We arrive in Alba late in the afternoon. Our first priority is to find accommodation.” Mini hotel” SoleLuna looks promising and is actually a guest house in disguise. The eccentric proprietor cannot speak a word of English and with our phrasebook and three words in Italian we manage to negotiate a reduced room rate since we are planning to stay for two nights. We have learned that even in Italy you can ask ‘Is this your best price?’
Alba is the home of many gastronomic delights one being the Ferrero Rocher factory; we are disappointed to hear that there is not an option to do a factory tour and that there is no asses to the factory outlet shop unless you are an employee. Even the tourist office says that the factory should come to the party since it would mean so much for the little town as a tourist destination. Well maybe next time… The closest we come to the factory on this visit is our hotel room window overlooking the factory’s big FERRERO sign!
However the first supermarket that we visit makes up for any possible Ferrero sadness, since we meet half of the marketing staff from the factory, busy setting up an enormous, extensive Ferrero Easter display. All products are available to taste and we make ample use of the opportunity! We buy numerous items that we have not seen at home and our suitcases are stocked with Ferrero gifts galore. The pocket coffee (a dark chocolate cube filled with a shot of strong espresso coffee) is a hit and all the chocoholics should look out for the Ferrero copy of the Lindt Bunny, Easter is going to be a bunny war!
Another foodie commodity that is associated with Alba is the exquisite truffle. Truffles are related to the fungi family and are harvested by being sniffed out around trees by trained pigs or dogs. Alba is best known for the white truffle but various species grow around the area and is sold for astronomical prises in the yearly truffle festival. A big truffle fan myself, I marvel at the ingenious ways that local delis make use of this rare but delicious earthy tuber. There is obviously the actual truffle preserved in brine but truffle shavings, - salsa, - oil, -honey, - cured meat, -salt,-cream makes the truffle list go on. For dinner it is inevitable that we have something with truffles and even though the truffle pizza is tempting, I opt for the steak laden with ample truffle shavings, sublime!
Alba is surrounded by hills that boast some of Italy’s most prise wining wines. The most well-known of these, the full bodied Barolo from the neighbouring town with the same name. For fun we pop into a local Mc Donald’s just to see what they have to offer and are not disappointed. There is an Italian Mc Burger with an herby bun and mozzarella cheese included! The rest looks like pretty standard fare.
At night Alba becomes a wonderful sensory Italian small town experience. The street are filled with local families and their dogs, just strolling around the historic centre with its paved alleys and floodlight old churches , cathedrals and piazzas are magical and the numerous restaurants try to outdo each other with welcoming aromas. There is a pleasant vibey atmosphere and even if it is pretty chilly outside everybody dashes for some of the gorgeous local gelato!
We have spent our last two days absorbing everything we could about Italian country life. We tried to life like Italians, although I still struggle with the shot of espresso and sweet pastry quickly dashed down while standing at a bar for breakfast ( I will enjoy my poached eggie on toast once back home again!) Italian bars refer exclusively to what we might call coffee shops and the ample bar counters are filled at any time of the day with local standing around getting their espresso fixes. Having said that, I will miss the fantastic decaffeinated coffee available here. Not being big coffee fans we always opt for the non-caffeine version of the world’s most popular drink. Italians, unlike anywhere else in the world does not punish or discriminate against decaf drinkers, they still over you an excellent quality coffee with an amazing crema and an aroma to go with it.
We plan to spend our last night in Italy at a Michelin star restaurant and where better to do it than in Alba. More about this in the next episode!