Alta Langa of the Belbo
Alta Langa of Belbo is the green heart of this part of the territory where the Belbo river, the most Langhe-like of all rivers, flows. Its headwaters are a Nature Reserve, a truly unique environment, a must-see. By following its course the road often disappears and the river runs wild between steep sandstone walls and woods interrupted only by occasional mills and a couple of bridges which connect the two sides of the valley.
Our itinerary starts in Bossolasco, a charming village with an ancient tradition of hospitality that can be seen immediately in the many thousands of roses welcoming visitors from each and every house. The parish Church retains a beautiful atmosphere inside, as does the 17th century Palazzo Balestrino, which still evokes Renaissance forms. There are many panoramic churches, including San Rocco and its southern entrance and Santa Maria Maddalena, meant to protect the tiny hamlet of Bossolaschetto, which is perched high above the Belbo river. Next comes Serravalle Langhe, with its “twin” hamlet of Villa and the Romanesque Church of San Michele Arcangelo with its Baroque façade, the hilltop village overlooking the Langa, and the former Oratory of San Michele, now embellished by David Tremlett's work, who has skilfully combined mellow colours with garish medieval frescoes.
Next, there are three tiny villages, a distillation of pure Langa: Cerretto Langhe, Arguello and Albaretto della Torre. The first one, known as the "pais der balon" because of its pallapugno tradition (the major sport in these hills overlooking the sea), welcomes us with its parish Church designed by Schellino, the gate tower and the old cemetery, which recalls Spoon River, looking down from its spur on the twin town of Arguello, known as the 'pais der cucu', or cuckoo's land, due to the quietness that reigns supreme. Here, the ancient Church of San Frontiniano (dating back to the 10th century) and the small panoramic Church of San Michele overlooking Cerretto Langhe are both delightful. Finally, we get to Albaretto Torre with its Carretto Tower from where you can enjoy an invaluable view, half over the Langa of Barolo and half watching over the upper hills.
The route continues to Lequio Berria, the village where Giovanni Pressenda, one of the last luthiers of the famous Turin school, was born. In the village there is a rare Italorussian collection of soft pastel works which today hosts over a hundred paintings. The pylons of the ruins of the former castle gently lead us to the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve, a romantic balcony over the valley of the Berria stream, a wild crevice that separates this ridge from the tiny village of Borgomale. To get there, however, we pass through Benevello (with its Castle and a small country Church - the SS Annunziata - where legend has it that St Francesco once stopped there). A final detour along the ridge towards Cascina Della Langa, Pavaglione and San Bovo, three of Fenoglio's places par excellence, evenly divided between the novels Partigiano Johnny (Johnny the Partisan) and La Malora (Ruin). The winding descent is misleading: Borgomale, with its Castle full of legends and its three stone streets, would seem to be at the bottom of the valley whereas, when coming from the Belbo, it appears on an unreachable rock: geography here is both complicated and fascinating because you never get the same perspective twice.
Here we are in Ponte Belbo and, straight after, we find the soft, sunny slope that from Castino and Bosia goes up the valley in-between terraces and ancient farmhouses. Castino was once home to three monasteries. A small ridge road will lead you to Bosia, immersed in the woods, and then the provincial road comfortably climbs up towards Cravanzana, one of the hazelnut capitals (the other being Cortemilia), with its imposing Castle overlooking the houses downtown. We are now at an altitude of about 600 metres and from here we climb up 100 metres at each village.
Feisoglio, famous for its mushrooms, awaits us with its surprising 15th-century parish Church of San Lorenzo. The distance between Feisoglio and Niella Belbo is only a few kilometres, but the valley now opens out onto the Sources of the Belbo and, in particular, the endless hill of Mombarcaro. In Niella Belbo we find a beautiful panoramic Tower along with the parish Church featuring grim late Gothic frescoes and a city gate. Furthermore, at the start of the last endless climb we find Madonna dei Monti, one of the most beloved sanctuaries in the Langhe, now on the roof of the world. For those who are more secular and romantic-minded, there is a small ridge road leading to the “Esplanade of Love” spiced up with superstition, legend and a panoramic Big Bench.
But now it is time to go up to the "Peak of the Langhe", almost 900 metres above sea level, where on the clearest winter days the sea can be seen shining on the horizon, and this explains the name of Mombarcaro, a seemingly vertical steep village with stairs and sternìe (cobblestone roads) with a fine Museo Storico (History Museum) and a series of must-see frescoes in the Church of San Rocco. Next, there is the remote village of Lunetta, the archetype of every poor but magical stone hamlet, the medieval bridge with its ancient mill now almost in sight of the small Church of San Giovanni standing on the edge of the Belbo Reserve (from here: it. Alta Langa of Bormida to Camerana or it. Alta Langa of Tanaro to Sale).
The route climbs up to the left ridge and then descends to San Benedetto Belbo, a true pivotal point of the Benedictine settlement in the Langa and the only valley village on the itinerary. This is the Fenoglio village par excellence, place of the soul for all Fenoglio's lovers. The climb towards the Bossola Pass (wooded junction between it. Langa of Dolcetto and it. The Alta Langa of Tanaro) will allow you to catch a glimpse of the hidden little church of Piani. With the Langa of Malora before our eyes, we close the loop by returning to Bossolasco.
Texts by Pietro Giovannini
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