Rural accommodation in the Italian Alps
“This part of Piedmont isn’t as well known as others,” explains Marla, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind our Italian Alps rural accommodation provider Bella Baita, “and job losses have led to people leaving the area. That’s why we’ve created an organisation to support sustainable mountain tourism. We want to generate interest and tourism through preserving authentic alpine culture. Hopefully we’ll encourage people not only to vacation here, but actually move here too.” Spend a week with Marla and husband Fabrizio, eating like royalty, exploring pretty villages and forests of chestnut and larch, and you’ll understand why she’s sure of making a convincing argument.
It’s mealtimes where you really notice the emphasis on the local. So local, in fact, that your hosts, both professional chefs, happily offer hands-on lessons cooking regional specialities just like ‘Nonna’ used to make, with produce plucked from their own organic garden. “Fabrizio has been cooking since he was able to hold a knife,” says Marla. “Personally, my favourite meal to make is fresh pasta. There’s nothing quite like it. And bagna cauda too, a classic Piemontese dish similar to fondue – we have our own family recipe. You have to love garlic and anchovies!”
You’ll have home-baked sourdough on your table every breakfast, enjoy meals paired with local wines, and for whatever your hosts cannot provide, they’ll point you in the direction of someone nearby who can. Farmers’ markets, cheesemakers, crafters of artisan beers, vintners and liqueur producers, people growing their own herbs for sale making it less likely that wild-growing plants will be picked - you can’t stay here long without starting to feel fully integrated into the community.
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Things to doAccommodation is in a former restaurant now converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn, at the lower end of Val Chisone. Marla’s in-laws still live and lend a hand, and guests will frequently congregate with the family for sumptuous evening meals in the classic Italian fashion. You might join in with the popular cookery classes and whip up Piedmontese specialties such as gnocchi, vitello tonnato or bonet, a traditional pudding, or mountain dishes including polenta and wild game stew. Classes can be shaped around your interests, and they utilise either home-grown or locally sourced and seasonal ingredients wherever possible – cookery classes often begin with a wander round the market.
Just beyond the cluster of villas around the inn there is ample opportunity for gentle or more vigorous walks through gorgeous alpine terrain, while electric bikes can also be hired for you, if preferred. You can take circular walks around mountain lakes, attempt peaks such as Cucetto, L’Auila or Merla, or try the infamous 4,000 steps on the staircase at Fennestrelle Fortress, an hour away by car and the largest in Europe. “Fabrizio and his father have erected wooden signs on nearby paths and have mapped lots of trails on GPS, a five-year project that’s just coming to an end,” says Marla. “The wider area is well known for walking. Here we’re lower down the valley but it’s still lovely early and late in the season, and of course not everyone wants altitude.”
You can wander through old Olympic venues – the 2006 Winter Games were held in nearby Turin – or villages such as Usseaux, brimming with colourful flowers and showing off a resurgent tradition of murals on buildings, as well as the painted meridians (vertical sundials) characteristic of this part of Italy. Ski lifts are open in summer taking you quickly up to higher elevations, and there are old castles and abbeys, and even a talc mine to explore. In the mountains and forests wildlife abounds: “There are roe deer all over the place,” Marla points out. “You’ll see chamoix too, and lots of birds. You probably won’t see wild boar but they’re around too, in the trees.” Golden eagles can sometimes be observed soaring above, while below them geckos doze on sun-baked rocks.
This area, close to Turin and Briançon, has long been a favourite for those traveling between France, Switzerland and Italy. The historic town of Pinerolo, where the mysterious ‘man in the iron mask’ was imprisoned during the 17th century, is a half hour drive away. A market has been held there for 1,000 years and is still going strong. Milan is three hours away, and Nice four, and having a car at your disposal will be handy.
Rural accommodation in the Italian Alps is available between April and October, with only groups accepted in March and November. Ask for a mountain view with your en suite room and consider joining the evening communal meals that showcase not only Marla and Fabrizio’s considerable cooking skills but also the vast range of local and artisanal produce found in this area. Vegan, vegetarian and celiac diets can be catered to.
All good Italian meals finish with a digestive, so here’s something to ponder from a recent guest, Bill Reid: “I am reviewing the vacation five months later and still remember everything about our stay here. The delicious food and warm hospitality from the hosts, the beautiful scenery and the long walks will stay with me forever, I think.”
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