Tartufo

A Guide to Alba, Italy, the White Truffle Capital of the World

The morning and late-night fog hangs thick and low over Alba’s softly rolling hills, desaturating the browning lands like a retro Instagram filter. From late September through January, this picturesque town in Italy’s northwestern Piedmont region plays host to gastrotourists from around the world who flock to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the fleeting aroma—and flavor—of underground magic: that earthy, garlicky, nearly gasoline-y perfume of tartufi bianchi, or white truffles.

Whether it’s shaved atop tajarin, Alba’s ubiquitous egg pasta we know as tagliolini, or crowning a shallow bowl of cheese- or meat-filled agnolotti—another native pasta—during this time of year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a respectable local ristorante not serving the elusive and pricey tuber.

Perhaps due in part to worldwide chefs’ growing appetite for white truffles over the last 20 years, Alba and its surrounding territories now count one of Italy’s highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants. And it doesn’t hurt that some of the globe’s most beloved powerhouse wine regions, including Barolo, Barbaresco, and Asti, are a quick drive away. Not to mention, Alba is the hometown of everybody’s favorite chocolate–hazelnut spread, Nutella. This region is steeped in culinary culture (fun fact: the Slow Food movement was born in Piedmont), but it’s also stamped with grand cathedrals, five-star hotels, and meandering cobblestone-lined streets straight out of a Disney movie. Here, your guide for where to go and what to do during Alba’s truffle season.

Where to Stay: Two of the region’s most grand properties are both part of the Relais & Châteaux collection. About 20 minutes north of Alba in Guarene sits Castello di Guarene(rooms start at around $1,170 depending on the season), a medieval and Baroque castle that, in 2011, was restored into an opulent 15–guest room hotel and spa. Counting original furniture and wallpaper from as early as the 13th century, the palace functions as a museum as much as it does a place to stay, with one suite still equipped with an original canopy chaise lounge bed from the 18th century. Beyond its luxe appeal, Castello di Guarene is also home to a subterranean spa that one accesses via underground tunnels (once an escape route!) and a fine dining restaurant recently taken over by a new team with Michelin ambitions. And then there’s Relais San Maurizio (rooms start at around $350 depending on the season), a former Franciscan monastery about a 30-minute drive east of Alba. In 2002, the compound was restored, now boasting a salt cave–equipped wellness center, a Michelin-starred restaurant with an organic garden, and 36 plush rooms and suites that once served as monks’ quarters.

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