GTL on a MTB - Leg 14
Brief section through the heart of the Alta Langa immersed in woodlands and hazelnut groves. This is the realm of the hazelnut, a true delicacy of these hills.
The historic centre of Castino reflects the wealth brought to the area by the two Benedectine monasteries and nunnery and features a curious church with two façades. The castle and the remains of the tower tell about a glorious past as a crossing point between Bormida, Belbo and Bassa Langa. In more recent times, the town was the target of Nazi and Fascist retaliation in 1944.
After a pleasant stretch through the flowery roads of the ancient village of Castino, follow the signs for “Municipio” (Town Hall) and then keep left on Via San Rocco (if you continue on, take a look at the quaint rural church of the same name) and then take the stone mule track to the right, that heads steeply up to the crest (partially asphalted) in the direction of the Alta Valle Belbo.
These mule tracks, that run along the crests of the valleys and then run steep and narrow from one crest to another, are the hidden, but perhaps most significant, signs of the nearly one thousand years of merchants coming and going along the old salt roads from the sea to the Po Valley, which made these now-remote areas the centre of the world. In this regard, the Belbo Valley (like the Bormida Valley and Uzzone Valley) provides endless opportunity to discover the glorious past and fading memories of a romantic age that would have made poets like Foscolo, Petöfi and Byron very happy.
Take a moment to enjoy the view out across the wildest parts of the Langhe where isolated houses are rare and villages wind around the hilltops, closed within stone walls and forbidding fortalices.
All around you are fragrant woods full of chestnut, linden, acacia and elm trees, and with willows along the valleys and oaks on the hilltops, which, as legend has it, await the thunderbolts from the gods that are what make the magical white truffles here.
From Castino, the hilltop trail heads to Cravanzana overlooking Bosia about halfway down the hill. At the crossroads for Lodola (another setting for a work by Fenoglio, where partisans Poli and Mauri met after the winter of ‘44: a brief detour here is also recommended), where the grassy trail meets up for a few hundred metres with a strip of asphalt, then splits off again to the right and heads into the woods. Here, every fork in the road is marked either by a stake or other red-and-white markings on the trees. The trail then bends into a couple of switchbacks and comes out onto the Viarascio road, which heads down through spectacular woods and meadows to Cortemilia.
Turn right and head back up to Cravanzana along the same paved road through hazelnut groves, that are cared for like rose gardens, until you get to the intersection outside of town. Go through this intersection into this medieval village with its Viale dei Caduti and the majestic silhouette of the castle dominating from above. Cravanzana is considered one of the hazelnut capitals of the world and is specialized in the “Tonda e Gentile delle Langhe” (now officially protected as the Nocciola Piemonte IGP), one of the best in the world. Around here, you will certainly have no trouble finding this local treat in pastries and other artisan delicacies.
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Via San Rocco