From Alba to Neive along the banks of the Tanaro river, through the world famous Barbaresco crus
You leave Alba over the bridge across the Cherasca river, situated just beyond the cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace and head up the Altavilla hill, from where the Partisans descended into the town on 10th October 1944 to win it back from occupying Nazi forces – as Beppe Fenoglio relates in his most famous novel. The hill is divided by a steeply rising country road that rapidly brings you to the other side.
The Barbaresco hills are softly rounded – like the female form, Cesare Pavese would have said – and the path winds down through the poplar groves that surround the Seno d’Elvio, the little stream that lends its name to the nearby hamlet of Alba, where Barbaresco is also produced. A foot bridge crosses the stream at the point in which it joins the larger Tanaro, which has cut and shaped the hills into steep inland cliffs along its edges.
The narrow strip of land situated between the cliffs and the water is a haven of natural beauty seemingly far away from the noise of traffic and bustle of Alba. Here, you can also see the tunnels once belonging to the 19th-century Bra- Nizza Monferrato railway line cutting their way through the Wine Hills. Continue now along the banks of the Tanaro with an eye open to the wealth of wildlife it is possible to admire here including badgers, deer, wild boar, foxes, hares and many different bird species.
The surrounding wood and undergrowth contain willow, robinia, poplar, beech, oak, elder and hazel trees, nearly all of which are species that may harbour white truffles among their roots. The area is, in fact, a favourite hunting ground for truffle gatherers (‘trifolao’ in local dialect) and, if you fancy a try yourself, there is a ‘learner’s truffle wood’ beneath the Barbaresco tower! When you arrive at Pagliuzzi - where once you could cross the Tanaro on a rope-pulled ferry – you climb up into the Martinenga basin among celebrated crus, such as Asili, Rabajà and Fasèt. Here, the Roman Emperor Pertinace probably built his palace, named Villa Martis, from which the name Martinenga likely derives. This is a natural amphitheatre of vineyards, symbolic of the Langa wine producing area. For a complete map of all the local crus, we would advise you to call in at the Regional Enoteca Wine Shop, although you will be able to identify Bricco del Fasèt by its votive shrine.
The second great valley-side of vineyards beyond this also includes many famous names. The village of Barbaresco is of red brick and very well preserved, with its castle and watch tower spectacularly positioned 30 metres on the top of a cliff above the river. If you have chosen to continue along the river, the Secondine road will take you directly into the village. Here, from 2010 you will be able to admire the view from the top of the watch tower. Essential visiting is also the Enoteca and one or more of the dozens of wineries – not forgetting the cuisine to be enjoyed in the area’s restaurants.
For more walking, the local municipality has prepared three special circular vineyard routes for visitors, all of which leave from the village of Barbaresco. Setting out again towards Neive, you pass through the Montestefano hamlet, another area of crus, as is the nearby Montefico, then descend down the steep hillside that takes you into the valley below with its poplars and open fields – and, again, the picturesque little railway.
Neive is considered rightly to be one of the loveliest villages of Italy, with many landowners’ houses situated in the historical centre, beneath the tower and castle – these days a famous winery. Don’t miss the historical centre, the ‘Bottega dei Quattro Vini’ (shop of the four wines) and the isolated Romanesque bell tower of Santa Maria del Piano. The village was also home to celebrated Grappa producer and local character Romano Levi, who passed away last year and whose poetic and innocent presence stills lingers in the village. From the village station, you can quickly return to Alba by train.