About The Piedmont Culture & Lifestyle
The imposing Alps account for 41% of the Piedmont region making it a paradise for hikers, winter sports enthusiasts and nature lovers. The wine growing areas of the Monferrato, Langhe and Roero hills account for another 36% and the remaining 27% of the region is plains. It is here that the ever resourceful Italians grow enough rice to claim the title of Europe’s largest rice producer.
Piedmont occupies a large area that borders on France and Switzerland and is the ancient dominion of the Savoy royal family who ruled Italy from the Unification in 1870 until abdication in 1946. It is a memorable place where every village has a castle or tower testifying to its history and legends. Natural selection of Piedmonts cultural genes has favored resourcefulness, innovation and a respectful cultivation of the land and its people. Here in Piedmont, economic prosperity is enjoyed in balance with a great life style, a combination many other parts of the world only aspire to. One explanation of this phenomenon is that Piedmont's evolution has supported wealth production largely through networks of small and medium sized family owned businesses.
The Piedmontese work hard but take the time to enjoy the other important things in life. Family and friends come first; they look after each other but expect little from anyone else. Perhaps because the region is encapsulated by the magnificent and imposing Alps and by Liguria and the sea, you get a people who long ago learned to rely on their own small communities for everything. It is a serene place, where the elders of communities are respected enough to still influence the cultural attachments of the next generations. Here you will find that there are still things more important than money. Our visitors are invariably touched by the kindness and courtesy of the people they meet here.
Piedmont is recognised for its world class viniculture and great gastronomy. It is increasingly becoming a mecca for knowledgeable gourmands from all over the world. But these delights are not all it offers visitors. The travellers menu also includes a wide selection of outdoor activities and an abundance of art and cultural experiences. However, despite its hopelessly picturesque mountains, lakes and hills (of which there are far more per square mile than in Tuscany), Piedmonts secrets are yet to be discovered by the larger numbers of visitors who regularly visit other parts of Italy. More than half the world's historical and artistic heritage are found in Italy (source: UNESCO) and many of these treasures live in Piedmont. It has archaeological sites and monuments that adorn small towns and hilltop villages rewarding the traveller with an endless journey into culture and beauty. Tourists who come to Piedmont are warmly welcomed by the locals who still don’t quite understand what’s so special about their amazing scenery, the food and wine to die for, the culture and art on every corner and the great life style they all take for granted
Customs and Morays
The ‘café culture’ is a fundamental part of normal Piedmont life and a whole social order revolves around stopping in the bars and restaurants. Even the smallest villages will have at least one bar which doubles as a coffee shop and general meeting place.
It’s worth noting that if you want to blend with the locals never drink Cappuccino after 10am. Cappuccino is considered to be a breakfast only drink after which most Italians progress to drinking espresso
Drinking aperitifs is a fundamental part of Piedmonts café culture. This is the wonderful tradition of serving snack food with drinks [not coffee]. When you order drinks in the aperitif hours you can enjoy accompanying snacks ranging from simple bowls of nuts, to bite sized pieces of fresh pizza and delicious savoury dips. There are two ‘aperitifo’ periods’ in a day and it is difficult to be precise about exact times. The first commences just before lunch which in Piedmont means somewhere around 12 midday and before 1pm. The second occurs in the early evening around 5.30 pm until 7.30 pm. This is normally the busiest time in the town centres, when the Piedmontese indulge in their love of strolling, shopping and simply being seen socialising with friends. Bars compete with each other to provide the best aperitif’s so check around to find the best.
Eating Out – Understanding the Menu [if there is one]
When eating out in Piedmont don’t always expect a menu, the food of the day in many restaurants will be influenced by what is in season and what has been sourced fresh that morning, normally from a local market. Generally, because most food is prepared fresh, restaurants prefer to have notice of guest numbers so booking is advisable, also let them know in advance if you have special dietary requirements.
If you do get a menu, it will normally be divided into different sections under the headings: Antipasti; Prima Piatti; Contorni; Secondi Piatti; and Dolci. Roughly translated this corresponds to Starters, First Course, Side dishes/Vegetables, Second Course and Dessert. The Antipasti are a Piedmont speciality and a typical Piedmont lunch can include many courses of Antipasti. See the Food page on our we site to find examples of all the different courses. Don’t worry if your Italian is not perfect because most proprietors will take pride in choosing something for you to eat and surprising you with a long sequence of different dishes. It is not uncommon to be offered a tasting menu of pre-selected dishes for you to try. In the evenings it is perfectly acceptable to select items from only one section of the menu, for example to order only a first course or to order several courses of antipasti only. If you can stick the pace, the deserts can be wonderful and there are various wonderful local cheeses. Grissini [slim breadsticks] and or bread rolls are normally served at the beginning of your meal and often provided at no additional cost. Some restaurants [particularly in more tourist frequented towns] will add a standard cover charge for service but it is not a widespread practice. Tipping is not necessary or expected and indeed may be insulting in some circumstances. See our menu translator.
There are an exceptionally large number of restaurants in the Piedmont, all inspired by a more or less traditional territorial cuisine. Many are internationally famous; others express their creativity as simple trattorias. Wine bars or modern taverns are becoming more common, focusing on the service of wines accompanied by good typical dishes. See our links to recommended restaurants for specific recommendations.
Whatever you decide to do in Piedmont it is important to understand that everything stops for lunch! For at least two hours every day everything stops for food. Most people go home because the norm is to work only a few miles from where you live. Even in Turin [Piedmont’s capital] most of the shops close around 12.30 and do not open again until after three. The Piedmontese love to eat well and they take their food and wine very seriously, lunch is the main meal of the day and Sunday lunch with the all the family is often bigger again.