Our first day started with bike fittings in the hotel garage. We all sent in our measurements but once you’re on the bike, it’s all about adjustments.
Then we wandered around Alba until lunch. I’d been to Alba before and so it was fun showing my friend Jennifer around the town. Jennifer is an avid cyclist and when I mentioned in January that I was going on this trip, I suggested that, if she wanted to discover Italy on a bike, she should do this! She signed up 24 hours later.
“I’m ready to go again, wholeheartedly yes!” Jennifer told me, adding that she’s already looking into a possible trip in 2024. “I had high expectations going in, thanks in part to your previous experience. But even my high expectations were blown away in all aspects: the biking itself, the food and cultural experiences, the guides, the other riders, the local producers and residents we met. Just all of it.”
The group met in the hotel restaurant for a big lunch and to learn what adventures lay ahead. Every morning, Cristiano, Gian Luca and Davide reviewed the planned itinerary for that day – the distances, the climb elevations and grades, the rest stops, lunches – and how to get the Garmins going. And remember, this is their home turf, Piedmont. It was pretty great riding around this beautiful region with the home team.
So after laying out the route, the next topics were food and wine starting with a discussion about grissini, what we call breadsticks. Grissini were born in Barolo. You can find them on every dining table, even alongside bread. They’re crunchy and to call them addictive is an understatement.
The most famous wines of Piedmont are Barbaresco and Barolo. I happen to also like Roero Arneis, a white wine from Roero, an area north of Alba. Quick primer: Barbaresco and Barolo are both villages and types of wines. The main grape for both is Nebbiolo. The region around the villages is called Langhe.
Our first ride was a 16-mile “warm-up” ride to Barbaresco, with three climbs, about a mile each, with an average of 6-7 percent grade. Getting out of town was the usual dance with traffic but I was never nervous about it. Drivers in Italy respect cyclists. In fact, Gian Luca joked that sometimes, the driver may even take a closer look at your bike because so many residents in Piedmont are cyclists.
Then I arrived at that first climb. Midway through, I was breathing hard. Enter Davide. “You started too quickly and now you’re out of breath,” he coached. “Get in the low gear and just go slow and steady.” I did and made it up the next two climbs a bit easier.
In Barbaresco, we met with a representative from the Produttori di Barbaresco, a winery made up of 55 members that control more than 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards. The town is quaint and the scenery, of course, is outstanding. In all, this was a good first day. I learned not to start quickly and to take my time going up hills.
Back in Alba, we regrouped for dinner at a restaurant called Enoclub where we sat under Roman arches and enjoyed local specialties, most notably shaved white truffles over risotto and endless glasses of wine, including from the Produttori del Barbaresco.
It almost seems like a requirement when walking around Alba that you must like hazelnuts and truffles. Everything else is secondary. Every food specialty shop has hazelnuts, chocolates and the famous hazelnut and chocolate spread, Nutella or various iterations of it. True, Nutella is from here but in these shops, you will find homemade versions. (Fun fact: In 2017, I bought a small-ish jar to take home and, since I had only carry-on luggage, it was deemed too large and airport security took it away from me. I think they all ate it later.)
Alba is also the home of the famous white truffles. We were in town just before the annual white truffle festival where the mushroom specialty can sell for thousands of dollars.
The façade of the Duomo in Alba was covered up for renovation so the photos you see here are from my 2017 visit. Jennifer and I went inside and visited the museum below, where excavators have unearthed Roman walls and ruins and tombs.
You see Roman influences in Alba all around town. There are preserved ruins underground at the Duomo and right in the middle of piazzas. The town has done a masterful job of preserving those foundations. Jennifer and I went to the museum underneath the Duomo and it was fascinating to see what archeologists have uncovered. These small Medieval towns are jewels. Yes, go to Rome and see the forum and the Coliseum (I insist!) but then hit these small towns and you find these churches from the 13th and 14th centuries with the Roman walls in their foundations and a centuries-old celebration in a piazza (See: Donkey Palio of Alba) that just adds to the richness and fabric of visiting here.
Next: Day Two – Truffle hunting and a trip to Barolo