VACATION IDEAS

Secret Hotels of Italy

There aren’t a lot of places left in Italy that can qualify as "under the radar." At the farmhouses in the country’s northwestern corner, you’ll not only find room at the inns, you’ll also get a taste of the old country—the wine, the food, the connection to the land and its past—that’s as authentic as the sauce bubbling away on the stove.

TETTO GARRONE

An ecofriendly labor of love where florals go mod
When Tetto Garrone celebrated its opening in 2009, host Fulvio Faccia told the well-wishers, "You should be proud of this building because it speaks to the talents of the community." Two teams of architects, builders, ironworkers, and electricians, all from Roata Rossi, had worked for three years to renovate the two-story brick structure, combining traditional materials with innovative ones like the photovoltaic roof panels that produce electricity. They divided the second-story hay barn into eight large rooms that open onto a balcony. A science teacher by day with degrees in biology and agriculture, Faccia had the inspired idea to fashion each room around a local fruit, including damaschino (a kind of plum) and cotogno (quince). His mother, who owns the property, and a cousin sewed the drapes, pillows, and tablecloths, mixing and matching floral patterns. The resulting look is cheerful and crisp, with contemporary touches like oversize hanging lights with linen shades and sliding-screen closet doors. The most enchanting room features warm purple walls and a high ceiling with original exposed beams. They called the room mure, or mulberry, whose leaves fed the silkworms that were cultivated in this southwestern corner of Piedmont until the 1950s. There's even a mulberry tree amid the hazel, walnut, and chestnut orchards that ripen each July. Tetto Garrone's garden is also Faccia's handiwork, and its yield appears at the breakfast table. A typical morning begins with his mother's hazelnut cake, fresh pulpy peach or pear juice, soft local cheeses, and bread with two kinds of homemade jam. You'll likely have the pleasure of having your meal interrupted by Faccia's adorable kids, Pietro, 6, and Magalí, 4, before it's off to school for them and out to the countryside for you.
Via Campagna, 45, 12100, Roata Rossi, Cuneo province, tettogarrone.it, from $107

VILLA ILE

A grand farmhouse run by a traditional yet groundbreaking host
Ileana Allisio is a pioneer in many fields: She launched the first agriturismo in the region in 1985; she was the rare woman to make a career as a winemaker; and before all of that, she honed her design chops as a successful interior decorator. These days, Allisio's style is imprinted on the four guest rooms at her Ville Ile: There's the romantic, rose-pink Room 3, which has an ornate baroque armoire (a family heirloom) and balcony doors just begging to be thrown open onto the garden and the outlying vineyards. Room 1, which is larger and done in muted blue and yellow tones, also opens onto the balcony and showcases paintings by her son Alessandro alongside a local artist's black-and-white sketches of the river Alba. Allisio's own paintings line the staircase down to the living room and breakfast area; the engraved china cabinet was a wedding present given to her husband's grandmother. Villa Ile feels like it hails from an earlier, more courteous time, when a host would give each guest an individualized gift (perhaps a book you'd discussed or a bottle of wine you favored), make you just the breakfast you desired (crepes one day, for instance, toast with homemade jams and fresh butter the next), and remember you with a card come Christmas—all of which, it turns out, Allisio does, naturally.
Str. Rizzi, 18 – 12050 Treiso, Cuneo province, villaile.it, from $111

LA TRAVERSINA

A quirky retreat with a communal table for home-cooked meals
Rosanna Varese's grandfather gambled away most of his fortune, but he managed to hold on to the ivy-covered farmhouse at Piedmont's eastern edge that has been in their family since 1714. The quiet estate, secluded in the woods, hasn't changed much since then. "This house was absolutely in my soul," says Varese, who spent childhood summers here and opened it as an agriturismo in 1989. (Today, however, there are no children—or televisions—allowed.) Varese is the warmest of hosts, often greeting guests with a glass of local Cortese white wine and canestrelli biscuits. Along with her several cats and a sheepdog with dreads named Ollie, she frequently welcomes an eclectic group of world travelers. "Sometimes we have five or six nationalities sharing the table at dinner," says Varese. "After a second glass of wine, we're all friends." Another staple is her accomplished regional cooking, including dishes such as homemade pesto with twisted trofie pasta and melanzane al forno, eggplant topped with huge meaty tomatoes from her garden. The special strain of tomato has been in her husband Domenico's family for decades and can weigh over two pounds. The couple has filled the main house's four rooms and three adjacent apartments with a hodgepodge of goods from their travels: rugs from Turkey and Morocco, china from French flea markets, and Indonesian batik wall hangings. The mellow vibe is completed by yoga classes, offered free to all guests.
15060 Stazzano, Alessandria province, latraversina.com, from $129

 

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