A Bicycle Tour Takes Riders to the Heart of Italy’s Gastronomy

Laura Juncadella

A chef-led Slow Food bike tour of Piedmont promises riders sights and tastes they won’t soon forget.

Food tours are specially attractive in Italy, a land of culinary wonders. Tourissimo is dedicated to bring travelers an authentic Italian gastronomic experience, with a first class customer service. Their upcoming luxury adventure, a “Chef Bike Tour”, takes riders to the heart of one of Italy’s most lauded food regions: Piedmont.

Departing in early October, the “Slow Food Tour of Piedmont” will be joined by chef Benjamin Cohn, most recently of Westside Tavern in Los Angeles, and chef Mark Meyer, of Cookshop, Rosie’s and Suka in New York City—to name a few. Both will bring extensive experience and knowledge to the proverbial table and will even prepare a special dinner for the group.

Heather Dowd, co-founder of Tourissimo, describes the pair as “food interpreters” for guests, offering insight on how the food they will be seeing on their route ends up on a plate in front of them later that evening.

In addition, Beppe Salerno, Tourissimo’s other co-founder and husband of Dowd, will be leading the tour. A Piedmont native, his local knowledge will provide distinctive insight on the region. Salerno, who began in this industry leading cycling trips, does not usually lead tours anymore, but will do so for this special edition Chef Bike Tour series. Dowd tells azureazure that, “It’s important for us to showcase these parts of Italy that have such an amazing food culture,” and they hope to highlight some of the country’s lesser known areas with every route they plan.

In a country known for its cuisine, Piedmont stands apart for its rich tastes, world-famous white truffles, and fine wines.

Tourissimo’s groups are small and intimate, with no more than fourteen riders. This fall’s culinary adventure starts in the ancient city of Pollenzo, where guests will spend their first night in Albergo dell’Agenzia, a four-star hotel formerly part of King Carlo Alberto of Savoy’s royal estate.

The hotel’s complex is also home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Wine Bank, founded by internationally-recognized Slow Food Association. Riders will learn about “Slow Food,” and sample meals here.

Slow Food is a central concept to this edition of the Chef Bike Tour series. This movement began in 1986 as a reaction to the first McDonald’s opening its doors in Rome. Standing in direct opposition to a fast-food lifestyle, the guiding belief is that food should be fair, clean and good. While its roots in Italy run deep, Slow Food can be found in over 160 countries worldwide.

From Pollenzo, riders will take off to explore Piedmont, biking 140 miles across the scenic countryside, along vineyard-laden hills designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2014 for their beauty. The tour will pass through vineyards and towns, including Langa, Roero, La Morra, Barbaresco, and more, over the course of a week.

While biking 140 miles may seem like quite the task, Dowd assures that this is a perfectly “do-able” ride for any mildly active individual. Tourissimo additionally offers electric-assist attachments: while one still pedals, the assist will make each push count for more, making going uphill or keeping pace easier.

The company can also help arrange alternative transportation for those who need a day off two wheels. Transportation of luggage and gear is provided, and a support van will accompany the group at all times.

In addition to Albergo dell’Agenzia, guests will stay at Villa Contessa Rosa-Fontanafredda, an estate donated by King Victor Emmanuel II to Contessa Rosa of Mirafiore and Fontanafredda in the seventeenth century, and Villa d’Amelia in Benevello, a luxurious converted nineteenth century farmhouse set in seven acres of gardens, hazelnut trees and vineyards.

Guests will find themselves at Michelin-starred restaurants on at least three occasions: at Piazza Duomo in Alba, at DaMà in Villa d’Amelia, and at Da Guido in Barolo, a treat highlighting some of the region’s best foods. Described as an “epic culinary journey,” this last meal will be prepared by Chef Ugo Alciati, whose father started this restaurant that has left a permanent mark on Piedmont’s find cuisine. Every meal will be accompanied by a fine wine pairing.

Cooking school

The tour will also include hand-on cooking classes with Mamma Giovanna at Marrone Winery Estate, an authentic truffle hunting expedition with a real trifulau, and visits to world-renowned vineyards where guests can meet winemakers and experience the region’s culinary and wine culture first hand.

Moreover, October is harvest season in Piedmont, meaning that the region will be teeming with activity. Most notably, Alba’s truffle fair will be in full swing. The Palio d’Asini marks the beginning of this centuries-old tradition: all nine quarters of the city prepare for a medieval parade that takes over a thousand traditionally-dressed participants towards the arena of the Palio to watch a highly-anticipated, hotly-contested, madcap bareback donkey race.

More than tourism

Tourissimo can also help guests experience alternative or different experiences to what’s listed on the itinerary. Dowd tells azureazure that one of her favorite instances of this was during a Chef Bike Tour in Sicily last year.

Don and Julie Kagey were attending the Sicilian tour in hopes of getting acquainted with their family roots. Julie’s family was originally Burgio, a small town the route would pass near. She made several attempts to reach relatives to no avail, but decided to see the town her family was from regardless. She reached out to Tourissimo for help, who set-up an excursion.

After taking them on sightseeing stops, their guide, a local to the region, began asking around if anyone knew Julie’s family. A phone call and a few minutes later, she was able to meet several aunts and uncles for the first time.

While this Chef Bike Tour specializes in capturing the heart and imagination of foodies, Dowd says that’s only the beginning: what is so magnificent is the joy of riding in such a beautiful area. “The first time I cycled in Piedmont, what struck me the most was how beautiful this countryside was. The hilltop towns, the rolling hills, the vineyards. So, just for me, riding in Piedmont is special. Everything else is extra.”

She hopes that riders will experience her own joy of cycling in such a beautiful region.

Tourissimo has tours departing from May to October every year and can begin arranging private groups as early as March. The company specialized in creating custom trips—from extreme adventures to casual rides. Click here if you need more information. ■

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