the communes of the Langhe and Roero for a wine festival featuring wines from each location. Cost is 10 euros for a souvenir glass and wine holder.
- Bra Cheese Festival, Bra: Every other year the Slow Food Organization hosts its international Cheese Festival in Bra. The event features cheese from all over the world, a beer tent, a wine and cheese hall, and more.
- Piacere Barbaresco: A two-day event in October that features only Barbaresco wines from recent vintages. Check the Entoeca Regionale del Barbaresco site for details, updated closer to the event.
- Alba’s Palio degli Asini or The Alba Donkey Palio: Yes, that’s right, folks. In the center of Alba, you can see a donkey race. The legend goes that the city of Alba used to win the Asti Palio. Asti didn’t take too kindly to losing to their neighbor, so instead of upping their game, they eliminated the competition and stopped inviting Alba to participate. Alba answered by hosting an event to mock the Asti fete. Ah, Italy. How I love thee. The event takes place the first Sunday of October to kick off the Truffle Fair festivities.
- The Alba White Truffle Fair: The biggest truffle fair in the world takes place over six weekends from mid-October to mid-November. The area organizes truffle seminars, events, and wine tastings in conjunction with the fair. Entry is 2 euros.
Bagna Cauda Day: A three-day event that celebrates one of the region’s most prized dishes. Bagna Cauda is an olive oil-based fondue of anchovy and garlic served over an open flame to keep it warm. Seasonal vegetables and bread accompany it for dipping.
I know, I’m a bit biased, but I think any time is good to visit Piedmont.
If you are planning a trip and have questions, drop me a note. For more on navigating the region, check out our post on how to get around Piedmont.
More Piedmont Travel Resources:
Song Pick! Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrel