The ancient town of Alba, famous for its medieval towers and churches is also the truffle capital of the Italian region of Piedmont.
In the words of the famous Italian writer Cesare Pavese: “I remember our last dinner in the Langhe, in that silence broken only by the noise of the crickets, in that charming landscape, among simple folk, old-time people. The table smelling exquisitely of truffles and the smell in the air mixed with that of Barolo wine. From the windows, the hills had curves like a woman’s body”.
Alba is the capital of the Langhe and very rich in history. It was probably founded by the Ligurian tribe of Stazielli, however it was not until 89 B.C. that Alba Pompeia was established as a Roman municipium. The historical centre of Alba, in Piedmont, offers us a reminder of what life was like amongst the concentration of famous towers, arcades, churches, private palaces and tower houses where the local citizens carried on their civil and social life.
Once called the ‘town of a hundred towers’, powerful local families tried to outdo each other by building taller and taller towers during the XIV and XV century. The main street via Vittorio Emanuele II, known locally by its old name of via Maestra, today combines some of these medieval and renaissance buildings with designer shopping, gourmet delights and wine bars.
Alba Must Do – Top Ten Tips:
1. Astesiano Tower, Alba’s tallest remaining tower
2. The church of Saints Cosma and Damiano
3. The Palazzo Comunale and the Bishop’s Palace
4. The Romanesque Cathedral of San Lorenzo
5. The Gothic church of San Domenico
6. Take a stroll along the Via Vittorio Emanuele II
7. The 13th Century church of St. Maria Maddalena housing the preserved body of a nun who died in 1464
8. Check out Riva House, a massive tower-house standing in via Cavour
9. The Baroque church of St. John the Baptist
10. Visit nearby Barolo and sample the King of wines and wine of Kings
October: Palio degli Asini
The Donkey Palio deliberately mocks the Palio at nearby Asti, Alba’s rivals ever since the Middle Ages, by using donkeys instead of horses.
The story goes back to 1275, when soldiers from Asti descended on Alba and caused havoc outside its fortified walls by devastating the local vineyards and orchards. They then raced their horses around the city walls, to show their superiority. Today, locals dress up in medieval costumes for a historical parade and then compete in the entertaining donkey race.
October/November: Alba White Truffle Festival
Fiera del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba (The annual White Truffle Festival) takes place each weekend during October in Alba. This is a chance to taste rich Piedmont fare.
Local Food and Drink:
Truffles: When in season, feature heavily on all types of pasta which are topped with the famous local white truffles.
Brasato al Barolo: Beef braised in Barolo wine.
Torta di Nocciole: Hazelnut Cake
Local Wine: Barbera d’Alba: This is an ideal partner for many local Piedmont foods due to its flexibility. The high acidity and low tannins mean it is great with pasta al ragu (pasta with a meat sauce), barbecued pork chops and ribs or just with salami. Delicious.
Spotlight on ‘The White Truffle Festival’: During the festival, the town takes on a different hue and scent as the distinct musky flavour of the famous ‘Tartufo d’Alba’ permeates the streets. This gift of nature has become a symbol of the rich cuisine of Piedmont and Alba’s star attraction. It is the highlight of the white truffle season with the surrounding Piedmont region considered to have the best tartufo bianco (white truffles) in the world. Indeed the famous ‘Tartufo d’Alba’ or ‘Tuber Magnatum Pico’ has become a symbol of the rich cuisine of Piedmont.
Visitors come from all over world to enjoy the festival which features not only arts and cultural events revolving around the celebration but also the world’s largest truffle auction. Although the auction is a private affair, the Alba White Truffle Market is open every weekend from 09:00 to 20.00 and sells a whole host of truffle-related products and merchandise.
How to Get There: Alba is located in the Province of Cuneo, Piedmont.
By Plane: The most convenient airports to Alba are Turin and Genoa. Aeroporto di Torino (Turin) is about 75 minutes from Alba via the A55, A6, and A33 Autostradas, whereas Aeroporto di Genova (Genoa) is slightly further via the A10, A26, A21 and the A33.
By Car: A21 Torino – Piacenza, exit ASTI EST. A26 Genova Voltri – Gravellona Toce, exit ALESSANDRIA SUD
By Train: From Genoa to Alba trains take approximately two and half hours with a change at Asti. From Milan take a train from Milan’s ‘Centrale’ station. Trains take three to four hours – some trains require 2 or 3 changes. From Turin take a train from Turin’s ‘Porta Nuova’ station. Trains take one and a half hours – some trains require 1 or 2 changes.
By Bus: Buses run from Alba to Turin every hour and the journey takes about one and a half hours. Buses run from Alba to Asti about once an hour and the journey