Trip to Northern Italy in October 2023

My wife and I are planning a trip to Northern Italy in October 2023. We are lovers of big California wines but know next to nothing about Italian wines. We also have never been to Northern Italy. I am looking for any and all recommendations of places to go, things to see, restaurants, hotels, house rentals, unique experiences, you name it… but especially vineyards to visit and wines to try. We are recently retired and ready to start spending the nest egg. Thanks for your help and advice.

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Following. We’re looking at going in Sept/Oct.

Northern Italy covers a lot of ground - have you settled on a base or bases?

If not, what would be your interests or aspirations for the trip? Scenery, high culture, normal Italian life, art, wines, food? Ideally we can suggest stuff aligned to those tastes.

November may steer you more towards the cities, though it shouldn’t rule out the countryside.

We’re pretty open. The week of October 15-21 we are in San Miniato, outside of Pisa, on a rowing excursion. The week after that we are meeting some friends in Southern Italy. So I guess I misspoke. We are going to be in Northern Italy in October. To pick from your list, I would put food and wine at the top. We also like to be active outdoors (thus the rowing), and experience local life. That doesn’t mean that art, culture, and museums can’t be part of the plan. I figure we have at least the two weeks before October 15. Probably not that helpful, but I’m happy to have too much information and cull it down than be too focused. Thanks for asking.

Early October definitely opens up the countryside more than November. Indeed I find it a wonderful time of year to be there and it can often be pleasingly warm, but rarely uncomfortably hot. Rain reasonably rare as well. Also worth looking for local festivals as these can be a true joy, and very much mixing with locals and some Italian tourists, but less so international tourists.

4 wine / food options come to mind:

  • Bologna shines for food, and getting an apartment can allow free range grazing of the wonderful food shops. Even if the weather is bad, the porticoed streets allow for walking around without getting wet. Wine on the face of it isn’t the star, but search around the fringes and there are some good producers e.g. Umberto Cesari between Bologna and Imola. Then there are visits to Balsamic vinegar producers, every bit as interesting as a wine tour.

  • Montepulciano / Montalcino / wider Chianti region gives you loads of options to suit the style of wines you’ prefer, from the bigger Brunello wines of Montalcino, to the bonier style of (vino nobile di) Montepulciano. I prefer the latter, but suspect Brunello may be more successful for you coming from bigger US wines. Also worth looking into the wines of the Maremma / Grosseto, which tend to use ‘international’ grapes and also will be fleshier than Montepulciano. All that said, Montepulciano is a lovely place to base.

  • The Langhe (Southern Piemonte). This a bit more of a trek, but this is classic wine touring country, yet also has superb food. The catches are that

    • it is that much further away (about a 4hr drive), so maybe only sensible if you can fly into Milano Malpensa, Genova or Torino
    • The leading wines are based on nebbiolo, whose tannins can be a huge shock. However the bigger Barbera wines around Asti/Monferrato should be much more easy to adapt to (e.g. Braida and others)
  • Valpolicella. Wine-wise the region that jumps out based on your current preferences would be Valpolicella and specifically Amarone, but that’s also a decent drive (3hrs). The wines are big, with grapes dried on straw mats to concentrate them and 16-17% alc is not unusual. We stayed at a lovely place with a pool in Mezzane di Sotto (Massimago) that might appeal as it gives you an easy option for daily exercise (though I don’t recall it being especially long). A flight into Verona would make this a much more appealing option. Verona itself a bit touristy, but still worth a visit - perhaps even including a famous opera in the Roman amphitheatre.

One wild thought. Pisa (along with Genova, Amalfi and Venezia) celebrates their joint status as one of the 4 great maritime republics of Italy. Every year (on rotation) one of them hosts a historic coastal rowing race. Now I’m guessing the timing of that won’t align, but I wonder whether getting to see their boat(s) up close might be of big appeal?

Plenty of other options though!

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My husband and I love going to Lake Como north of Milan, and specifically Bellagio. There are wonderful enotecas (wine shops/cellars) that sell other people’s wine, like Enoteca Angolo DiVino. Maybe not exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s a beautiful town and you almost can’t miss finding great wine. To do wine tasting sort of California-style, I’d recommend Tuscany and its Chianti wine road.

We went to Northern Italy last October, and it was fabulous.
We stayed on the East Side of Lake Garda in Bardolino so we could visit wineries in the Veneto Region. We tasted at Marion and Quintarelli.
We also rented a trike and drove up North into The Dolomites.
We hit the Bardolino Wine Festival (Timing).
We flew into Milan and rented a car. 4 days in Bardolino, 2 days in Bologna and then over to Santa Margarita (Portofino) for a couple of days.
Have fun!

I don’t believe that all Brunello is bigger than, say Vino Nobile. The likes of Fuligni, Conti Costanti, I’ll Poggione are made in elegant fashion with no component being dominating over the others. Cool and honest representations of the sangiovese varietal. They age very well, too. I was in Conti Costanti, for the first time, just last Monday and the tour/tasting couldn’t have been more enjoyable with highlights of a few of the property’s artifacts dating back to the 1200s. Highly recommended.

As for food recommendation, how about looking into the Italian Riviera, particularly the area adjacent to the French border. Liguria, with their dishes and wines, are not widely covered nor posted about much, but when I went to the region, I found their rusticity and regional ingredients to be as unique and not easily duplicated by, say, US Italian restaurants. Some pretty towns too.

If you want to go further north, in August, we were in Aosta, up in the Italian Alps and the scenery is amazing. Alpine foods are heavier but unique to the rest of the Italy, as well.

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Lake Garda thread for reference. Much better than Lake Como IMHO

My wife and I (and 2 little kids) will be in Alba from September 21 to October 7th, and then Lucca from October 7th to 14th. If anyone else will be in the area, and wants to drink some great wine, give us a shout!

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My wife and I are talking about booking Sept 17 - Oct 6 and staying near Alba. Tentative plans until we finalize and book, but we’ll definitely be drinking good wine!

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