We arrived at Nordelaia at night. Driving along the winding country roads, we could see a beacon of fairy lights in the distance, strung up along the hillside. As we got closer, we remarked on how majestic the approach was. “Just you wait until the morning,” our driver said.
And indeed, when we awoke the following day, the true splendour of Nordelaia’s impossibly scenic location overlooking the verdant valleys of Monferrato was laid out before us.
Where to stay
Nordelaia is set within five hectares of agricultural land, including its own vineyards, where it produces delicious wine from Pinot Noir, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes. The 800-year-old former farmhouse has been sympathetically converted and expanded to encompass 12 bedrooms.
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We stayed in La Foresta suite, which is inspired by the surrounding woodlands. The heavy beams gave it a cosy log cabin feel, and we woke up to a cacophony of birdsong from nearby treetops. There are panoramic views from every window and a large private terrace means you can take in the spectacular sunsets from the privacy of your room.
Other options include the Black and White suites, which have a minimalistic elegance, while La Mare is dedicated to the Italian riviera and its rugged coastline. None of the rooms has a television, and the simple, stripped-back palettes reflect a traditional feel.
What to do
The central ethos of the hotel is relaxation and one could easily while away a whole weekend enjoying the two swimming pools or reading in the well-positioned loungers looking out on to the valley.
There is an elegant and well equipped spa, with many rejuvenating treatments available, from an Indian Ayurvedic massage to a ritual scrub using the volcanic powder rhyolite. I had an Elixir facial treatment, which left my skin feeling refreshed and dewy.
The Piedmont hills are perfect for cycling fanatics as well as those who enjoy a gentle Sunday afternoon pedal. You can hire electric bikes from the hotel – a little power goes a long way on the steeper climbs – and enjoy a two-hour loop that takes you past picturesque villages and impressive castellos.
There are a staggering 526 castellos across the Piedmont region, many built in the late Middle Ages. They were a defence for the small communities during a period of political instability, and now stand as a testament to the area’s rich history. The surrounding unspoilt hills are teeming with wildlife and we cycled past a large group of wild boar, closely followed by their tiny piglets scurrying across a field.
There are several towns worth visiting nearby, and we spent an afternoon at Acqui Terme, accompanied by Nordelaia’s general manager, Alfonso Spinelli, who was an excellent guide to the area.
We had a delicious lunch at Ristorante Enoteca La Curia, sampling Piedmontese dishes such as bagna càuda – a rich sauce made from garlic and anchovies, which is served hot with crudités for dipping – and Canelin nougat for dessert. The nougat is famous in the region and made by one man, Giovanni Verdese, who is now in his late 80s, at a small factory in the town.
When he became ill last year, locals held a vigil outside his door, lighting candles and praying for his recovery. I can see why: the tantalising mix of Tonda Gentile hazelnuts and wildflower honey is a little taste of heaven.
What to eat
The real star of Nordelaia is resident chef Charles Pearce, who trained under Michelin star-winning chef Andrea Ribaldone, with whom he worked on the menu concept. Pearce has Scottish ancestry but has had a long love affair with Piedmont, which is reflected in the locally sourced ingredients and the dishes that incorporate aspects of its unique cuisine.
We enjoyed the Acqua chef’s tasting menu at the fine dining L’Orto restaurant. It’s in a separate building from the main farmhouse, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the valley. But here the real view is inside, with the stylish open kitchen offering a window into the culinary magic happening within. There were only two tables that Saturday, meaning the room lacked a little atmosphere but this was more than made up for by the spectacular food.
We were spoiled with a series of inventive amuse-bouches including confit of egg yolk with crunchy asparagus and spring onions served inside an egg shell, and a crispy squid tartare bomb seasoned with local wild garlic. The starter reflected Pearce’s Eastern influences: amberjack served in a creamy coconut foam with spots of fennel gel. A fresh, seasonal prawn crudo risotto followed, prepared with Sicilian avocados that gave it a creamy tartness; then sturgeon, served with broccoli three ways and beurre blanc sauce.
The dessert was outstanding, evoking both the sweet nostalgia of children’s cereal and the developed flavours of yuzu and rosemary. It was an architectural feat: slabs of dehydrated milk infused with rosemary crumbled in the mouth, with a burst of sharp citrus. The meal was one of the best I’ve had; inventive but not pretentious, with unusual flavour fusions always rooted in a warmth and comfort, no doubt down to Pearce’s British roots. A Michelin star is surely on its way.
We also sampled L’Orto’s Bistrot menu on Sunday, which was served on the terrace downstairs. Clearly a popular spot with locals, the place was busy with couples and families. I adored the signature salad – raw kale, orange, candied walnuts, roasted spiced Merella chickpeas and tahini dressing – and the secondi were great examples of Piedmontese cooking using locally sourced ingredients, served, of course, with the estate’s own delicious wine.
For those wishing to immerse themselves in all that Piedmont has to offer – from its unique cuisine, world-class wines and stunning natural surroundings – Nordelaia is the place to do it.
Rates at Nordelaia start from €220 per night on a B&B basis in the low season. Visit nordelaia.com
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