GTL on a MTB - Leg 16
This brief route runs from the village of Feisoglio to Niella Belbo and is also a part of the Bar to Bar itinerary, so pay close attention to the signage in order to stay on your chosen itinerary. You may at times feel as though you’re lost, but you’re not! It’s simply that this area is so beautiful that it has been included in two different itineraries..
Situated atop a rolling crest along the right side of the Belbo Valley, Feisoglio overlooks Serravalle (or Villa, to be precise) in the same way that Niella overlooks Bossolasco and that Cravanzana faces Arguello and Cerretto. The village has maintained this atmosphere of days gone by, especially as you wander its narrowest streets to the church square, its elegant confraternity to one side overlooking the fragrant, fertile valley below.
Go past the town along the paved road and then head left at the first (marked) crossroads. This road will soon turn to unpaved and head to the right. Continue uphill into the woods a bit further and then come out into the open onto the watershed. The breeze coming in from the sea (that locals actually call in Piedmont dialect “marin”), will rustle through your hair and fill your nostrils with Mediterranean fragrances.
After about 2 km of paved road, turn left. After a brief descent, turn immediately to the right, nearly in a U-shape, to return to the stone track. Continue through the fields to the panoramic crest of the hill. Keep going until the next paved section and continue straight to the “Spianata dell’Amore” (Clearing of Love), which isn’t a place for young lovers to park, but rather refers to a medieval legend of the brave knight Leone (you’re actually standing on Monte Leone), who fell in love with the local farm girl, and this was the place where their love blossomed. Of course, this does point to the talent of medieval explores to find beauty!
This clearing is open to the elements on all sides and features a giant bench designed by Chris Bangle, where you can take in the full 360° of this marvelous landscape. The Church of San Giovanni, made of austere Langhe stone, awaits you at the next crossroads. From here, head down the slight incline to the village of Niella Belbo.
One thing Niella shares with the other villages on the right-hand side of the valley (with the notable exception of Cravanzana) is the destruction of its castle in the 17th century. Despite this loss, the village retains a number of important signs of its medieval past, which give you an idea of the fact that the town was armed by the Del Carretto Family to clamp down on the valley, together with Bossolasco on the opposite side, in order to control the San Benedetto passage. One such sign is its squat, stone tower with its hut-like roof, which may have been, given its lack of height, more a part of the castle’s fortification than an actual watchtower. Then there is the medieval archway known as the “Arco dei Francesi” (French Arch), which is very similar to the one in Novello with stone machicolations and pointed arch. The nickname comes from the fact that more than 10,000 of Napoleon’s soldiers came through this archway during his first Italian campaign as they headed to conquer Alba following victory in the Bormida Valley.
Niella also features the chapel of San Rocco with frescos in its apse that are protected behind glass (as the rest of the church no longer exists) and, of course, a stunning view over the Alta Valle Belbo as well as the Bormida Valley further off in the distance. Beyond Bossola Pass, there is the Murazzano Tower overlooking the Tanaro Valley, while to the south the Cadibona wall blocks the Ligurian sea from view.
As you leave in the direction of Mombarcaro, don’t miss the elegant Santuario della Madonna dei Monti, a spectacular sanctuary erected in the early 1700s, perhaps by the architect Francesco Gallo from Mondovì. In the somber Baroque style typical of the Piedmont region, this stone building features brick details and has just one nave. Within the sanctuary, recently restored frescos from the 15th century point to a possible replacement or expansion of a previous chapel. At an altitude of 860 metres (2,822 ft), it is the highest sanctuary in the Alba diocese, and it is here that, every year, a summer bonfire (like those described by Cesare Pavese in his novel “The Moon and the Bonfires”) is held to celebrate the Nativity of Mary (September 8th).
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way