Italy off-the-beaten-path in Gavi, Piedmont

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Italy off-the-beaten-path in Gavi, Piedmont

Five reasons Gavi should be your next off-the-beaten-path destination in Italy


Piedmont is known as an off-the-beaten-path destination. Yes, the region has been attracting more attention in the past five years from wine tourists and Italy-philes who are eager to explore someplace new. Yet even here, its tourist road is being tamped down and paved over, and it goes like this: Langhe, then Roero and Monferrato. Do you want a unique adventure, to see Italy off-the-beaten-path—even for Italians? Go down to the south of Piedmont, beyond the hills of UNESCO territory, past the plains of Alessandria, to where the land rises up again in dramatic mountains that ripple over the border of Liguria and tumble into the sea. This is Gavi territory. Here, you’ll find ancient history, a cuisine that blends the maritime Ligurian influence with Piedmont roots, luxury travel, and a wine that is off-the-beaten-menu.

5 reasons to go to Gavi for an adventure in Italy off-the-beaten-path:

Ancient history

True to the Italy’s inherent nature, this territory is full of ancient history and fascinating legends. One way to immerse yourself in it is by visiting the Fortress of Gavi. Fortress of Gavi. Photo © Villa Sparina Fortress of Gavi. Photo © Villa Sparina

The fortress cuts an imposing figure on top of the hill overlooking the town. You won’t mistake it for a castle—it is most definitely a military stronghold with its massive stone walls and lack of decorative finery. You can take a guided visit through the Fortress to see the powder magazine, prisons, and long corridors filled with history. Its modern structure was finished in the 1600s, but the original base of the fort is from before the ancient Roman era. Over the centuries, the fortress passed through the hands of various ruling families until it was used as a prison in 1859, as well as during both World Wars (yes, that’s how secure it is). Today, its echoing stone space is used for conferences, historical reenactments, and as a theater.

Gavi di Gavi DOCG wine

Villa Sparina Gavi DOCG - Monterotondo Villa Sparina Gavi DOCG - Monterotondo

Once upon a time, Gavi wine was the posterchild for Italian white wines. This was in the 1980s, the same time when Chianti was its red “posterchild” counterpart. While Chianti went on to fame and fortune even after its popularity was abused by oceans of low-quality wine, Gavi faded from consumers’ minds. It, too, was temporarily caught up in high quantity, over-oaked, poor quality production. But today, producers are again making wines that fully express its potential. It is worth a trip to this territory to seek out this white wine. Gavi wine, sometimes called Gavi di Gavi or Cortese di Gavi, is made from 100% cortese grapes, a native Piedmontese variety. Light, bright, fruity, and mineral, Gavi almost represents nearby Liguria more than it does Piedmont. Liguria is in fact less than an hour away, and the maritime influences from sea breezes and salty air are clearly discernible in its crisp and refreshing profile. It has earned the nickname as the “white Barolo” of Piedmont. Like Barolo, it can only be produced in eleven municipalities and can reach exceptional heights of elegance and nuance; plus, it is just as strongly tied to tradition and territory (even more so, one might argue), first documented as a wine in 972 AD. A trip to Gavi to taste this wine is absolutely recommended. Not only is a good Gavi selection still rare outside of Piedmont, but the local cuisine—a tantalizing mix of Ligurian and Piedmontese influences—pairs perfectly. Which brings us to…

The food

The food of Gavi is a border cuisine. It is a crossover selection of flavors from Piedmont and Liguria. You can taste the classic Piedmontese dishes like beef tartare from razza Piemontese (a massive and muscular white breed of cow), and the meat-stuffed fresh pasta called agnolotti in their square ravioli form. But you’ll also find pesce povero, or “humble” fish dishes featuring cod or anchovies. The Gaviese are proud of their ravioli al tocco filled with wild-foraged greens or a mix of meats. The “touch,” or il tocco, is a rich, roasted meat sauce served over top. vitello tonnato la gallina villa sparina Vitello tonnato

There are many places to enjoy a hearty plate of Gaviese food. First and foremost are the these three top restaurants in the area: Ristorante La Gallina (10 min from Gavi),  I Due Buoi, and La Fermata (both about 40 min from Gavi in Alessandria, and Michelin-starred). Cantine del Gavi in the center of town is a beautiful historic restaurant; and Il Banco is an institution for farinata, a chickpea crepe that is popular in Liguria.

Pamper yourself

Off-the-beaten-path doesn’t have to mean sacrificing comfort for authenticity (clearly, or Michelin-starred restaurants wouldn’t be on this list). The territory of Gavi has fantastic resorts throughout its hills. Paired with golf, wine tasting, and beautiful natural scenery, what’s not to love? Villa Sparina in Monterotondo is one such destination: the winery-resort of a wine traveler’s dreams. Home of the aforementioned La Gallina Michelin-starred restaurant, it has been producing Gavi wine from cortese grapes since the 1970s in 18th century wine cellars. Today, they produce a range of Gavi DOCG, Barbera, and sparkling wines in strikingly elegant and unique bottles. Try their exceptional Monterotondo cru, a 100% cortese Gavi di Gavi DOCG wine that has a fine balance of acidity, savoriness, minerality, and freshness. 18th century wine cellars. Photo © Villa Sparina 18th century wine cellars. Photo © Villa Sparina

And when you’re done tasting wines, the thirty-three room resort offers a wide range of activities: biking through the vineyards, a gym and personal trainer, Turkish baths, and spa with massages. If you haven’t sunk too deeply into the lap of luxury and can find motivation to explore, there are golf courses five minutes away and Europe’s first designer outlet in Serravalle Scrivia, ten minutes away. And, okay, beyond pure leisure, for those who love “real” activity, the Natural Park of the Capanna di Marcarolo in Lemme Valley is forty-five minutes away, an extensive area with hiking trails, lakes, and defunct gold mines.

Strategic location

For being off the beaten path, Gavi is certainly in a good location. It is an hour from the port city of Genoa—which, for all its fame, is another city rarely frequented by the average non-Italian tourist. Furthermore, the bucket-list traveler can start marking Italian regions off their list: Gavi is located near the borders of three regions, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and of course Liguria. It is not far off the A7 highway, so it’s easy to access if heading to or from many major cities. Are you coming down from Milan to visit Liguria?
Stop off at Gavi, perhaps with a pause at the Villa Sparina to taste wine and very thoroughly relax.