Looking for a taste of the “real” Italy? Piedmont, nestled between the Alps and the Ligurian Sea, is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Recently named by the Lonely Planet guide as ‘the number one place you must travel’, it has everything Italy’s best-known regions have – rolling hills, miles of vineyards, ancient towns, quaint towns hilltops and fields of sunflowers that would make Van Gogh cry. But (whisper it) there’s no tourist bus in sight.
The views at every turn are picture-book perfect – and they don’t get any better than those from Villa Giara, a newly opened ‘country inn’ perched on a hill in the heart of the area. Owned and run by former Versace Marketing Director Stephen Croncota and graphic and interior designer Ricardo Baptista Fernandes, Villa Giara takes the bed and breakfast (literally) to new luxurious heights.
Hotel reviews Villa Giara
Rooms and facilities
There are nine en suite bedrooms, each individually decorated with locally sourced antique furniture and all with patio doors or bay windows overlooking the vineyards and verdant countryside, with the historic hilltop village of Calosso in the background. far.
The beds – handcrafted by a family business in Abruzzo – are truly dreamy. I can personally vouch for their sleeping comfort – I haven’t slept this well in years. The 12 meter swimming pool – also with a view – is perfect for an early morning dip or for relaxing in the heat of the day. There are four living rooms, with more of that elegantly preserved antique furniture (even the huge TV has its own vintage cabinet), original artwork, and sofas to sink into. Think: cooling off in the summer, relaxing in front of a log fire in the fall.
Food and drink
Breakfast – served al fresco on the terrace – is a feast of freshly baked cakes and breads, seasonal fruit and cheeses made by local producers. As Villa Giara is officially a B&B, dinner is on request – you can hire a chef to come and cook for you and on weekends there are pizza nights, with regional specialties cooked to order in the outdoor oven. Twice we had a leisurely lunch (after a leisurely walk) in Calosso, at one of the three restaurants in town, Crota ‘d Calos. Then, back at Villa Giara, instead of having dinner, we watched the sun go down and the full moon rise over appetizers – local wines served with a spread of cheese, prosciutto, olives and bread home made.
The area is also famous for its Michelin-starred restaurants: there are two in the nearby town of Canelli and too many to count within a 40-minute drive in Alba.
We were wowed by the incredible wine, delicious food and picturesque Piedmont countryside. Not to mention five-star luxury barely more than a B&B, a room with an incredible view and interiors straight out of a classic Merchant-Ivory. Villa Giara is a shining star in this Unesco World Heritage gem.
What to do nearby
Piedmont is a dream destination for wine lovers, with some of the best – and most historic – vineyards and cellars in the world. There’s a ‘canteen’ on virtually every corner, where you can taste the world famous Barbera and Barola wines, then buy them for a fraction of the price in the UK (most will be shipped). Excursions to the best vineyards in the region can be arranged and one evening a week a local winemaker comes to the Villa for tastings with guests.
Want to perfect your culinary skills? Why not book a cooking lesson with local chefs – then (best) eat what you’ve cooked. The region is renowned for its highly coveted truffles. In autumn, you can go hunting and learn how to search for the “white gold” of Italy, then cook and eat your finds at the Villa.
Prefer Villa Giara-style antique hunting? We headed to the town of Asti, where a vintage market is held once a month with some of Italy’s best bargains. Luckily we had a car (it’s just a day’s drive from our house in London). Impossible to resist two paintings, a ceramic bowl, a handmade dress, vintage cocktail glasses and a Murano glass vase… For more shopping, there is an on-site boutique at Villa Giara: a curated mix of vintage finds, ceramics, boho-luxury clothing and original artwork.
Day trips to Milan, Turin, the lakes and the Ligurian coast – all within an hour’s drive – are also recommended. We spent a day in the pretty seaside town of Noli. If you prefer somewhere a bit fancier: you can people watch and superyachts in Portofino.
For the more energetic, try cycling. We hired e-bikes (easier for these hills) – and took a scenic tour of the area – stopping for lunch in the market town of Nizza. There are also amazing walks and nature trails. I would recommend a 20 minute walk through the vineyards to Calosso: medieval castle, pretty church and lunch and panoramic view from the terrace of Il Duca Bianco.
There’s even a yoga deck at the Villa (again, with this view) – you can organize individual or group sessions with the internal teacher.
An oenological or gourmet getaway.
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Prices start at around £100 a night; to book, go to villagiara.com; to see more, follow their Instagram @villagiara