Historical Villages of Piemonte
Candelo, Garessio, Macugnaga, Mombaldone, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ostana, Pontechianale, Usseaux
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Indicated by the “Borghi autentici d'Italia" (Italy’s Authentic Villages) and "Borghi più belli d'Italia" (Italy’s Loveliest Villages) associations, they are located throughout Piemonte’s six provinces.
The highest density of “Nocciole del Piemonte” (Piemonte Hazelnuts), an important ingredient in the regional pastry and the driving force behind most of the local economy, is concentrated around the Borghi Autentici (Certified Authentic Hamlets) of Levice, Bergolo and Cortemilia. The “tonda gentile” (round gentile) of the Langhe has obtained Typical Geographic status (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). A small medieval hamlet with a triangular layout, today Bergolo only has about seventy residents but exudes considerable charm, with its well-renovated stone houses and panoramic position, dominating the steep slopes between the Bormida Valley and the Uzzone Valley. In a walk through hazelnut cultivations, our itinerary crosses Levice, the Langa of the dry stone walls, the truffles, and the farmhouses that make up the backdrop for the stories of Cesare Pavese and Beppe Fenoglio. Cortemilia, with its 2,600 residents, is the main centre of the Alta Langa and capital of the hazelnut. Of unquestionable natural beauty, it is profoundly charming and triggers aesthetic emotions that will be difficult to forget. The “Borgo autentico” (authentic hamlet) of Saluzzo is a small, fascinating town in the province of Cuneo, where the Monviso valleys open up to an orchard-filled plane. Capital of a Marquisate that has been around for four centuries, it has kept the town planning of the end of the 1400s intact in its historical centre, spread like a fan on the hill and originally enclosed in a double circle of walls. Dominated by the imposing Castiglia (castle), the hamlet is a continuous series of cobblestoned alleys, steep stairways, churches and elegant aristocratic buildings with loggias and turrets, collected around hidden gardens. Saluzzo is one of the most exclusive Italian centre for antiques, for art furniture and restoration. Even the wood and iron craftsmanship boasts a multi-century tradition, kept alive by family-run workshops and enhanced by the annual Antique (May) and Furniture (September) Shows.
Candelo, an ancient village a few kilometers from Biella, holds a very prestigious record: it has one of the most intact “ricetto” fortified areas in Piemonte. The “ricetto” is a fortified hamlet used by the townspeople as a warehouse for agricultural products in times of peace and as a shelter in wartime. Built between the 13th and 14th centuries, the Candelo “ricetto” has a pentagonal design whose surface measures 13,000 square metres. The stone slab roofs, beams and wood belong to the Occitan culture and characterise the landscape of Chianale in the province of Cuneo. It is a very charming place that is still tied to the Alpine culture as well as that of the Provence region of France, exhibited with pride by the handful of residents called “montagnards”. A culture that takes us back to the times in which the minstrels composed verses and music in the Alevé, Europe’s largest Swiss Pine wood on the slopes of Monviso. Another place to visit in the province of Cuneo is Ostana, a small centre of scattered hamlets with a view of Monviso. Skilled architecture has blended wood with stone, covering the stone slab roofs here as well. Not far from here, in the hamlet of Miribrart, the creation of a multi-building hotel as well as an eco-museum of Alpine architecture are planned. Neive, the land of the Barbaresco wine and white truffle is also located in the province of Cuneo, on the Langa side. Like Candelo, it has an ancient “ricetto” area.
The village’s set up is still medieval: the red-roofed houses stand very close together. There is a splendid view of the surrounding vineyards to be admired from above the old town centre. The oldest building is Casa Cotto: it dates back to the 13th century along with the nearby Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) constructed during the period in which it was under the dominion of Asti. Along the road leading to the region of Liguria is Garessio, the pearl of the Maritime Alps, not far from the Italian and French Riviera and near Piemonte’s Monregalese and Langa districts.
It is divided into four hamlets: Borgo Maggiore with its municipal building and library; Borgo Poggiolo with the parish church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua; Borgo Ponte that has kept the stone doorway of the Chiesa di San Giovanni (the oldest religious building in Garessio) intact; Borgo Valsorda, home of the Santuario della Beata Vergine delle Grazie.
Let us leave the sea behind and head to the lake in the province of Novara, one of the most evocative places in Piemonte: Orta San Giulio. Beloved by writers and poets, Orta is a small town characterized by very picturesque narrow streets: the main one leads to piazza Motta from which the boats to the Isola di San Giulio depart. Dominated by the Basilica that carries the same name, the island also hosts a Seminary built in 1844 upon the ruins of its castle, now the convent of cloistered Benedictine nuns.
Macugnaga is located in the province of Verbano Cusio Ossola. It is near here that the first settlements of Swiss Walsers were founded in the 13th century. Typical homes are still visible with their stone basements, completely wooden structure and interior as well as their characteristic balconies and double pitched roofs.
A splendid example of this architecture is the Casa Museo Walser in the hamlet of Borca. Not very different, but located in a very different part of Piemonte, in the heart of Val Chisone protected by the Albergian, Orsiera and Rocciavré mountains is the village of Usseaux, a hamlet where the vertical portions and the roofs of the houses are in stone with the entrance facing south and a more covered rear basement. A rare example of the Medieval era in the Langa area of the province of Asti is Mombaldone, once under the dominion of the Lombards. Still protected by its original walls, the ancient village appears well preserved with the original buildings out of sandstone, typical of the area. Leaving from via Cervetti, the visitor can admire the Gate with its pointy arch marking the entrance to the “ricetto”, intact in its medieval shape. The 18th century Oratorio dei SS. Fabiano e Sebastiano and the hexagonal Chiesa di S. Nicola by Giovanni Matteo Zucchi are found inside this area.
Date of last update: 16/06/2011
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