Alta Langa of the Bormida
Our itinerary unfolds in these upper lands, where everything revolves around the waterways which have influenced the morphology and the lives of the inhabitants.
Both valleys are very fertile and well cultivated thanks to the unparalleled use of stone terraces for growing cereals, fruit and especially vines on the steep slopes. A soothing landscape, rich in history and art like no other Langa, the Bormida Valley truly preserves the Langa's most ancient heart.
Our itinerary starts in Cortemilia, where the waterway has always divided the village into two parts. On the left bank, San Michele lies at the foot of the mighty fortifications with its tall round tower and, on the right bank, San Pantaleo, teeming with porticos and marketplaces. The former features a 13th-century Franciscan convent (hence the legend of the Saint's passage through the Langa) and the latter hosts the medieval jewel of the Pieve, a Romanesque masterpiece that preserves mysticism and beauty. Today the old medieval bridge, built by the powerful Marquis of Cortemilia, has been replaced by an iron footbridge connecting the two villages. Also worth a visit is Monte Oliveto, a terraced masterpiece, now home to the Ecomuseo dei Terrazzamenti e della Vite (Ecomuseum of the Vine Terraces). Cortemilia, built at the confluence of the river Bormida and the stream Uzzone, controlled then both valleys, as well as the Castino pass towards Alba (it. Alta Langa of Belbo) and the Gorrino pass towards Savona.
We leave Cortemilia by going up the river and its bends to the outpost of Torre Bormida, perched on a river spur, with the ruins of a mighty Castle nestled in the woods and a geography featuring rural houses and farmsteads which embellish the hazel groves. From here, you can quickly go up to Cravanzana (it. The Alta Langa of Belbo), or reach Gorzegno, boasting its Castle, the parish Church (the Baroque Del Carretto funeral chapel is remarkable), the ancient San Giovanni Church, before the tunnel, and the Renaissance San Martino Church, next to the castle, a real unexpected gem.
The next stop is Monesiglio where part of Monti's “I Sansôssi” takes place and where the last writer from the Langhe, Maria Tarditi, set many of her successful novels; today her home hosts the Piccolo Museo di Langa (Small Langa Museum). Land of the spinning mill (today it is a delightful Museo della Seta - Silk Museum) and of the imposing Caldera Castle it also houses the most ancient church in the valley, evocatively named Santa Maria dell'Acqua Dolce: Romanesque in form, built by the Benedictines around 1000, it features frescoes with clear Byzantine influences.
Here comes Camerana, which hides its best features in the isolated village of Villa, with its tall, Tower, the only vestige of the Incisa Castle dismantled in the 1930s, and within the many hilltop churches, one more panoramic than the other. Camerana, with the neighbouring village of Saliceto, is one of the gates to the Belbo Springs Reserve (it. Alta Langa of Belbo), and a paradise for those who enjoy walking along the ancient medieval paths (it takes two days to get to the sea). Actually, Saliceto itself, with its beautiful Renaissance Castle, is already a Ligurian village, at least in the chessboard-shape of its old town. Whereas for the church we go ... all the way down to Rome! Here, in fact, the right-hand man of Julius II, Cardinal Carlo Domenico Del Carretto, commissioned an extraordinary Bramantesque Church, one of the four in the whole of Piedmont (we will see the second one in Roccaverano it. Langa Astigiana from Roccaverano), whose façade is all decorated with esoteric symbols. Beyond the village, right on the border with Cengio, you go up to the 16th-century Sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve, an unexpected stone hamlet immersed in the woods, where, if you want to walk, a medieval sternìa (cobblestone road) will take you along the ancient mule track from Saliceto Alto to Santa Giulia and Carretto, past the Bric Baraccone.
If you are more interested in the Middle Ages rather than the Renaissance then you should go back to the small hamlet of Lignera to see San Martino, where every inch of the Romanesque apse was skilfully frescoed by the anonymous masters of the Monregalese School at the end of the 15th century. We climb up past the ancient Pieve di Gudega (today's Santuario dell'Assunta) to Gottasecca, one of the temples of balon, with the ruins of the tower which today are the ideal place to enjoy an immersive experience in the silence of the woods.
Our route now goes back towards Cortemilia, this time taking the path along the ridge. It is all downhill to Bricco della Colma (with the beautiful Beech Wood to be visited on foot) to perceive the surreal vision of Prunetto: an imposing, intact Castle overlooks a sheer cliff above the few houses. Nearby, the Santuario del Carmine preserves ancient forms, medieval frescoes and all the spirituality expressed by this timeless place.
In just a few bends the trail leads to Levice, an unspoilt chessboard set on the south-facing slope, with the Gothic paintings of the tiny San Rocco Church, the Romanesque bell Tower of the parish Church, and the maze of narrow streets to be explored without haste. Finally, we get to the last village of the Bormida valley, though one of the most famous: Bergolo, the stone village, with its rich cultural programme, the small Romanesque Church of San Sebastiano watching over the village, the impressive Ezra Pound Memorial reminiscent of Celtic megaliths and a stunning view over both valleys.
It is time to descend towards the Uzzone Valley: the road is steep and narrow it goes down almost vertically to Pezzolo Valle Uzzone, the only village on the valley floor, very well kept, with the main street conveying the atmosphere of a fortified village. As you leave towards Castelletto it is worth mentioning the evocative San Rocco in Carpaneta, a curious little church overlooking the river and its rock. The route runs green and relaxing through a very pristine environment. The best features about Castelletto Uzzone are definitely the Cascina Crocetta, a place for education and cultural activities, next to San Luigi, near the Beech Woods, the imposing Palazzo Gaiero, still in Renaissance style although of later date, and the hamlet of Scaletta, the last village in the valley, hosting a mansion where a Pope once slept.
The Uzzone Valley ends at the foot of the Bric Baraccone (where the stream has its source), while after a few bends the road goes up to the ridge: beyond it there is the Liguria region of Cairo Montenotte whereas, turning left, you can run along the ridge again and, once past the hamlets of Santa Giulia and Gorra, you reach - just like new pilgrims - the Sanctuary of Todocco, the furthest place in the Langhe. The road continues lazily to Gorrino, a hamlet of Pezzolo Valle Uzzone, an ancient fortified village with valuable Churches (above all San Martino and San Rocco) and city gates. Finally, following the small Via Piovero, you can take a wide panoramic tour among the terraces and farms along the ridge and then descend back to Cortemilia near the Pieve.
Texts by Pietro Giovannini
Listen to the Podcast:
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Via Vittorio Alfieri
Via Vittorio Alfieri