Alba’s market is “the” market. It’s certainly not the biggest among those held in Piedmont and not even the most picturesque in the Langhe and Roero, and yet the peoples of these hills consider it an absolute must.
Even though nowadays, in the fall, it no longer hosts the impressive parade of vats filled with grapes patiently waiting to be purchased, you won’t be able to fully understand these hills if you don’t make your way round amongst the Saturday market crowd, taking in the scents and smells and capturing the sounds and clamor.
Before you make your way to the stalls in the narrow winding streets it’s worth knowing that the market is usually very crowded, so we don’t recommend entering the town center by car, instead you should try parking just outside the historic center.
Moving about in the town center
The Alba market is quite large and its opening hours are from 6:30 am to 2 pm. There are roughly 200 historic center stands, of which 54 are food-related.
Even though it’s easy to get around the streets and squares, we’d like to suggest an itinerary that starts from Piazza Savona, proceeds to Piazza del Duomo and then moves on to Via Cavour; from here we go first to Piazza Elvio Pertinace and then on towards the Piazza Marconi and Piazza Prunotto where you’ll find the fruit and vegetable market stalls.
The “Main” Road (Via “Maestra”)
We carry on from Piazza Savona and walk along Via Vittorio Emanuele, better known as the Via Maestra. The stands are placed at the center of the street thus leaving a narrow passage on the sides. The secret to avoiding slowing down the flow of people coming from the opposite side is to keep the right, just like when driving a car.
In this area the stalls sell mainly clothing, personal accessories, fashion jewelry, household items; nothing really that can be considered particularly interesting or typical.
The buildings on either side of the street give us a much more interesting picture: they range from designer clothing stores to quite a few food, local products and pastries boutiques. Some names have now become legendary: the Polleria Ratti, la Pasticceria Cignetti and the Tartufi Ponzio.
Worth noting is the Baroque style Santa Maria Maddalena church.
Piazza del Duomo & Via Cavour
The Via Maestra leads up to the ample Piazza Risorgimento (Piazza del Duomo). Here, you’ll find the Caffè Calissano, defined by Beppe Fenoglio as the “The Coffee shop of lords”: a local shop that still maintains its original and valuable decorations and furnishings; a gathering place for enthusiasts of ‘elastic ball’ from the past.
A walk around the square’s stands, a look at the City Hall’s facade and we then continue on down along Via Cavour. If we look to the sky we can see some towers, despite being reduced in size, that help to keep up the medieval city’s appearance.
The farmer’s stands
We come across a pleasant surprise when we reach Piazza Pertinace, shortly after turning right: the lively Mercato della Terra which, since 2010, takes place every Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm. Twenty producers from Alba’s surrounding areas have their stands here under the gazebos.
The vendors form part of an international network that is consistent with the Slow Food philosophy which works according to proper, clean and fair principles. Here you can buy cheese, wine, preserves and traditional foods, baked goods, honey and bee products, fresh fruits and vegetables, cold cuts, ostrich meats and hazelnuts.
At number 3, you’ll find the historic Tartufi Morra shop established in 1930 by Giacomo Morra, an entrepreneur of the past, who was the first to realize the potential of the Alba white truffle, thus giving luster to the Langhe.
Thanks to him, the truffle has become famous worldwide particularly amongst the international jet-set: musicians, intellectuals, presidents.
The covered market
Going back to Via Cavour and after crossing Piazza San Francesco on the right side, we arrive at Piazza Marconi, home to the fruit and vegetable market. Under the canopy you’ll find numerous stalls selling fruit, vegetables and flowers, as well as small producers of local cheeses and honey. You’ll also find refrigerated travelling stalls that offer a myriad of local products.
Another covered market is located a little further down, in Piazza Urbano Prunotto, in front of the police station,: there are roughly 50 farmers that offer fruit, vegetables, herbs and eggs. Sometimes you can also find poultry goods. Farm machinery too is sold in this piazza.
The tradition continues
Despite losing its uniqueness over the years and the fact that we no longer see mediators and producers haggling over bulk wine in Piazza Savona, sellers of cocoons in Piazza Pertinace or grapes in Piazza San Paolo, the Alba Saturday market continues to gather the local people from Alba, the Langhe, Roero and quite a few tourists.
Today, like over a century ago, people meet under the clock at the corner between Via Maestra and Piazza Savona or in cafés to chat, comment on events and people, or simply observe passersby crowding the downtown streets.
In the fall, during the Fair, the market’s protagonist is definitely the truffle: exhibited, photographed and sold by the ‘trifulau’, the typical people of Langa with their unmistakable style.
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s not easy to get around by car during the market days. Going to the center on foot, bicycle or public transport is the best solution because many areas are closed to traffic.
Below are some suggestions for parking, both covered and uncovered. Good luck!
- Covered parking in the downtown train station in Piazza Trento and Trieste (parking fee)
- Covered parking in town center in Piazza San Paolo (parking fee)
- Parking in Piazza Medford in front of Hotel I Castelli (free)
- Parking in front of Hospital San Lazzaro (some parking is for a fee and some is free)