We set out in the morning for our 2-hour TGV trip to Lyon, where we picked up the rental car. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the car came with GPS, complete with one of those nice ladies with a plummy English accent (Hampshire?). But we quickly learned that as we approached any French town named “St. Jean de something,” our GPS lady pronounced it “St. Gene.” As a consequence, we decided to call her “Jean” (not the French pronunciation). We headed off with “Jean” through the Alps to Italy, arriving in Alba in the late afternoon. We quickly located our hotel, just a few kilometers from the city center in Biglini. The Hotel Medea is a 3-star with spacious, nicely decorated rooms and air-conditioning. The furniture is traditional and the bathroom is large and well-equipped. The king-size bed was very comfy. All this for only 70 euros a night is quite a bargain. The location is very convenient both to Alba and to all the restaurants and country drives we had planned.
Here are some photos of our room:
After getting settled, we drove into Alba for the early evening “passeggiata,” the Italian custom of strolling the main streets, perhaps stopping for a snack or drink at a cafe, shopping etc. We managed to find a bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which is not often seen outside of Spain.
I had planned all of our lunches and dinners well in advance and made reservations, important as these places are all busy and walk-ins are often turned away. The first dinner was at Osteria Veglio in La Morra,.
Set on a hillside, the Osteria has a terrace with a view over the valley, but it was a bit chilly so we sat in the very attractive dining room.
Dishes we tried:
Agnolotti with meat filling
Pappardelle with lamb ragout
Raspberries with vanilla gelato
Everything was just right. The vitello tonnato was perfect, rosy veal with a delicious tuna mayonnaise, agnolotti were light as a feather, and the raspberries were plump and sweet, with a huge scoop of wonderful gelato. We had a lovely bottle of 2015 Barbera d’Alba from Renato Ratti, for 14 euros. Total bill was 100 euros.
We headed into Alba in the late morning, where there was a Sunday market in the main Piazza, and the main street was being prepared for a wine festival later in the day. Then we headed off to lunch at Trattoria Marsupino in Briaglia, about a 40 minute drive South.
This restaurant is rustic but elegant, and the dishes show real creativity. We had:
Carpaccio of sturgeon
Testina di Vitella (parts of veal head, including cheeks and gelatinous parts, in Barolo sauce)
Capretto al forno (roasted baby goat)
Liquorice mousse with lemon sauce
All pretty good, the sturgeon was nice to find as it is seldom seen, the goat was a bit tough and had a lot of bone, but was tasty nonetheless. The standout was the dessert. We only ordered one to share, but the kitchen sent out an extra, and we devoured them in minutes, they were so good. An unexpected combination, but a very clever one. With coffee we were served a nice plate of mignardises. The wine list is noticeably more expensive than the other places we went to, but I chose a 2006 Langhe Rosso, “Yeta” from Farigliano, which was very rich and full-bodied, for 23 euros. Total bill was 106 with water and coffee.
After lunch, we took a scenic drive around the Langhe. We have found that, when a bit of road falls over a cliff, our Italian friends are inclined to put off mending it, and, instead, put out barriers and flashing signs. Our dear “Jean,” however, is overly cautious, and at a number of points tried to steer us down narrow side roads to avoid the barricades. It seemed to get her rather frazzled, but we persevered finding our way back to Alba, where we bought a few food items to take back to Ana and Bertrand when we return to Paris at the end of the week. Cheese with black truffles and a jar of salt with white truffle. The town was mobbed due to the wine festival, which was very festive.
For dinner, we drove to Ristorante Rabaya in Barbaresco. “Jean” was at a loss and couldn’t find it, but after driving into town and asking at another restaurant for directions, we found it easily.
There was a nice terrace, but again too chilly to eat out there. Dishes we ate were:
Salad of guinea hen (faraona) with shaved fennel
Cauliflower soup with prawns
Agnolotti with shaved black truffles
Sweet and sour rabbit
We shared the generous portion of guinea hen. The agnolotti were smothered in a blizzard of truffles, which made the dish special. All very nice. The wine was a 2014 nebbiolo from Barbaresco. Total bill was 100.
On our way home, we thought we could hear the tinkling of ice cubes in “Jean’s” glass. The poor dear needed a stiff one.
We headed off in the morning to Acqui Terme, an ancient Roman spa town South of Asti. It was quite impressive. Here are the photos I took:
The “source” of the hot water in a central plaza, where people stop to let the water run over their arms or legs.T
We found the organist in the Cathedral doing his Monday morning scales.
We thought the restaurant “Arsenic and Old Lace” to be a particularly interesting reference. We did not stop to see if elderberry wine was on the carta dei vini.
We then headed to lunch at Ristorante Belbo da Bardon in San Marzano Oliveto, near Canelli, where we were surrounded mainly by senior citizens having lunch as their main meal of the day, just like we have seen in England.
Gnocchi with meat ragu
Fresh local Peach in Moscato wine
Chocolate panna cotta in coffee sauce topped with nuts
I had hoped to try finanziera and this was the first restaurant that had it on the menu, so of course I ordered it. I love organ meats, so this was quite a treat. It was mostly sweetbreads, there was liver, little meatballs of some kind, several parts I could not identify, mushrooms and peas. I could eat this every day. With a 2013 Barbera “Mati” (14 euro), coffees and water, the total was 81.
Dinner that night was at La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe. It’s a bit of a trip from Alba, but well worth the journey. An elegant room, warm and professional service, and superb food make this very special.
Trattoria La Coccinella
Tagliatelle with seafood
Canneloni with duck topped with mushrooms
Rolled roasted goat
Fried veal with fried zucchini and mushrooms
Croccante of gianduja
We had a bottle of Grignolino d’Asti, which was only 13 euros and an exceptional wine, a bit more delicate than most of the others we’ve had, really delicious. Total with wine and water was only 86 euros.
This was our last day in Piemonte, leaving on Tuesday for Annecy in France (Haute Savoie).