GTL - Leg 2
An uphill section starting in Cortemilia and the surrounding hazelnut groves and finishing in Bergolo, the epitome of a stone village.
As you leave this historic village of Cortemilia, whose fate is so inextricably linked with the hazelnut, protagonist of an annual festival, head out in the direction of Bergolo. From Piazza Savona, at the corner with Via Cavour, take the tiny Via Langhe and head up to the right. Cross the main highway to Bergolo and follow along Via Martiri di Bologna until you find an old farmhouse. Head up to the right and then, past the apartment buildings, continue up along the gravel road to the left. At an intersection, continue up along the faint, central trail, which crosses over to the woods.
After a couple of steep curves, you will reach a wide gravel road that climbs up to a paved road. Turn left and continue along the flat for about 300 metres (984 ft), then leave this road and head along a dirt trail to the right. Past a few terraces, continue along the flat until a lovely dry-stone wall. Cross the next stream and then climb steeply out of the woods. Continue along the cultivated fields until you reach the courtyard of an isolated farmhouse. Go around this courtyard to the right and come out into the curve of a gravel road. Follow this road to the left for a few metres, then leave the road at the curve to continue along a flat dirt road. At the next crossroads, head to the left to stay on the older route for a long, flat section in the woods until you find a more evident dirt road. Make a sharp turn to the right and continue along the natural amphitheatre of the hillside, which was once cultivated with vineyards.
A couple of curves will take you to the lovely Fontana farmhouse. The road will turn to gravel and take you to the crest of the hill. Ignore the first road on the right (which heads up to Bricco delle Forche, where there are the ancient remains of a watchtower), then take the central road at the next fork. Bending to the left in the woods, you will reach the hillcrest marked by a wood cross, followed by the remarkable Romanesque church dedicated to San Sebastiano in its panoramic location overlooking Bergolo.
The medieval section essentially makes up the entirety of this town of fewer than seventy inhabitants, one of the smallest in all the Langhe in both population and surface area. Historically always bound to the nearby Cortemilia, from which the marquises exercised their influence over all the nearby fiefdoms, the village lost its castle during the late Middle Ages. However, on the whole it remains an intact architectural unit, particularly in terms of construction materials, which essentially means Langhe stone, hence the town’s nickname: “Paese di Pietra” (Village of Stone). Over the last forty years, Bergolo has been battling the same depopulation that has afflicted the more distant valleys, particularly through investment in culture, which has made the town a sort of oasis of art and music and has attracted tourists and other investments from around Europe. With events like “Canté Magg” (a return to the rural tradition of springtime folk singing and dancing), “Via del Sale” (contemporary art installations from here to the sea) and “Sapori della Pietra” (wining and dining featuring local delicacies), and the great many murals that have embellished the streets of town over the years, Bergolo has always been able to feel much larger than it might appear at first glance.
At the end of the day, villages like Bergolo don’t require much explaining. Just head up to the extraordinary Cemetery Church of San Sebastiano, a Romanesque jewel surrounded by a few remaining headstones as if taken right out of a Mary Shelley novel, and then gaze down upon the nine stones of the new Ezra Pound Memorial to get a feel for the poetry that the Langhe can offer up to those who know where to look.
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way