October '19 - The Italian Langhe
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
No more than an hour south of the Turin you enter the Langhe, a region of rolling hills famous for wine, cheese, and in October, truffles. The area is not very high on the list of places to go for most tourists except wine connoisseurs and truffle snorting high rollers but it's got some pretty unique offerings. Loads of hill-top castle downs, each with their own character, and all within very short drive of each other (like 5min in many cases!).
The town of Montforte d' Alba is one of these very small towns set atop a hill (500m). Most towns are on top of hills as the best strategic location for defence e.g. from your aggravated neighbouring town following the theft of prized princess). It has a population of 2,000 and one really small main square (piazza) connected by tiny, narrow streets that snake - often very steeply - up to the top where there's a cathedral, the remains of a castle, and Roman style amphitheater.
The Airbnb was in one of the very narrow streets just 30m from the square, and getting the car into the garage was the first challenge, no pressure while Italian locals wait in their cars to get through. It would literally be possible to get the car stuck sideways in this street (about 4m wide) and I did my best with my oversized (by Italian standards) car. With millimeters to spare, a sweaty brow, the reversing sensors squealing, and a more-than-few point turn, the car was in. I would have to repeat this every day for 4 days. Each time was sweaty.
This area is known for fog at this time of year and it did not skip 2019. The fog in the morning was the thickest I've ever seen and stayed the entire day, through the night, and into the following day. Now that's a fog! Exploring the nearby towns that day by car can't be described as scenic since visibility was around 80m (down to less than 50m in some areas) but it didn't lack 'atmosphere' and made for some excellent, moody photography.
The towns were basically deserted except some locals, and wandering through the streets covered in dense fog gave them a real medieval feel. Pretty cool when the church you're standing right near but can't see due to the fog starts ringing its bells. The fog was very difficult to predict, one minute it would be quite clear then the next everything was completely covered. It would be a feature of every day here, mainly in the morning and evening. At night it is particularly imposing, with dim street lamps, empty streets, church bells tolling and the odd rat scurrying by surely carrying Bubonic Plague.
Once the fog does clear, the hills in this region are worth exploring by car, indeed there is so much historical significance, the hills themselves are actually UNESCO World Heritage listed. At this time of year the vineyards blanketing the hills are all in various stages of autumnal colours, saw it occasionally but generally saw fog. Each hill is also seemingly topped with a castle/fort town, usually dating to the 13th and 14th centuries, many of which also UNESCO listed.
Overall, the time was spent just driving from one town to the next, wandering around, visiting castles, getting lost in streets, sampling some local food including truffles (for the first time ever, over-rated in my view, prices around 250 euro for one large white truffle!).
Photography was quite challenging here for obvious reasons. However, it is here that I re-started my obsession with photographing old doors and windows, which Italy has the most ridiculous variety of. There will be a few of these by the end!
Clickable photo gallery below.