BAROLO is one of the most manicured and prosperous-looking villages in Italy.
With its medieval castle, twisting streets, wine shops, restaurants, cantinas at every corner and sensational views across the golden Langhe hills, the home of Italy’s most honoured red is a wine-lover’s paradise.
It is easy to get here, an hour’s drive south of Turin on a beautiful winding route into the Langhe hills. Vineyards are everywhere, hugging every slope, every undulation. Eleven villages, including Barolo, can make this famous Nebbiolo-based red in this corner of Piedmont in one of the most dramatic landscapes you can imagine.
While you can explore the hilltop villages of Serralunga d’Alba and La Morra and smell fermenting grapes in the air, it is another matter gaining access to small discreet wineries. Piedmont has some of Italy’s best marked wine routes, but scores of traditional cantinas are not set up with tasting rooms and shops, so appointments are essential in some cellars – but not all.
Start your tasting route at Hotel Barolo itself. At harvest time, watch grapes arriving at the hotel’s winery, Brezza, as you enjoy morning coffee on the terrace, then head downstairs to sample Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto reds with winemaker Enzo. Stroll along to the welcoming E Pira cantina run by Chiara Boschi and sample others at the famous Brezza Trattoria with its castle views.
In neighbouring Monforte d’Alba, Aldo Conterno’s hilltop winery is worth visiting if you can catch the family at home, but the easiest winery for tourists to access is Fontanafredda at Serralunga d’Alba. With a huge wine shop and bistro it’s a visitor’s haven. There’s even a wine village to explore, built for workers by King Vittorio Emanuelle.
Head northeast through Alba, famous for truffles, to neighbouring Barbaresco. Amidst a gentler landscape of hazelnut and peach orchards and vineyards, Cascina delle Rose in Tre Stelle is a good place to stay.
If you have time, before you leave Piedmont head north to the nerve centre of the Slow Food movement in Bra, where wine-lovers can actually sleep in a cellar. Enterprising winemaker Matteo Ascheri built a startlingly modern hotel of wood, chrome, brick and marble above his winery, while his sister Maria Teresa runs their bustling Osteria Muirvecchi, a haven of artisanal foods. En route to Bra, you drive through the Roero valley, home to crisp Arneis whites. If your timetable allows, explore southeast to Gavi to see its famous 16th-century fortress.
Now head to Veneto to discover Italy’s contrasting northeast. Base yourself in the wine city of Verona. World famous for its romantic connotations, Roman arena, operas and proximity to Lake Garda, Verona is also the world capital of drying grapes – as the home of Amarone.
A short drive north out of Verona brings you into the famous hills of Valpolicella, where the ancient tradition of “appassimento” – drying grapes on mats for months to enhance flavour and concentration – is still carried out to make Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso versions of Valpolicella.
A few kilometres away, near Fumane di Valpolicella, is the 16th-century architectural jewel Villa della Torre, completed in 1560. Within the Palazzo, the famous Amarone producer Allegrini, which owns the villa, runs cooking classes, concerts and sensory workshops. Enjoy a guided tour of the Palazzo’s gardens before sampling Allegrini’s excellent Amarones in their shop.
Head east out of Verona for a day out in beautiful walled Soave. Relive history in medieval streets, lunch in the old town hall loggia at Enoteca Il Drago, then sample distinctive single vineyard Soave and sweet Recioto di Soave made from dried white garganega grapes at the Pieropan winery shop next door.
Finish your northern Italian wine experience in one of Italy’s best wine bars in Verona: Enoteca Bottega del Vino, which is owned and run by top Amarone wineries. There is no better place to enjoy the atmosphere of a real wine city than in this noisy wine bar/restaurant, which is always humming with winemakers and tourists alike sampling its 100,000 bottle winelist. Whether you are a local or a tourist, you will need to book ahead here – and in true Italian style – you will probably still have to wait.
Fly to Turin from Edinburgh with British Airways from £169, www.britishairways.com; Hotel Barolo, www.hotelbarolo.it; Barbaresco: Casina della Rosa Agrituristica, www.cascinadellerose.it; Bra: Albergo Cantine Ascheri, www.ascherihotel.it; Verona: Hotel Accademia, www.accademiavr.it; Gargagnago: Villa Serego Alighieri, www.seregoalighieri.it