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I just cant decide where to go!

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HI all,

Planning a trip to Italy in late October/Early November. Can only get away for 10 days. It originally was going to be just Venice but family is encouraging us to drive through Tuscany and now husband is thinking of starting the trip in Rome! I dont want to shuffle around the whole time. I'm a chef so I'm mostly interested in the food but he wants to see some of the "sites". I just want to eat a truffle in Italy! This is getting confusing. What would you do? What would you skip? How long would you stay in each place. I know we will be back but it could be awhile. What will be going on at that time besides truffle season?

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  1. I think if you want to focus on truffles you need to go to Piemonte. Torino is a great little city.
    4 days in Torino (there is an airport there) followed by 5 in Venice would be great.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jangita

      If you want to eat truffles and eat well in Piemonte, it is best to get out of Torino.

      I would not go to Venice in late October/early November, and I would not pick it as an interesting destination for food over sights.

      You can have quite a wonderful, utterly genuine and hihgly varied experience of food and food culture in Rome in late October/early November if you choose your restaurants and market-going wisely to give you breadth and a window into history. Bonus is your husband actually wants to go there. (Personally, I would pick Napoli over Rome for food and urban food culture).

      There are at least half a dozen flights a day from Rome to Genoa, where it is extremely easy to rent a car at the airport and be in prime foodie Piemonte in 90 minutes or less.

      My recommendation would be to start in Rome, spend enough days there to truly enjoy it, take the one-hour flight to Genoa, rent a car, and drive into the strike zone for truffles and the best Piemontese food and wine. Fly out of Milan (you can drive there from eastern Piemonte, even if you have a morning flight).

      If you would rather take a train from Rome than fly, the fast trains from Rome can get to you Torino between 4-5 hours. Rent a car in Torino, or Asti.

      Tuscany is one of Italy most's popular tourist destinations for its picturesque-ness, but much of the rest of Italy, including Piemonte, is rural, history-rich and enchanting too and i think has better food.

    2. I second the idea of spending at least a 3 or 4 days in Piemonte. Late October/early November is just about the perfect time to go for dining with white truffles. I have been there twice at that time of year.

      While Torino is worth visiting for a day of sightseeing, I would look to stay somewhere in the Langhe region. Anywhere within 15-20 miles of Alba (or in Alba itself) would be quite suitable.

      If you do a search for Piemonte, you will find several threads with a good number of dining recommendations.

      1. Wow, I gotta say I'm surprised no one suggest emilia bologna!

        2 Replies
        1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

          You said you wanted to eat truffles!

          1. re: wally

            @Dereckswifey,

            Like wally pointed out, you said that above all you wanted to eat truffles, so if I felt that way, in late October/early November, I would go to Piemonte (and hope it was a good truffle season!). For other tastes, I would go to delicious Emilia-Romanga and I also enjoy Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Le Marche as autumn food destinations.

            In autumn in Piemonte, in addition to truffles, there are many other great funghi, hazlenuts, stuffed vegetables, pears, cheeses, cured meats and game dishes, and great chocolate makers.

        2. If you are starting your trip in Rome, you should think about Umbria! It is famous for both white and black truffles (in fact, many of the truffles sold in Piedmonte come from Umbria). The fall is perfect for truffles and there are still some fun festivals going on as well. But most importantly, there is the olive harvest/ pressing of the new olive oil beginning the last 2 weeks of October - it is a fantastic experience and the olive oil in that period has an amazing flavor - not to be missed!

          6 Replies
          1. re: LifeItalianStyle

            @ LifeItalianStyle

            Not sure why you misled the board. "Many of the truffles in Piedmonte (sic)" do not come from Umbria.

            If you go to most of the good ristorante and trattorie in Piemonte, none of the truffles come from Umbria or anyplace else. The smell and taste of those from Piemonte and Umbria are totally different. IMO, there is no comparison; Umbria's pale. As you know, black truffles are totally different and aside from the name, have nothing to do with white truffles.

            Piemonte, particularly around Alba and Asti, have, again IMO, the greatest concentration of great ristorante and trattorie in all of Italy. One right after another... and you get the greatest wine in Italy as well.

            If you want white truffles, great places to eat and great wine, there really is only one place in late October or early November.

            1. re: allende

              @allende - I didn't intend that all truffles in Piedmonte are from Umbria, but it is true that Umbrian truffle companies sell truffles to Piedmonte. If you were not aware, Umbria also has an extremely high concentration of prized white truffles that come from the area of Gubbio. Both regions have great truffles, I was merely making a suggestion of another area to visit.

              1. re: LifeItalianStyle

                I know you didn't say all truffles, you said "many of the truffles sold in Piedmonte (that is really Piemonte) are from Umbria."
                That is simply not true.

                These Umbrian truffle companies that sell truffles "to Piedmonte"... to whom do they sell them to?

                I am very much aware of the truffles from Gubbio. Again, in my opinion, they do not begin to compare with those from Piemonte.

                1. re: allende

                  Oh my goodness I didn't mean to start a civil war. This is so helpful though. I'm printing out your replies so I can study the places because honestly I've never heard of the smaller places you are talking about.

                  Also, on the trip advisor boards a lot of people mentioned that the "truffle festivals" were not what they expected... basically vendors trying to sell truffle products, truffle oil, etc. But not like a true cultural experience or capturing the spirit of Italy or the integrity of truffle season for the locals... more of a tourist trap. Have you had better experiences?

                  So now I feel like Venice its out and it breaks my heart. :(

                  1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                    It really depends on the festival - it is true that in some of the bigger towns they can feel pretty commercial. A lot of times there are more vendors selling random products from other parts of Italy than actual vendors selling truffles (or whatever the festival is for). That said, I think they are still fun to go to, and a good experience if you have never been to one.
                    The best way to experience truffles, however, is not at a festival (in my opinion) - I would try to go on a truffle hunt - there are plenty of people offering this service now, and it usually includes a great truffle-based lunch afterwards or just go to a fantastic restaurant known for simple truffle dishes and eat your heart out! :-)

                    1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                      @ Dereckswifey

                      As far as where the truffles sold, go to some of Villasampaguita's posts. They live near Asti and know the smaller towns well. This is where the best truffles are sold.

                      As far as eating truffles. In many prior posts, I've listed my favorite trattorie and ristorante in Piemonte. Go to any of them, including the great trattoria Da Bardon. Have pasta or eggs shaved with truffles. Do not have a whole meal with truffles... it is overkill on any one night. Have one dish at lunch, one for dinner, repeat.

                      Truffle hunts are a joke. It's cold and depending on how the trip is "fixed" you'll be hunting (not really) and then magically find a truffle. They are tourist traps.

                      One last thing and this is very important. Don't ever have a dish served with truffle oil. It really is an abomination. Any restaurant in Piemonte using it is not a good restaurant.

                      Hope this helps. Have fun and f you go to Piemonte you will have fun in the truffle season. You walk into a place and the aroma of truffles hits you.

            2. I would add my vote to the recommendations of several others that you spend at least three or four days in Piemonte, if food, wine and truffles are priorities. Search this board for recommendations on restaurants (particularly anything written by Allende). Consider staying in one of the many converted estates in the region (for example Il Castello di Villa near Isola d'Asti) or at one of the small hotels in La Morra in the Barolo wine country. While I would not stay in Alba or Asti, Alba is a wonderful walking town and has a great Saturday market.

              You could combine Piemonte with Florence or even Rome, if seeing churches, museums, etc. is your other objective. As long as you have a car, the distances are not a problem. Or consider a couple of nights in Liguria or the Italian lake country.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Peter Rodgers

                Many restaurants in Liguria and the lakes close in November because the weather is so unfavorable and owners use the time to do renovations and make repairs (or take a vacation themselves).

                Many highly regarded restaurants in Piemonte offer rooms or are in very pleasant small towns with excellent hotels and b&bs within a 5 minute walk. If sampling the regions great wines figures to be an important part of your nighttime dinner experience, then I would recommend picking your restaurant targets first and accommodations based on that rather than parking yourselves in in a remote spot that requires driving steeply twisting rural roads after dinner, possibly in the rain.

              2. I second Jennifer's recommendation about Umbria. Not only we have plenty truffles at the end of October but we have olive harvest. You get to see the olive mills and to taste some of the most magnificent olive oil in the world. Whatever area you choose however, please remember that 10 days is very short as every time you change hotel you need at least 1/2 day to check in and out and move to your next destination. So keep to two places and explore what's near you otherwise most of your holiday will be spent in the car/train!

                1 Reply
                1. re: madonnadelpiatto

                  Gubbio, Assisi and Perugia are great cities for (white) truffles, close to each other and within easy reach from Rome. Was impressed by many restaurants there during my trip and the truffle servings. Cannot weigh in about Piemont as i will be traveling in the region for the first time this spring

                2. Really the only way it makes sense to go to Piemonte is to blow off Venice and Verona because we were going to rent a car in Florence and drive around the little food towns. Rome is basically the only thing he insists on doing and we will need 3 days there and will go back with our boys when they grow up and can understand the history. So the questions is do you recommend blowing off Venice for Piemonte? I hope I'm spelling that correctly. I could even push the trip further into November I guess.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                    Have you been to Venice before? Do you expect to travel to Italy again at some point in the future?

                    From a sight-seeing point of view, Venice is clearly a very, very special place. As a food & dining experience, I think Piemonte surpasses Venice by a very wide margin.

                    You will have to decide what your priorities are. The good news is you will not regret visiting either place.

                    1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                      @Dereckswifey,

                      Which "little food towns" were you thinking of driving around in the vicinity of Florence? It is next to impossible to go anywhere in Italy and not be spoiled for choice when it comes to "little food towns" in the vicinity. It all depends on what ingredients attract you. The food towns in the vicinity of Florence produce foods that are distinctly different from what you will find in other areas of Italy (and not the most interesting foods for my tastebuds.) But it is really hard to advise without knowing what type of foods interests you as a chef.

                      For some people traveling in Italy with limited time, Verona makes an enjoyable substitute for Rome if the focus is the Roman Empire rather than the Vatican. My problem with planning a November visit to Venice is the risk of acqua alta, but you can lower the risks by paying attention to the lunar calendar and avoiding booking during the full moon.

                      Something you may be overlooking is how efficient Italy's high speed trains have become. It is 4 hours from Rome to Venice, and the same from Venice to Torino, where you can easily rent a car and be in prime Piemonte food territory in an hour. You can have lunch in Venice and dinner in white truffle country.

                    2. Apropos of the truffle discussion, I happened across this yesterday reading the website of Amerigo dal 1934, the Michelin-starred restaurant not far from Bologna that is often talked about on Chowhound. Although far from Piemonte, it offers a mushroom and truffle menu throughout the year, and it makes this note of it:

                      "Many of our customers got to know us thanks our mushrooms and truffle and nowadays the dishes in which they are used are the most popular. Over the last few years a fashion of Porcini mushrooms and white Truffle has erupted in many restaurants, thus bringing them to be put on the menu all year round and consequently using frozen or synthetic products, we do not agree with this type of trade. In order to strengthen the taste of Truffle we do not, and never will use oil, butter and sauces made with chemical aromas, and we will never use frozen mushrooms or mushrooms in brine. Every season has fresh truffle of some kind and also there are so many different types of mushrooms throughout the year, thus allowing us a complete cycle. In our opinion it is wrong to try and look for the taste of white truffle in all truffle as if you look for the taste of Porcini in a delicate morel mushroom, each truffle and each mushroom has its own unique taste and flavor. A good recipe should be able to exploit the nuances, also thanks to the different intensities of these products."

                      1. Wow, amazing tips. I am aware of the acque alta phenomenon but I didnt know you could watch the full moon to avoid it.

                        To answer some questions I dont know when we will be back. I am falling in love with Italy and taking Italian which is becoming my favorite part of the day so I know we will be back. However, we are 29 and still pretty devoted to our careers. I can't wait to see Thailand, India, I actually have been working so much since school I haven't even been to Paris. This is the beginning of travel in our lives. But I want to make the most of it.

                        My goals are to relax and enjoy our time together . We never took a honeymoon because I was working in Scottsdale. We don't want to just sit around and do nothing though.

                        I am both excited and intimidated by the truffle talk! I am in the beginning of my serious study of world class ingredients and I had no idea there would be so much debate over which part of Italy has better truffles. I'm not in a place in my life where I could identify the location based on the flavor. I'm just thrilled to be going!

                        That being said I see no reason to not just jump right in and study truffles in the truffle heartland which so many of you claim is the Piedmont, and of course I have discussed Alba with other chefs.

                        @ David - This trip started as 10 days in Venice and then family members convinced us that was a terrible idea and encouraged us to drive through Tuscany. This is confusing to me because so many people online have said, "driving is expensive and kind of a pain when the trains are so fast and easy to use." I'm not even sure what driving through Tuscany would really be like. Can I book small vineyards to visit online before our trip? Where would we stay? Etc. My cousin took a trip with her photography people in college and said her favorite place was a farm in Tuscany where every single food item was made on sight. She talks about it nonstop but can't begin to tell me how I would go about finding and booking that type of experience.

                        I also want to make clear we have a window of opportunity from Sept- Nov to do this. I just said we could go in Nov bc of truffle dates.

                        As for the little food towns I just meant the most commonly known around the Bologna region such as Parma, Modena. I'm not attached to anything at this point. Just looking for a good, relaxing, introduction to Italy and it's food.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                          As suggested above, I also highly recommend picking up a copy of Fred Plotkin's "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler." If nothing else (and the book contains plenty else!), it gives you an excellent introduction to and overview of the various regional cuisines & wines of Italy. There are also hundreds of recommendations of cafes, restaurants, food shops, markets, etc.

                          As I said above, there are no bad choices. Pick to the 2 or 3 regions that appeal to you the most and go for it!

                          1. re: DERECKSWIFEY

                            Dereck regardelss of where you will decide to go, having some sort of gastronomic farmhouse experience is not difficult. You can for example decide to stay in an agriturismo where cooking classes or tasting of locally produced foods/wine are available. Choose a small, family run farm where you will have an authentic experience and you will get to meet the locals. Once you have narrowed your area down, start checking review sites and/or guidebooks and then just send them an email to book. Same as what you would do in North America. By now most farms working with tourists have websites where you can get all information you want.

                          2. I would do a combination of Venice and Piemonte. Venice may well be the most beautiful city in the world. If you study this board and choose carefully you can eat very well there. Fly into Venice and spend 3 days there, then rent a car and drive to Alba. I recommend staying in Alba because it is a lovely town with some very good restaurants and is also centrally located for touring. There are also fabulous restaurants within a short drive. Don't miss some of the lesser known towns such as Cuneo, the provincial capital, as it is not only beautiful but has some excelllent places to eat. If you have the time, take a day trip to Genoa and enjoy some great seafood.

                            Here are links to my reports on Venice and Piemonte:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/809134

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/810190

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/655104

                            Umbria is another great region for both sightseeing and food. If you go there, I suggest you eat at Taverna del Lupo in Gubbio. We found Tuscany less interesting, pretty but in terms of food somewhat boring.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: rrems

                              Nice job, rrems, on your 2011 posts. I had not been aware of Trattoria Cascina Schiavenza.

                              As we now have plans to return to Piemonte in October, I will put it on our list. Has anyone been to the restaurant since 2011?

                              I would also be interested in any recent reports on I Bologna. We have been there many times, but not in the last five years, and I had heard reports that it had lost some of its charm.

                              1. re: Peter Rodgers

                                Peter,
                                Below is what I said about Schiavenza last year (wish we didn't have to be negative). BTW, we'll be up to Piemonte for the long Easter weekend, through Pasquetta. We'll give you a vicarious vacation (I'll post), so you won't have to wait until October. You, of all the posters on this board, appreciate Piemonte the most because of your extensive knowledge of the area.

                                Allende

                                This is what I wrote:

                                We ate at Cascina Schiavenza which is located just outside of Serralunga d'Alba. There is a spectacular view facing east from the terrace and from the side of the restaurant one has a gorgeous view of many of the various barolo vineyards to the west.

                                The restaurant itself is a physical gem. A simply appointed spacious dining room with 16 tables. A staff which couldn't be more friendly in its welcome or more competent in its service. It could be the envy of many trattorie. This was indeed a trattoria that had all the makings of a place that becomes a destination for multiple meals over many years. There is only one problem... the food is mediocre, both in its execution and quality of the ingredients.

                                The menu is limited (and recited). Four antipasti, two primi, four secondi and perhaps five desserts. The wine list contains only the Cascina's wines (the wine we drank, a 2010 Barbera, was good, if a bit thin and a bit too acidic). My wife had the crespelle con asparigi which was good. The vitello tonnato, however, was not. There were three thick slices of cold grey veal not a rosy color to be seen in any of the slices. It was old; it was tasteless; did I say it was cold. It was on a plate, with a huge lump of maionese, devoid of any tuna flavor, plunked down between the slices. No garnish... nothing. The tajarin with ragu was a jumble of poorly made pasta with an absolutely tasteless sauce, as were the ravioli with sage and butter. The bunet was hard and also tasteless and the tiramisu was not much better.

                                It pains me to give this review to a restaurant so highly thought of; it really does. However, with so many good osterie and trattorie in this area, south of Alba, it is not a destination to be sought out, at least for us.

                                1. re: allende

                                  Oh, it pains me as well! However, I will look forward -- with great anticipation -- to your forthcoming report.

                                  P.S. After more or less giving up on finding a place to stay in La Morra (although I did see a private apartment that was tempting), we've booked what appears to be a new place to stay near Costigliole d'Asti (alas, we still pine for the old Guido) called Villa Pattono. Do you know it?

                                  1. re: Peter Rodgers

                                    Unfortunately, I don't know Villa Pattono.

                                    In La Morra, we stay with a friend. In the town, we've seen the rooms at Villa Carita and at Fior di Farine and both places looked fine. If you haven't looked at them, you might want to do so.

                                    www.villacarita.it

                                    www.fiordifarine.com

                                    1. re: Peter Rodgers

                                      As much as I value allende's opinion and enjoy reading his reports, I can't help thinking that meal at Schiavenza must have been an aberration. I had never seen a negative report until this one, and our experience was so different I would happily give it a chance when visiting Piemonte again.

                                      The quality of the food was similar to what we experienced at I Bologna a few years prior, and was considerably less expensive. Also, the Barolo we ordered was very impressive and half the price usually seen.

                              2. @David- Well this book looks like the answer to all of my problems. ;) I foresee a lot of copies under our Christmas tree this year for family.

                                Rrems- I am glad to hear that about Venice. I was sure after a few restaurant names kept popping up on the trip advisor boards that they had to be on to something. I am off to read your other posts.

                                Allende- I appreciate the detail when describing the experience with your wife. I can be more forgiving of a dish that doesn't work in concept but is well executed then a dish that should work but is not created with integrity. ETA: My husband pouts either way!