Author: Eliz Armstrong

I live in New York City, where I work in Media Strategy and Planning for a global brand. In my spare time I budget and plan for adventures. I think I'm getting good at it - but you'll have to judge for yourself!

Introducing: Piedmont – Italy’s great wine region

As you drive up and around the gently rolling hills of the Piedmont region in Italy, it becomes clear that the area is known for a specific key export:  wine.

Grape vines are everywhere.  AND if you have the pleasure of touring the area in the beginning of September as I did this year, you’ll be sure to spot several hardworking Italians tending their soon-to-be-harvested crops – just as their ancestors have done for centuries.

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

My boyfriend and I traveled to the region last month for a friend’s wedding and were shocked by the scarcity of American tourists. The region is about a two hour drive southwest of Milan and produces wines that rival those from Tuscany (in fact, the region’s famous Barolo wines are known as the “King of Wines”). The most famous of the Piedmont wines are from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, and we were lucky enough to tour both hillside villages while sipping their local products.

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Vines in the Piedmont region

Vines in the Piedmont region

Because of the location of our friend’s wedding, we stayed in a very tiny town called Castiglione Tinella at the Albergo Castiglione B&B. While the hotel classifies itself as a B&B, I would argue that it is more like a small boutique hotel. Before the trip we decided to spend a little extra for a room with a shared balcony so we could sip our coffee in the morning while peering past the local buildings to the vineyards on the nearby hillside.

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

While the breakfast spread and friendly hotel staff were enough to justify the cost of our pleasant stay, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we wondered over to the hotel’s pool area on the outskirts of town! It looked like something out of a travel magazine.

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

They had an immaculately manicured garden area with an infinity pool that overlooked the surrounding hills. On one of the days we were there, the sky was so clear we were even able to see the Alps in the distance – roughly 100 miles away! If you squint, you can spot their snowy caps in the photo below. As someone who loves wine, scenery, and summertime, the scene felt like my personal Eden.

LOVING the view

LOVING the view

While the hotel experience and amenities were excellent, the location was about a half hour drive from the two aforementioned Piedmont towns that we were most interested in touring. Both Barolo and Barbaresco have their own distinct personalities, despite being quite close to each other as the crow flies. Barolo feels like a busy market town, complete with touristy kitsch, an old castle, and many enotecas (wine shops). Barbaresco is much smaller and more laid back, with the town running down a single road from the historic enoteca to the old tower (Torre di Barbaresco).

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Wine bottles from the 1800's when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Wine bottles from the 1800’s when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

After touring both towns, I find it difficult to recommend one over the other. When it came to wine, I preferred Barolo’s rich, luxurious reds. However, I enjoyed Barbaresco’s serene ambiance lacking crowds of tourists. While we were in Barbaresco, there was a point in the late afternoon (around 4:30pm) when we reached the top of the old tower and no one else was there – we had our own private 360-degree views for nearly ten minutes! How completely unfathomable to be alone at a tourist landmark in Europe in late summer!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower - because there was literally no one to take our photo!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower – because there was literally no one to take our photo!

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

We highly enjoyed our weekend in the Piedmont region, and recommend to anyone who loves wine that they should visit before it is “discovered” by more Americans.

Hotels:

Albergo Castiglione – Castiglione Tinella

Villa Pattono – Costigliole d’Asti

Restaurants:

Caffe Roma – Costiglione d’Asti

Verderame – Castiglione Tinella

Trattoria Antica Torre – Barbaresco

Divin – Barolo (good for a quick lunch)

Vineyards, Enotecas, and Tastings:

Marchesi di Barolo – Barolo

Ceretto – Alba (excellent tasting experience with great view)

Enoteca Regionale del Barolo – Barolo (automated wine tasting)

Enoteca Regionale de Barbaresco – (located inside a former 19th century church)

I’m A Little Different, And So Is My Travel Style

Growing up, I always felt that I was different from the other kids in school – but I couldn’t quite figure out how. In elementary and middle school I analyzed the differences in my body compared to the other girls to try to explain it. While I (of course) found some differences, they never panned out to be what I was searching to explain. By high school I still hadn’t cracked the secret, and I started to try various fashion styles and music to see if the ambiguous feeling had to do with my personal tastes. But no luck there either. When I would change my looks, the way I dressed, or the types of music I listened to in order to try to find the elusive “real me,” none of the changes ever felt right.

It’s taken twenty years since I first started exploring other “Eliz” options, and I feel I finally understand what the difference is: what makes me happy.

Miami Beach, May 2013

Miami Beach, May 2013

Here’s a good example. I’m only five years out of college and Ibiza is nowhere near the top of my travel list. If Eliz were a brand, Ibiza would be considered “off brand.” I don’t go clubbing. I don’t research trendy restaurants. You are far more likely to find me on a winery tour than a pub crawl.

I work at a media agency, where I often joke that I’m a Gen X’er in a Millennial body. While that’s not necessarily true outside of my taste in television (which may actually be closer to Baby Boomer status), I’ll admit that I have very mature travel tendencies. I always opt for the nicest hotel we can afford. When my boyfriend and I went to Vancouver in 2013, we were twenty-five year old tourists who stayed at the Four Seasons because we found a good deal. More often than not we are the youngest people in our hotels/B&B’s by ten to twenty years because our top priority is a very clean, comfortable pillow.

Further, I must admit I haven’t stayed in a hostel in eighteen months. Some Millennial readers and travelers may frown on that decision, citing the importance of the camaraderie and affordability that hostels provide. By all means, you do you! While I like meeting new people, I like nice mattresses more. Nice mattresses make me a very happy tourist.

Side Note: I have not written off hostels all together. I will most likely stay in one again.

With that said, I wanted to make sure to disclose all of these preferences and priorities to you, dear reader, because I am a travel blogger who writes about budgeting for travel. Meaningful travel may mean different things to different people, but the end goal is always the same:  a truly enjoyable vacation.

I hope you budget for travel that you know will make you happy. The good news is that you know yourself best! You probably already have an idea about what kind of travel would bring you the most joy at your personal budget level. My only advice is that you should always trust your gut. I’m not here to try to tell you what to do, I’m here to help and inspire you to do it.  🙂

Like I said, I’m a little different…and I finally know why. I’ve come to terms with my tendencies to travel above my age bracket. I’ve accepted and embraced this (as well as other older-skewing interests) about myself…and I hope you will, too!

Our Celebratory New England Road Trip to Norfolk, CT

There was lot’s to celebrate last weekend – which called for a quick trip out of the city!

But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll divulge that the reason why I’ve been quieter on my blog this month is because I got a new job! Tomorrow I will start at a new media agency as an Associate Strategy Director for an international brand – which is a promotion. After working at the same company for five years, I am excited to start this new chapter in my career.

The two other reasons why my boyfriend and I planned a quick vacation are good, too! My boyfriend and I were celebrating our nine year anniversary AND he had completed a deal in his finance job! He had been working every day (including weekends) for a month straight, so we wanted to find a way to celebrate all three of those milestones and reconnect as a couple.

Thus, at the last minute we decided to book a quick trip that would be within driving distance from New York City for an overnight retreat. After getting several recommendations from friends for destinations within a two and a half hour drive of our urban life, we landed on a small town in northwest Connecticut called Norfolk.

There were dozens of these "welcome to Norfolk" signs throughout the town

There were dozens of these “welcome to Norfolk” signs throughout the town

Neither of us had been to this area of the country before, which is nestled in the hills below Massachusetts’ famous Berkshire Mountains. Norfolk was incorporated in 1758 (aka older than the United States itself!) and offered several things that enticed us. First, it contains easy and beautiful hiking opportunities at numerous nearby Connecticut State parks. Additionally, it has a small-town New England mentality (it hosted both a farmer’s market and library book sale while we were there – which we happily wound our way through while buying tons of souvenirs). Lastly, for a town of 1,800 people, it has a funky music and culinary scene that attracts folks from all over the region.

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel - Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel – Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

Our room in the cottage at the Blackberry River Inn

The cottage room at the Blackberry River Inn

Hiking: I am very enthusiastic about hiking, especially when there is a waterfall involved. My boyfriend and I were planning to drive up to Massachusetts to see Bash Bish Falls on Saturday until the front desk agent at our hotel (The Blackberry River Inn) recommended Campbell Falls State Park about fifteen minutes outside of Norfolk. Wanting to optimize our time, my boyfriend and I drove to the closer and recommended option. The hike was beautiful, and we meandered along a lazy stream until we finally reached the falls. I loved that I was able to scramble up one level of the waterfall to reach a landing where I felt isolated from the other hikers below. It was as if I had my own corner of nature. (Note: there are many other state parks within an hour drive of Norfolk, and we actually stopped at Kent Falls State Park on our way back to NYC on Sunday – it was more crowded and cost $15 for out of state residents, but it was VERY pretty!)

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

Food and Music: Norfolk may be best known for housing the Yale Summer School of Music as well as the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but its music scene does not end there. We experienced Norfolk’s influence on local music via immersing ourselves in the crowd gathered on Saturday night to hear the Led Zeppelin cover band performing at the Infinity Music Hall and Bistro. My boyfriend and I popped into the neighboring Wood Creek Bar & Grill for some pre-dinner drinks around 7pm and could barely find a place to stand at the bar! Once the concert hall opened up and folks started wandering inside, we closed our tab and made our way next door into the Bistro attached to the music hall. There, we sat near six jovial New England couples in bright polos with popped collars while we all simultaneously chomped on delicious locally-sourced grub – an interesting contrast to the faint sound of rock music exuding from the other part of the building. That said, the food was divine and rivaled New York City quality cuisine. I had the free-range chicken while my boyfriend enjoyed the steak frites – very tasty!

Infinity Hall

Infinity Hall

Shopping: Along with the Farmer’s Market held on Saturdays as well as the book sale that the Norfolk Public Library that we stumbled upon, we also found several other noteworthy stores to explore. Along the main road (Rt. 44) was Freund’s Farm Market selling everything from fresh pies to local produce to gardening equipment. I can attest that the nectarines and plums we purchased were the tastiest we had eaten all summer! Additionally, there were several boutiques in downtown Norfolk. While I regret not pulling the trigger on buying a gorgeous locally carved butcher block cutting board at one of the artisan boutiques on Station Place, I did end up buying a beaded clutch  at another. There are many artists and craftspeople in the Norfolk area, and these local boutiques help you connect with their creative spirit.

Lastly, it’s important to note that there are copious antiquing opportunities in the area as well. We strolled through a high-end antique store in downtown Norfolk, which had a beautiful collection from historic New England and Europe. That said, the antique store we ended up making a purchase at (bookends) was found standing isolated on the side of Route 7, as if it was a checkpoint on the way to Kent. The older woman who owned the shop was incredibly chatty and even regaled us with the tale of when Meryl Streep came into her store and purchased several quilts!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer's market - I bought Strawberry Peach and it's delicious!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer’s market – I bought Strawberry Peach and it’s delicious!

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer's Market

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer’s Market

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale - one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale – one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

Rows of books at the book sale

Rows of books at the book sale

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

All in all, our two days in Connecticut were exactly what we needed to escape the urban masses and have a fun adventure as a couple. My biggest takeaway was how stunning and dynamic the countryside and its people are in that region – all just two and a half hours from the city! If my boyfriend and I are ever craving a hike or small town charm in the future, we now know just how/where to satiate that urge!