The Alba Hills

Where are the Alba Hills (Le Langhe) ?

They rise in the region of Cuneo, close to the town of Alba, famous for white truffles and of course the great Ferrero factory that produces chocolate products such as Ferrero Rocher and Kinder Surprise. The more northern part (Le Langhe) is just south of the Tannero river and contains the great wine areas of Barolo and Barbaresco  mingled with hazelnut orchards where the delicious Tonda Gentile delle Langhe hazelnuts grow. Further south, one enters the Alta Langhe or higher Langhe where the agriculture changes. Hazelnuts are still found in abundance but the hills are dotted with forests and pasture land.

Langhe literally translates as tongues and it’s easy to see why the region got its name when you visit with the precipitous hills jutting out in all directions and making the landscape a patchwork of verdant land dotted with castles and stone houses.

The seasons in the Langhe

Every season offers something different. In winter, after snow falls, the hills are covered and are as white as a wedding dress. But as soon as the sun comes out, the snow melts where the rays fall, yet on the other side of the hills, the snow will remain for most of the season. The snow covered peaks of the western Alps make a dramatic backdrop the the landscape, rising high into the clear blue skies. Such mountains as Monviso and Monte Rossa can be clearly visible.

Spring comes quickly and seems to arrive in a matter of days. Then the landscape changes and it appears as if someone has dusted icing sugar over the hazelnut orchards and forests with the blossom bursting out. As the season progresses, the landscape gradually becomes greener with all of the full vegetation preparing for the summer to come.

When summer arrives it’s hot! Long, lazy days and warm evenings brings everybody out except of course from 12 until 2 when the serious matter of eating takes place. During the months of July and August, each village celebrates with a day of eating, drinking, music and dancing or in some cases a week. Many of the people from Alba head for the coast to cool off especially in the weeks preceding and following the national holiday of Ferrogusto on the 15th August. The remaining populous in the hills are preparing for the hazelnut harvest which generally takes place in the latter part of the month. Driving round when the harvest is taking place, the landscape is dotted with what appears to be plumes of smoke but in fact these are plumes of dust sent up in the sky by the harvesting machines sucking up the nuts from the earth. The hazelnuts are then left in the sunshine to dry a little more before being sacked and sold as required. So big is the importance of the hazelnut harvest to the local economy (greater even than the wine business) that employers such as Ferrero give people time off to help the family bring in the delicious nuts.

Then comes autumn when the scenery takes on the wonderful hues of gold and russet. The grapes ripen and, so long as the harvest is good, all’s well with the world. At this time the white truffles start to appear but in truth, the quality is much better in the later autumn – the end of October and early November – but this is when the gastronomic tourists arrive. Every year there is a truffle fair in Alba that draws lovers of the aromatic fungus from all corners of the earth. The tables in the restaurants are always full and the season’s bounty is on offer for all to enjoy.