Through the feudal territories of the Del Carretto family with their terraced farmlands and ancient watch towers
The starting point of this route is the central square in Santo Stefano Belbo, home town of writer Cesare Pavese and surrounded by steeply rising hills completely covered in Moscato vineyards. Everything here speaks to the visitor of Pavese and the characters in his magically atmospheric books – such as Nuto, from ‘The Moon and the Bonfires’. For those interested, there is also the Pavese Museum with some of the author’s original manuscripts.
Leave the town in the direction of San Bovo and you will soon find yourself walking among the spectacular natural amphitheatre of the hills and their serried ranks of vines. The road takes you to the top of the hill crest where, on one side you can see down into the Belbo Valley and on the other, the Bormida Valley. You brush by the town of Cossano Belbo and continue along a straight gravel path which will bring you to Castino and its historical centre (don’t miss the nearby ‘truffle wood for learners’). Cortemilia is the next on the list, ‘capital’ of the local species of hazel nut, the ‘Nocciola Tonda Gentile’. You reach this along a series of cobbled paths and terraces with dry-stone walls. From here, there is a great view over the wide Bormida Valley with, facing you, the stone watch towers of the villages of Perletto, Olmo, San Giorgio and, highest of them all, Roccaverano. It might now be time to take a break for some delicious local hazel nut cake... after which you continue upwards along gravel paths which follow the terraced farmlands so typical of the area. A true feat of agricultural engineering of times past, supported with dry-stone walling of Langa stone, to exploit the potential of the land to the full. In Monte Oliveto there is a museum dedicated to these terraces, entitled ‘Ecomuseo dei Terrazzamenti e della Vite’ which keeps the ancient art of terracing alive today.
From Cortemilia, there is a metalled road which will take you to the centre of Bergolo, a characteristic little village of stone houses and outdoor murals. Here, stop and admire the little Romanesque country church of San Sebastiano splendidly restored and with a lovely view from its hill. Now on to Levice, a well-preserved little village on a hillside, containing the church of San Rocco, complete with frescoes. From here, the next stop is Prunetto, clinging to the top of a steeply sided rocky outcrop. The next stretch is an easy hilltop path through sweet chestnut woods leading up to the stupendous castle of the Del Carretto family and nearby religious sanctuary, both wonderfully restored. They can be visited if you book in advance. On leaving the wood, the road rises gently to the Bricco della Colma hill, where you will walk through some delightful beech woods before arriving at the Sanctuary of Vergine Assunta. Take a well-earned rest here and fill your flasks with water before setting out again along the nature trail organised by the the Comunità Montana where you will find detailed descriptions of the rare botanical species to be found in the area. This will take you up to Gottasecca.
The last stretch of the route passes through woods of sweet chestnut and oak until the castle of Saliceto comes into sight in the valley below. The track of gravel alternating with stone steps now leads down directly into the narrow lanes of Saliceto’s historical centre, with its more ‘Ligurian’ than Piedmontese atmosphere. From here, in fact, it is possible to continue your journey towards Finale Ligure and the sea…