GTL - Leg 1
A hillcrest route through a past made of castles, towers and fortresses. Today, the terraced landscape features hazelnut groves that produce one of the sweetest of fruits in these fascinating highlands.
The starting point of this route is Castino, a sort of central intersection, both geographically and, perhaps more importantly, ethnically and culturally. Here, the Langhe wine region gives way to the hazelnut groves in the same way that the poetic settings of Pavese gave way to the raw realism of Fenoglio. Here, bricks are replaced with stone; the estates get smaller, the houses lower and more modest and the villages shrink to tiny proportions. Here, life has remained tenaciously attached to just a few acres of land in the same way that the ivy attaches itself to the terraces built to cultivate that land.
From the town’s main square, near the fountain, take the brief slope along Via Negro, then head onto Via San Rocco. At the next crossroads, head up to the right until the end of the paved road. Continue along one of the last sections of the stony road up to the panoramic crest of the hill. Follow the trail through the cultivated fields until you reach a paved road, which bends to the left and stays along the hillcrest. Follow this road, until you pass an isolated house known as “Cà Rossa” (literally: “red house”). At the next crossroads, head left along a flat, gravel road and into the woods. At the first evident fork in the trail, keep to the left and continue along the crest of the hill known as Bric Castel Martino. Here at the summit of this hill, there was once a castle of the same name, but now just a few remnants, immersed in the woods not far away, remain. A bit farther on, another tower rose up from the hill Bric Cisterna and exercised full control over the roadway. This was once the main route to Cortemilia until construction of the Napoleonic road (i.e., the current road, which was built for obvious military needs), so this road is the oldest and most used over the centuries, perhaps as far back as the ancient Romans. It is a road that, to one side, descends down into Cortemilia to the castle nearby Franciscan Monastery while, to the other, headed once (the section is now mostly incomplete) straight down to the San Martino Monastery, across the Belbo river, on to Convento delle Grazie and back up to San Bovo, ending up in Alba.
Past Castel Martino, the road is again paved and takes you, after a couple of switchbacks, onto a small church dedicated to San Martino. Continue along the paved road, which heads quickly down the terraced hillside in the direction of the impressive remains of the castle in Cortemilia.
The castle of the Del Carretto Marquises of Cortemilia remains one of the largest and most majestic fortresses in the entire Langhe region. Although the palacium has since been lost, the walls and the splendid six-floors cylindrical tower remain, if somewhat damaged. Here was the arrival point of the messages from the five surrounding “castles” (most likely mere watchtowers, such as in Perletto, Bergolo, Gorrino, and the two mentioned above) defending the valley, a crossroads for rivers, commerce, travellers and, inevitably, armies. The strategic importance of the extensive military control of the territory by the Del Carretto Family over the centuries came to bear during Napoleon’s Italian campaign, when Napoleon found himself having to fight and conquer these fortresses one by one. In the Middle Ages, however, before the invention of artillery, these castles were truly impenetrable.
Continue along the walls of the castle to a switchback and leave the paved road to continue straight along a narrow, stony road between the dry-stone walls. Once back on the asphalt at the bottom of the valley, near the former Francis - can Monastery, turn to the right, pass the Town Hall and cross the bridge over the Bormida river, which separates the two historical hamlets of San Pantaleo (across the river) and San Michele (on the near side of the river).
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Via Prof. G. Negro