Looking for a taste of the ‘real’ Italy? Piemonte – tucked between the Alps and the Ligurian sea – is one of the Europe’s best-kept secrets. Recently named by the Lonely Planet guide as the ‘number one place you must travel to next’, it has everything the better-known regions of Italy have – rolling hills, miles of vineyards, ancient cities, picturesque hilltop towns and fields of sunflowers that would make Van Gogh weep. But (whisper it) there’s not a tourist bus in sight.
The views at every turn are picture-book perfect – and they don’t get better than those at Villa Giara, a newly opened ‘country inn’ perched on a hilltop in the heart of the region. Owned and run by Stephen Croncota, former chief marketing officer at Versace, and graphic and interior designer Ricardo Baptista Fernandes, Villa Giara takes the bed and breakfast (quite literally) to luxurious new heights.
Villa Giara hotel review
Rooms and facilities
There are nine en-suite bedrooms, each individually decorated with locally sourced antique furniture and all with balcony doors or picture windows looking out on to vineyards and verdant countryside, with the historic hilltop village of Calosso in the distance.
The beds – handmade by a family firm in Abruzzo – are seriously dreamy. I can personally vouch for their slumber-inducing comfort – I haven’t slept so well in years. The 12-metre pool – also with a view – is perfect for a morning dip or chilling by in the heat of the day. There are four sitting rooms, with more of that elegantly curated antique furniture (even the enormous TV has its own vintage cabinet), original art and sofas for sinking in. Think: cooling down in summer, cosying up in front of a log fire in autumn.
Food and drink
Breakfast – served alfresco on the terrace – is a feast of freshly made cakes and bread, seasonal fruit and cheeses made by local producers. As Villa Giara is officially a B&B, dinner is by request – you can hire a chef to come in and cook for you and at the weekend there are pizza nights, with regional specialities made to order in the outside oven. On two occasions we ate a leisurely lunch (after a leisurely walk) in Calosso, at one of the town’s three restaurants Crota ’d Calos. Then, back at Villa Giara, instead of dinner we watched the sun go down and the full moon rise over aperitivi – local wines served with a spread of cheese, prosciutto, olives and homemade bread.
The area is also renowned for its Michelin-starred restaurants: there are two in nearby Canelli and too many to count a 40-minute drive away in Alba.
We were wowed by the amazing wine, delicious food and picturesque Piemontese countryside. Not to mention the five-star luxury at little more than B&B prices, a room with an incredible view and interiors straight out of a Merchant-Ivory classic. Villa Giara is a shining star in this Unesco World Heritage gem of a region.
What to do nearby
Piemonte is a wine-lover’s dream destination, with some of the best – and most historic – vineyards and wineries in the world. There’s a ‘cantina’ around virtually every corner, where you can taste the world-famous Barbera and Barola wines, then buy them for a fraction of the price in the UK (most will ship). Trips to the best wineries in the area can be arranged and one evening a week a local winemaker comes to the Villa for tastings with guests.
Want to brush up on your culinary skills? Why not book a cookery lesson with local chefs – then (the best bit) eat what you’ve cooked. The area is renowned for its much coveted truffles – in autumn you can go on a hunt and learn how to forage for Italy’s ‘white gold’, then cook and eat your finds back at the Villa.
Prefer hunting for Villa Giara-style antiques? We headed for the city of Asti, where once a month there’s a vintage market with some of the best bargains in Italy. Luckily we were driving (it’s just a one-day car journey from our home in London). Two paintings, a ceramic bowl, a handmade dress, vintage cocktail glasses and a Murano glass vase were impossible to resist… For more retail therapy, there’s a boutique on-site at Villa Giara: a curated mix of vintage finds, ceramics, boho-luxe clothes and original artwork.
Day trips to Milan, Turin, the lakes and the Ligurian coast – all not much more than an hour’s drive – are also recommended. We spent a day at the pretty seaside town of Noli. If you prefer somewhere a bit more chichi: you can people and super-yacht watch in Portofino.
For the energetic, try cycling. We hired e-bikes (easier for those hills) – and went on a scenic tour of the local area – stopping for lunch at the market town of Nizza. There are also amazing walks and nature trails. I’d recommend a 20-minute stroll through the vineyards to Calosso: Medieval castle, pretty church and lunch and panoramic views on the terrace at Il Duca Bianco.
There’s even a yoga deck at the Villa (again, with that view) – you can arrange individual or group sessions with the in-house teacher.
A wine-tasting or foodie getaway.
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