We are back in the United States after an eight-day visit to Piemonte and a three-night stop in Liguria. It was our first overseas trip since 2019 and the onset of the COVID pandemic. Perhaps because of the long absence, much of which kept us quarantined in the Seattle region, our two weeks were about as good as any trip to Italy in recent memory. We were relieved (and delighted) to discover that our favorite restaurants in Piemonte and the families that own them are recovering from economic distress. With few exceptions, all the restaurants were jammed, mostly with Italians. Judging from the license plates, the Swiss and German tourists have returned to the region. However, there were few Americans.
While we had some trepidation about traveling to Europe during the still lingering pandemic, we encountered few impediments related to COVID and never felt uncomfortable. We flew to Nice (via JFK) from our home in Seattle. Entering France involved some paperwork – and of course proof of vaccination, but no pre-arrival testing. Italy also requires paperwork, vaccinations and a test, but, because we entered the country by car, we never were asked to provide evidence of our negative tests. Before returning to the United States, we had to obtain a rapid test, but in contrast to the hurdles often involved in obtaining COVID tests in the States, testing in Italy was as simple as walking into any pharmacy for an instant result (and the cost was just 15 Euros).
In Italy and France, the degree of attention to vaccination requirements at restaurants varied considerably. Most asked to see our vaccination cards (which sufficed in the absence of an Italian “green pass”), others inquired if we had been vaccinated without requiring any proof and a few seemingly did not care. Otherwise, it was very much like dining out in the United States. Everyone wore masks when they entered a restaurant and then removed their masks when seated. Masks were also mandatory in stores.
During our stay in the Langhe, we had major meals at Osteria Veglio in Annuziata; Repubblica di Perno in Perno; I Bologna in Rochetta Tanaro; San Marco in Canelli; Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d’Alba; Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso; Trattoria La Coccinella in Serravale Langhe; Il Centro in Priocca and Pane e Vino in Cherasco. We had dined at most of these restaurants over the course of many years. All are family run and owned; usually one spouse operates the kitchen, the other the front of the house. Most of these restaurants are very traditional. Only two (Il Centro and Ciau) have Michelin stars (not that it matters). Every one of our meals was successful, most joyfully so.
Over the course of this trip, our best meals were at I Bologna; Trattoria della Posta, Osteria Veglio and Trattoria La Cuccinella, with an honorable mention each for Pane e Vino and Repubblica di Perno. The food at Il Centro and Ciau, long standing favorites of ours, was a bit inconsistent. Still, both restaurants are special, for the service and ambiance, if not for each of the plates.
Among the many wonderful dishes we encountered in our peregrinations were tagliatelle with a venison ragu at Osteria Veglio; the melanzana alla Parmigiana at Repubblica di Perno; tagliarin with a fresh pesto sauce at I Bologna; an onion stuffed with bechamel, Bra sausage and cheese at Trattoria della Posta; the best of breed panna cotto also at Trattoria della Posta; and the tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms at Trattoria La Coccinella.
After Piemonte, we drove to Alassio on the Ligurian coast, where we spent three nights at the Hotel Villa della Pergola in Alassio. The place is the former residence of rich English aristocrats, set on the mountain above the town in the midst of a vast, manicured botanical garden. It has just 15 rooms -- ours was terrific with a great view of the town and the Mediterranean. The hotel (a member of Relais et Chateau) has a warm, wonderful staff and excellent breakfasts. While Alassio is not a gourmet destination, the town is lively and the beach quite happening. If you go, we would recommend eating at any of a number of beachside restaurants (and pizzerias). Stick with the classics like the ever present frittura of calamari and gamberi; spaghetti alle vongole and trenette al pesto.
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