City Life: Farming and feasting
This northwestern region is a reminder that until just over a hundred years ago, Italy wasn't a country, but a collection of states, each with its own distinct identity.
Until the 19th century, folk in this aristocratic province spoke French and, geographically, it has a multiple personality too, with its rolling farmland punctuated by perfectly preserved mediaeval villages and energetic industrial towns. This neighbour of the Swiss and French Alps may be landlocked, but it's only a drive from some of Europe's favourite lakes and beaches. And this is a part of the world that takes its consumption very seriously, so if you like your feeding-time to be formal, or your fashion labels designer, you'll find that, in Piemonte, you've hit the jackpot.
Take advantage of the efficient motorway and road network, and rent a car to explore. This is the birthplace of Fiat, after all.
Milan Malpensa airport is just east of Piedmont, and easily reached by car. Turin-Caselle airport is to the west; Genoa, to the south, completes the triangle of accessible airports.
Turin is the capital of Piedmont, and gateway to other regions of Italy and abroad, particularly nearby France. For more info, go to www.trenitalia.com.
Country code for Italy: 39.
A Long Finish by Michael Dibdin; Italian Hours by Henry James; The Devil in the Hills by Cesare Pavese.
Do go / Don't Go
Every season has its own allure. This Alpine-fringe region is ideal for winter sports in January and February. After the heat of summer, October to December sees the wine and truffle harvest.
Ditch diet thoughts and revel in a serving of Castelmagno cheese melted over gnocchi, washed down with a full-bodied Barbera, Barbaresco or Barolo, or the ubiquitous Asti Spumante. Try bônet, a local pud using amaretti biscuits.
Towns have taxi ranks but you should book ahead in rural areas.
In restaurants, the cover charge represents your tip.
It's less about what you take than the space you should leave to cart home edible and drinkable delicacies.
For museums, and an eyeful of baroque at its best, head to the centre of Turin. You'll also get a glimpse of modern-day architecture from the likes of Renzo Piano. Asti is replete with cobbles, churches and charm; we loved the unique venue where Diavolo Rosso hosts a wide range of music concerts (www.diavolorosso.it).
Serravalle Designer Outlet is open Monday to Friday 10h-19h; Saturday and Sunday 10h-20h. Here you can find Prada, Versace, Diesel, Bulgari and Dolce & Gabbana goods at up to 70 per cent off (www.mcarthurglen.it). The local food markets in the mornings are fun, plus, on Sundays, antiques markets; ask your hotel to steer you to the nearest one.
Wending your way through the countryside, it's hard to find anywhere in Piedmont that doesn't have a view. In the Roman spa town of Acqui Terme, a bird's-eye spot is from the panoramic terrace next to Castello dei Paleologi.
A driving tour of the winelands, stopping off in the beautiful villages of Nieve, Barbaresco, La Morra and Serralunga d'Alba. Another scenic route might take in any of Carròsio, Voltaggio, Capanne di Marcarolo natural park, Bòsio, Tornese, Lerma, Tagliolo Monferrato, Castelletto d'Orba and Gavi.
February The three-day orange fight is reason enough in itself to visit the Ivrea Carnival (www.carnevalediivrea.it). August For dazzling art in the sky, head to Lake Orta's World Fireworks Championship (www.parente.it). September Turin's Settembre Musica treats your ears to jazz, world and classical music (www.settembremusica.it); the food-fanatical Festival Delle Sagre in Asti will make your tastebuds happy (www.doujador.it). Third Sunday in September The streets of Asti come alive with banquets and horse riding for its annual Palio (www.palio.asti.it). Mid-September to mid-November Alba and the surrounding area celebrate the riches brought home by the trifulau, or truffle hunters, during their annual truffle festival. Mid-November Torino Film Festival takes place in the birthplace of the Italian film industry (www.torinofilmfest.org).