Piedmont is aptly named: derived from the Italian phrase “ai piedi del monte” (at the base of the mountain), the region is enclosed on three sides by the majestic Alps. Originally settled by Celtic-Ligurian tribes, the Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Lombards and Franks successively ruled until the region fell to the House of Savoy and subsequently joined its territory. The Savoy Dynasty left a significant mark on Piedmont’s architecture and artworks; the splendid residences and remarkable art collections left from this period remain as a testament to the royal legacy. Piedmont became a center for Italian nationalism in the 1800s and the region’s ruler, Victor Emmanuel II, went on to emerge in 1861 as the first king of Italy. Agriculture is the backbone of Piedmont’s economy, thanks to the lush and fertile land throughout this varied and sometimes rugged region. Renowned for its treasured truffles, the region is also one of the best wine producers in Italy with a wealth of vineyards and grape varieties. Piedmont is home to the rare and closely guarded nebbiolo grape, considered one of the greatest grape varieties.
While the Lombard and Veneto regions are known for their lakes, Piedmont boasts a smaller yet equally lovely lakes region. The western half of Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake, lies in Piedmont and has wonderful hiking trails and gardens to explore. Lake Orta is smaller than Maggiore but is a stunningly picturesque lake with the charming Isola di San Giulio (San Giulio Island) just west of the lovely car-free village of Orta San Giulio. The island is a mere 140 meters wide and 175 meters long and has been called one of the most romantic places on earth. Piedmont has a wealth of artistic treasures and historic landmarks, from the renowned works found at the Egyptian Museum to the nine groups of chapels making up the Sacri Monte and the numerous abbeys, churches, castles and small museums scattered throughout the region. These treasures, along with the 56 national and regional parks and the truffle and wine festivals, help to define Piedmont as one of the most culturally rich and lovely regions in Italy.