The trouble for prospective homeowners is that the vineyards themselves are so pristine and priceless that there are very few houses available. Those that do go on the market from time to time are considered too valuable to be used for any other purpose than winemaking. Part of the appeal of Barolo, and one of the reasons it costs more than almost any other wine in Italy, is because the territory where it can be produced is restricted to very few acres. All the space is devoted to growing, and no new construction is allowed.
The best place to start looking for a house nearby is in Asti and the area around Nizza Monferrato, also an important growing region.
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In the center of Asti, a 130-square-meter home with three bedrooms, surrounded by greenery, sells for about ‚250,000. Prices decrease from there as you go out from the city, as long as you're not right in the vineyards. About 10 miles out of Asti, you can expect to pay as little as ‚70, 000 for a 150- square-meter house.
A vineyard in Nizza Monferrato, though a smallish one, can sell for about ‚600,000. An antique home there, in good shape, sells for about ‚120,000. the castle of Count Cavour in Piedmont Lesser-known wine country lies just a few miles to the east, around Tortona.
Up-and-coming vintners produce what they call Oltrep² Tortonese, a play on the more famous hills just over the border in Lombardy, near Pavia, called Oltrep² Pavese (see the sidebar A Forgotten Wine is Reborn). Aside from the wine, Tortona's cuisine draws day-trippers from Milan and Turin. Both cities are about an hour away by car, making Tortona a good option for commuters as well.
Houses here cost just a fraction of what they would in Milan or Turin and are surrounded by misty vines, rather than smoggy streets.
In Tortona, a nice, two-floor walk-up in an older building with a wine cellar and a garden costs about ‚160, 000, or as little as ‚30, 000 if it needs a lot of work. A classic commuter home for young couples”a newly built, two-bedroom house with balconies and a garden”goes for about ‚120, 000 in the small towns around Tortona. For those who prefer something in the countryside, a beautiful new villa, with about 400 square meters of floor space and a stable, surrounded by greenery, was selling recently for ‚300, 000.
Period farmhouses with some kind of vineyard attached will cost more. South of Cuneo, sitting on the peaks of the French border, is the ski area of Limone. To call it a resort would be deceiving.
It's a quiet place, far from the crowds that inhabit the rest of Piedmont's periphery”Sestriere, Courmayeur, the Matterhorn”and the prices that reflect their international acclaim. Limone, instead, is Piedmont for the recluse and anyone else looking for peace and scenery, with the option of trotting downhill to Nice or Turin for some excitement. There is even an alpine train connecting them.