We arrived in Nordelaia at night. Driving along the winding country roads, we could see in the distance a beacon of string lights hanging along the hillside. As we got closer, we noticed how majestic the approach was. “Just wait until morning,” our driver said.
And indeed, when we awoke the next day, the true splendor of Nordelaia’s incredibly picturesque location overlooking the verdant valleys of Monferrato swept before us.
Where to stay
Nordelaia is set in five hectares of farmland, including its own vineyards, where it produces delicious wine from Pinot Noir, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes. The 800 year old farmhouse has been sympathetically converted and extended to encompass 12 bedrooms.
We stayed in the La Foresta suite, which was inspired by the surrounding woods. The heavy beams gave it a cozy log cabin feel and we woke up to a cacophony of birdsong coming from the nearby treetops. There are panoramic views from every window and a large private terrace allows you to watch spectacular sunsets from the privacy of your room.
Other options include the Black and White suites, which have a minimalist elegance, while La Mare is dedicated to the Italian Riviera and its rugged coastline. None of the rooms have TVs, and simple, clean palettes reflect a traditional feel.
What to do
The central philosophy of the hotel is relaxation and one could easily spend a whole weekend enjoying the two swimming pools or reading in the well-placed deckchairs facing the valley.
There’s a stylish, well-equipped spa, with plenty of rejuvenating treatments available, from an Indian Ayurvedic massage to a ritual scrub using volcanic powder rhyolite. I had an Elixir facial, which left my skin refreshed and dewy.
The hills of Piedmont are perfect for cycling fanatics as well as those who like to pedal gently on Sunday afternoons. You can rent e-bikes from the hotel – a little energy is enough on the steepest climbs – and enjoy a two-hour loop that takes you through picturesque villages and impressive castles.
There are an impressive 526 castellos in the Piedmont region, many of which were built in the late Middle Ages. They served as a defense for small communities during a time of political instability and today bear witness to the region’s rich history. The surrounding unspoilt hills teem with wildlife and we passed a large group of wild boars, closely followed by their tiny piglets scurrying across a field.
There are several towns to visit nearby, and we spent an afternoon in Acqui Terme, accompanied by Nordelaia’s general manager, Alfonso Spinelli, who was an excellent guide to the area.
We had a delicious lunch at Ristorante Enoteca La Curia, enjoying Piedmontese dishes such as bagna càuda – a rich sauce made with garlic and anchovies, which is served hot with raw vegetables for dipping – and Canelin nougat for dessert. The nougat is famous in the region and made by one man, Giovanni Verdese, now in his late 80s, in a small factory in town.
When he fell ill last year, locals held a vigil outside his door, lighting candles and praying for his recovery. I can see why: the tantalizing blend of Tonda Gentile hazelnuts and wildflower honey is a little taste of heaven.
what to eat
The real star of Nordelaia is resident chef Charles Pearce, who was trained by star chef Andrea Ribaldone, with whom he worked on the menu concept. Pearce has Scottish ancestry but has had a long love affair with Piedmont, which is reflected in local ingredients and dishes that incorporate aspects of its unique cuisine.
We enjoyed Chef Acqua’s tasting menu at L’Orto gourmet restaurant. It’s in a separate building from the main farmhouse, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the valley. But here, the real view is inside, with the sleek open kitchen providing a window into the culinary magic that happens inside. There were only two tables this Saturday, which meant the room lacked a bit of atmosphere, but that was more than made up for by the spectacular food.
We were spoiled with a series of inventive appetizers, including a confit egg yolk with crunchy asparagus and spring onions served in an eggshell, and a bomb of crispy squid tartare seasoned with garlic local wild. The entrée reflected Pearce’s Eastern influences: amberjack served in a creamy coconut mousse with flecks of fennel gel. A fresh seasonal prawn crudo risotto followed, made with Sicilian avocados that gave it a creamy tartness; then the sturgeon, served with three-way broccoli and a white butter sauce.
The dessert was exceptional, evoking both the sweet nostalgia of children’s cereal and the developed flavors of yuzu and rosemary. It was an architectural feat: slabs of rosemary-infused dehydrated milk crumbled in the mouth, with an explosion of sharp citrus. The meal was one of the best I’ve had; inventive but not pretentious, with unusual flavor fusions still rooted in warmth and comfort, no doubt down to Pearce’s British roots. A Michelin star is surely on the way.
We also sampled the Bistrot de L’Orto menu on Sunday, served on the ground floor terrace. Clearly a popular spot with locals, the place was busy with couples and families. I loved the signature salad – raw kale, orange, candied walnuts, roasted spicy Merella chickpeas and tahini vinaigrette – and the secondsi were excellent examples of Piedmontese cuisine using local ingredients, served, of course, with the delicious wine from the estate.
For those wishing to immerse themselves in all that Piedmont has to offer – from its unique cuisine, world-class wines and stunning natural surroundings – Nordelaia is the place to do it.
Nordelaia rates start from €220 per night on a B&B basis in low season. Visit nordelaia.com