5 Questions With…Megan of TorreBarolo
Having a blog has given me so many oppourtunities to meet interesting people from all over Italy with equally interesting stories . It never ceases to amaze me how many great and inspiring people there are out there and how privileged I feel to be able to share some of these people and their stories with my readers. When Megan introduced me to her “little tower” in the Langhe, I was instantly drawn to her story and this area of Northern Italy that until then I had never heard of. Italy may look like a small place compared to other areas of the world, but it is full of new places to discover.
I am really excited to share with you one of Italy’s little treasures in 5 Questions With… Megan of TorreBarolo.
As you may be able to tell from my own blog, I’m a fan of small hilltop villages and the incredible history that is still present within them. You bought a 17th century tower, what made you choose to purchase it and renovate it to turn it into a self-catered property?
My decision of where to buy in Italy was an easy one. My Dad first took me to the Langhe in 1999 and, although I had lived in other regions of Italy, there was something unique and special I felt with the Langhe. For me the area is an intoxicating mix of elements. The scenery is spectacular, the food is refined and the wine is world class….oh, and it is still relatively unknown on the tourist circuit.
When considering properties, the one thing I knew was that I wanted to have a view of the vineyards, so I could retain a connection with the area at all time. An extra bonus was that the tower also had an impressive view of the beautiful Castello Falletti, Barolo’s 15th century castle. These factors, plus the 360 degree view from the roof terrace as a result of it being the 2nd tallest building in Barolo, made it an easy decision to commit to the tower. To be honest, Barolo isn’t the prettiest of the hill top towns in the Langhe as it lacks a picturesque town center, however, it sits in a lovely little valley so I also have great views of La Morra and Diana d’Alba plus the convenience of being a short 10min drive to Alba, which has tons of shops, restaurants etc.
The other thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a renovated property. I knew I would struggle with any renovation project on account of my advanced beginner level of Italian, and honestly, I was less focused on putting my stamp on a property than I was enjoying the area.
As for renting it out, that wasn’t my intention when I bought the property, which explain why the furnishing and fittings are bit nicer than your typical rental property. The rental decision was a recent one based on two factors; 1) I am no longer able to spend as much time there as I used to and 2) a 17th century building requires a high degree of maintenance and renting it out helps in offsetting my repair bills. 🙂
I wasn’t familiar with the Langhe area prior to connecting with you. How do you describe this area of Italy to people like myself who aren’t already familiar with it?
The Langhe I think of as a little island of beauty surrounded by flat, non-descriptive land that houses mainly distribution and production centers. If you are driving either from Milan or Turin you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if you had missed a turn as nothing about the approach to the Langhe offers a glimpse of the beauty of the area…..yet once you arrive and see the hills beautifully terraced by the vines, or the romantic hill top towns each with their own well restored medieval castle, it is hard not to fall in love with the area. Each curve of the road brings another breath taking view of the natural and man-made beauty that makes the Langhe so unique. And then, to have all these beautiful vine covered hills have the Maritime Alps as a backdrop, well, that is just the cherry on top, especially in the winter time. After 10 years in the area, I still pull over to take pictures when the evening light casts a pink shadow upon the hills. Here is a link to some examples of the beautiful scenery of the Langhe.
So, aside from the topography, the other key elements that set this area apart for me are the people, the local cuisine, and the wine of course. This is farming country. Although Alba has chic stores and there are a handful of Michelin starred restaurants, tractors hog the roads in harvest season, people are casual in their attire yet passionate about their crafts, be it wine or food production. My good friend Cesare Boschis recently sold his family winery. I have no doubt the proceeds could easily afford him and his family a life of idle lunches and exotic travels, but instead he is ploughing all his money and time into producing the best quality Castelmagno cheese. In a way, the passion for quality and preservation of local production is reflected in the limited variety of dishes on the menus at the restaurants. To me, the local chefs are less focused on being innovative than on preserving and supporting the Artesian producers who make the fine regional delicacies.
For those that may not know, what is a self-catered property? What can your guests expect when they stay at the TorreBarolo and what are your top suggestions of things they should do while staying there?
A self-catered property is a rental property that provides you with all the comforts of home rather than the comforts of a hotel or B&B, i.e. you get privacy in exchange for daily maid services, a porter or someone to make you coffee in the morning. Upon arrival, Simona, my caretaker, greets you and gives you a tour and answers any of your questions about the property. Other than being available if case of an emergency or if there is a mishap at the tower, you are left to enjoy the comforts of the tower in peace.
I think I have two top suggestions for a stay in the Langhe. One is to make time to do some of the hill walks (hikes) along the numerous footpaths in the area. There is one that starts in Barolo and goes up a hill I refer to as the “Butt Buster” but once you are up that short hill, you have a 45min walk through the vineyards and rolling hills to arrive in the center of Monforte d’Alba, which has a pretty town center populated with a few lovely small restaurants/bars where you can refuel with a plate of local cheese and cured meats along with a glass or two of the local wine. My other top suggestion would be to come to the Langhe the first weekend of October to be there for the kick-off of the International White Truffle festival. The whole city of Alba gets a medieval make-over with the locals outfitted in period dress and numerous wine and food stalls to ensure your tummy is heavy and your head is light.
I also write lots of post for my blog on suggestions for day trips from TorreBarolo or events that are happening in the area.
What was your biggest challenge during this whole journey?
To be honest, I can’t say that I have felt that any of this journey has been a challenge. This winter was very tough as the extreme cold weather caused a lot of problems with the plumbing systems and I learned that the workmanship on some of the renovation works wasn’t done to the highest level, but these are elements that many home owners have to deal with. When you aren’t fluent and don’t have a network of trades people to call on, it can get frustrating but that is when I look outside to my amazing view and it all is worth it. I suppose if I lived in Barolo full time, there might be other factors that were challenging, however, I have made many good friends over the years and found the local residents welcoming. There is no doubt Italian bureaucracy is in a league of its own and you can’t embark on any project without the expectations that it will be 3 steps back and 1 step forward.
You are a wine enthusiast; can you give us a little lesson on the wines that can be found in the Langhe valley as well as your personal favorite(s)?
I would love to know more about the local wines than I do, but so far the knowledge I have gained comes from being surrounded by the wine industry when I am there which has enabled me to pick up bits of knowledge along the way.
The world famous wines from the Langhe are Barolo and Barbaresco made from the Nebbiolo grape, though honestly, I tend to be more partial to Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto. I am sure the fact that you can pick up a very nice Barbera d’Alba for €20 vs a Barolo for €50 (and that would be a cheap bottle) has influenced this, but I see the Barbera and Dolcetto for everyday drinking whereas a Barolo or Barbaresco for a special occasion….but only when I have a tip on which one to select.
The Barbera grape as been referred to as the middle sibling to the big brother Nebbiolo, which is a late ripper and also has the best real estate (hill tops, south facing slopes) and Dolcetto, that is the little sister that ripens early and will grow just about anywhere. Both of these wines are lighter than the Nebbiolo wines and with high acidity and low tannins go well with meat but also lighter dishes like pasta or fish. Some of my favourite wine producers/labels for Barberas are Coppo, Giacomo Bologna, Vietti and Sandrone.
Although red wine is dominant in the Langhe, there is a lovely white wine that is made from the Arneis grape that is delicious. It has a depth and creaminess to it but still is light enough to enjoy on a warm summer’s day. My hands down favourite is Ceretto Blange that usually is priced between €13-€16 in local stores/restaurants. A chilled bottle of Blange sitting outside on a summer evening as the sky turns pink while indulging in some local cheese and cured meats…….it doesn’t get better than that.
Come and stay at TorreBarolo and thanks for your interest in my little tower in this lovely area of Northern Italy.
Thank You, Megan! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions and it was so great to learn a little more about you and TorreBarolo.