A wine & walking tour in Piedmont, Portofino & Cinque Terre

  • Hike in two distinctive regions of Italy: Piedmont and Liguria
  • Enjoy private sit-down tastings of Barolo, Gavi, and Ligurian wine
  • See the Cinque Terre and Portofino
  • Feast on artisan cheese and salumi during a buffet lunch at a cheese farm in the Alte Langhe

ITINERARY

DAY 1 – BAROLO's BIRTHPLACE
After a 10 a.m. pick-up at the Tortona train station (1 hour south of Milan), we shuttle to the Langhe hills (an hour’s drive). Our warm-up hike goes from Monforte to Barolo to Castiglione Falletto following the Barolo Wine Trail, which cuts through prized vineyards and chestnut groves. The hike is divided into two parts, each about an hour long, with a complementary welcome lunch in the middle.

Our lunch spot is a homey family-run restaurant in the village of Barolo. They’ll bring a parade of classic piemontese appetizers and primi to the table, including uova in pasta, paté with caramelized red onions, tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, and bonet (chocolate–amarretti pudding). 

We’ll hike some more after lunch (gotta burn those calories!), then return by van to the town of Barolo. Here we’ll pass by the Castle of Barolo, where we’ll hear the story of Barolo wine’s creation in the 1800s by a French-born Marchesa. Finally, we’ll tour her historic estate just 100 yards away—the Marchesi di Barolo—and have an intro to barbera, nebbiolo, and Barolo in both traditional and modernist styles. Dinner will be at a charming restaurant in the Langhe hills, where we might spot local winemakers.
L, D • Hotel Barolo

DAY 2 – LA MORRA LOOP
Today we'll pick up another part of the Barolo Wine Trail and do a loop hike from La Morra. We’ll walk through some of Barolo’s most famous vineyards, including Brunate and Cerequio, getting a close-up look at nebbiolo grapes (the basis for Barolo), as well as barbera and dolcetto, which make fruity wines found on every piemontese dinner table. We’ll pass by such local landmarks as the colorful Brunate Chapel (a Ceretto property) and the towering Lebanese cedar planted in 1856 by ancestors of the Cordero di Montezemolo winery.

After lunch in La Morra, we’ll shuttle to the nearby commune of Verduno for our afternoon tasting. We’ll visit Fratelli Alessandria, a boutique winery situated in the family’s 18th century house; their vineyards were likely sourced by King Carlo Alberto for the wine he made at the Verduno castle. Not only does F.lli Alessandria make stellar Barolos and Barberas; they’re also one of only 12 producers in the world who make Pelaverga, a light, spicy red indigenous to this village. One of the family members will pour them all and offer a comparison between Barolo cru in Verduno and Monforte. Dinner offers more of Piedmont’s refined cuisine, such as meat-stuffed agnolotti and beef braised in Barolo. 
B, D • Hotel Barolo

DAY 3 – MOUNTAIN CHEESE IN THE ALTE LANGHE
Piedmont’s Alta Langha (“upper Langhe”) is renowned for its cheese. Here the elevation is too high for grapes, so hazelnut groves, pasture land, and chestnut woods dominate the rolling landscape. Today’s hike is point-to-point, crossing two valleys on the Tanaro trail; we'll follow the Via del Sale, the old salt road on which salt and other goods were transported inland from Liguria.

Afterwards, we’ll lunch at an artisan cheese farm near the town of Murazzano. Here we’ll have a tour, then sit down to a buffet of freshly made DOP cheese, salumi, and other regional treats, accompanied by the local Dolcetto di Dogliani wine. More wine follows at our afternoon tasting. We’ll shuttle to Monforte and the scenic hilltop estate of Fantino Conterno. Here we’ll taste award-winning single-vineyard Barolos, plus Barbera bottled according the cycles of the moon. 

For dinner, we go to Alba, capital of red-wine country in Piedmont. Dinner is at a Slow Food–affiliate restaurant, where we might enjoy such gnocchi with melted cheese, roasted guinea fowl with rosemary, and panna cotta with fresh berries.
B, L, D • Hotel Barolo

DAY 4 – GAVI DI GAVI
Today we transfer from Piedmont to the Riviera. En route, we'll stop in the white wine district of Gavi (1-hour drive). After a cappuccino and soft amaretti cookies at Bar Matteo (a favorite haunt of Dolce Vita cofounder Claudio Bisio during his teen years), we’ll climb up to the Fortress of Gavi. A truly impressive fort that kept adding layers of fortification as Genoa and Milan fought over this turf, it illustrates the cutting-edge military architecture of its day. We’ll scoot back down the hill for lunch at a trattoria frequented by local workers.

Then it’s time for a tasting of Gavi di Gavi, the first white wine of Italy to gain international fame. Our winery of choice is Villa Sparina, a preeminent leader in Gavi and one of Wine Spectator’s 10 “Italian Wineries to Watch” in 2008. Villa Sparina’s 4-star hotel has a patio overlooking the vineyards, which is one of the most pleasant settings for an al fresco tasting you’ll ever find. 

We then continue our drive south to the Riviera town of Sestri Levante (1-1/4 hour), where we'll settle into our second hotel, a seaside spot overlooking the Bay of Silence. Dinner is on your own at one of Sestri Levante's many excellent fish restaurants. 
B • Grand Hotel dei Castelli

DAY 5 – PORTOFINO
In the Riviera, the landscape changes entirely. The Ligurian mountains tumble straight to the sea, with colorful houses and umbrella pines clinging to the hills. Today we'll climb those hills in a spectacular point-to-point hike, starting in the fishing village of Camogli and ending in Portofino. The first leg goes through town, ascending ancient steps that pass tiny houses and private walled gardens, arriving at the overlook of San Rocco. The next part takes us up through the woods to the rocky ridges on top of the promontory, where there are spectacular views at every turn. Then there’s a long descent to San Fruttuoso, a medieval abbey and tower of the Doria dynasty, located in a protected cove.

After lunch, we'll catch a 20-minute ferry to Portofino, a picturesque village where amorous movie stars once hid from paparazzi, where we'll soak up the sun, browse the shops, or catch a bite to eat. Then we take another short ferry to Santa Margherita and finally a train back to Sestri, arriving in the late afternoon.

Today's wine tasting will be on our hotel balcony overlooking the scenic bay, clanging boats, and setting sun. Here we'll have an introduction to Ligurian wine, spotlighting seafood-friendly Vermentino and its genetic twin Pigato. Dinner will feature the Riviera's fresh-from-the-sea cuisine, including a tender Mediterranean bass with tomatoes and herbed roasted potatoes.
B, D • Grand Hotel dei Castelli

DAY 6 – THE CINQUE TERRE
At last! Our Cinque Terre hike. The fame of the Cinque Terre ("five lands") is well deserved, with its sweeping vistas and charming seaside villages. Now a national park, the Cinque Terre trail passes through five towns. We’ll take a train to our trailhead and hike through four, going from Vernazza to Riomaggiore, with an optional leg from Monterosso for the heartiest hikers. (If parts of the trail are still closed due to landslide, we'll hike the first two sections, Monterosso to Corniglia.) 

The first two sections of the park trail go up and down mountain steps, past wild fragrant scrub and ancient terraces carved from the rock by monks and Ligurian tribes in order to cultivate olive trees and grapes. A handful of heroic wine producers continue the work the land, wrestling limited quantities of grapes from this vertical, rocky terrain. The third part is a broader cinder and stone trail that’s gently rolling, while the final is an easy sidewalk stretch known as Via dell’ Amore, or Lovers Lane.

We return by train, then again convene on our hotel balcony for a wine tasting before dinner, this time spotlighting such obscure regional reds as the herbaceous Rosesse di Dolceacqua. Our farewell dinner at a bayside restaurant offers excellent haute renditions of local cuisine. 
B, D • Grand Hotel dei Castelli

DAY 7 – ARRIVEDERCI!
A shuttle to the Sestri Levante train station and assistance with your travel plans. B


Want something without hiking? We can do that! Contact us about a private, customized Piedmont & Cinque Terre tour. Or join one of our public tours: Xtreme Piedmont in the spring, or Land of Barolo in the fall.


TRIP NOTES

Hiking Level of Difficulty
Our hikes range from 3 to 5 hours per day. The two parts of this tour involve different kinds of hiking. The first part in Piedmont is the easier. Here we’re on a combination of gravel roads, wooded paths, and the Barolo Wine Trail, which is a marked path that cuts through the vineyards. It’s wine country, so there are rolling hills, including a couple of steep but short climbs in the vineyards and some longer climbs on country roads with a gradual grade. In Piedmont, we have the support van accompanying us every day, so tired hikers can jump in and ride with the guide. 

The second part is on the Riviera coast. This is more challenging, involving longer ascents and descents on the coastal mountains. On the Cinque Terre hike, we do two or three sections of trail, depending on what's open. Most likely is first two sections (Monterosso to Cornelia), which involve a good amount of climbing on mountain steps and dirt paths. Then on our Portofino hike, we cross a broad promontory, climbing gradually to the top, hiking along the ridge, and descending through the woods on switchback trails. There is no van support on either day, since we won’t be near any roads. We travel by train and ferry. On the Cinque Terre, hikers can easily opt out at any town by hopping on the train. But on the Portofino promontory, once we start hiking, it’s all or nothing. (There are ferry-only options for people who wish to skip the hike entirely.) 

Hiking shoes with deep treads are required; walking sticks are recommended. Though challenging, we’ve found that anyone in reasonably good shape can conquer the Riviera hills—and are happy they did so! 

Airports
Milan’s Malpensa or Linate. Both have convenient airport shuttle buses to Milan’s central train station, the Stazione Centrale (50 minutes from Malpensa, 30 minutes from Linate). 

Pre-tour
Plan to land in Italy a day before the tour begins; that's necessary to be at our starting point on time. Most people spend the preceding night in Milan, though one can head straight to Tortona. For hotel suggestions, email us or consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor or Venere. We recommend staying either near the main train station, called the Stazione Centrale (more convenient for catching the train on Day 1), or in the historic center near the Duomo (more convenient for pre-tour sightseeing). From one area to the other, it's about a 45-minute walk, a few stops on the subway, or a 15-minute taxi ride.

Meeting point
Our meeting point is the train station in Tortona, a small town on the rail line from Milan to Genoa. Assuming you spend the previous night in Milan, you'll go to Milan's Stazione Centrale and take the 9 a.m. commuter train to Tortona. (We'll provide precise train details in your information packet.) It takes less than an hour, and we'll meet you at the Tortona station. Please let us know if you're coming from elsewhere or spending the previous night in Tortona. From Tortona, we shuttle to Alba (about 1 hour), where the tour gets underway.

Departure day
On our final day, you can depart from Sestri Levante whenever you wish. Depending on time, either we or the hotel can offer you a shuttle to the train station. The train from Sestri to Milan takes between 2hr44min and 3hr20min.

Italian train schedule
Click here for an English-language version of TrenItalia. Be aware that the schedule is posted only several months in advance, so if you're looking for long-range dates, try something sooner, just to get an idea of departure frequency and trip length.

Trip extensions
Two popular destinations that are within easy reach of Piedmont are the Lake country and the Italian Riviera, including the Cinque Terre. Because Malpensa airport is about halfway between the city of Milan and Lake Como, a pre-tour stay in Como and/or along Lake Maggiore is quite do-able. Post-tour, one could continue south from Gavi to Genoa (only 30 minutes by express train). A working port city, Genoa is the birthplace of Christopher Colombus and offers a world-class aquarium, waterfront promenade (designed by architect Renzo Piano, a local son), wonderful art museums houses in 18th palaces, and a fascinating medieval section. Continue further down the coast, and you'll reach Portofino and the Cinque Terre. Both offer hiking trails and boat excursions, while the Cinque Terre also has scuba diving and public beaches.

Travel insurance
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. Three sources are Travelex Insurance, (800) 228-9792; CSA Travel Protection, (800) 348-9505; and Travel Guard, (800) 826-1300.

Weather
When packing, check www.weather.com. Go to "Asti, Italy" to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast. In early September, it’ll still be summertime. Daytime temps average 70–75º and nighttime 60º.

For cancellation policy & more, see our General Information page.

2017 dates
September 17–23

2018 dates
May 28–June 3
September 2–8
Early-bird discount: Book by January 31 and save $150!

Price
$3,695
Single supplement: $400

Meet
Tortona train station, near Milan

Depart
Sestri Levante

What's included
- 6 nights accommodations (double room) in two 3-star hotels, with breakfast buffet
- 5 gourmet dinners (three courses with wine)
- 2 lunches
- All wine tastings mentioned

What's not included
- Air travel
- 1 dinner on your own & most lunches
- After-dinner drinks, or special wines at tastings that are not part of what is provided to the group
- Items of a personal nature
- Anything not specified as included

What could have been better? Good wine, good food, and good companions while getting some exhilarating exercise!
— Don & Sarah Cohen, Harbor Springs, MI
Hiking in the Barolo region was like hiking in a fantasy land of castles, hills & vineyards.
— Paul Keller, Cañon City, CO
The combination of hiking, wine, and food was perfect. It was so much more than we ever could have done on our own. The hikes were a great way to see the land intimately, and your ability to visit the producers we did added greatly to our understanding of Piedmont and Ligurian wine.
— Maureen Kseniak, Boston