Exploring the mysterious countryside of Beppe Fenoglio’s novels among the hazel groves of the Alta Langa and the cheese farms of Murazzano, along the course of the Belbo river
The starting point for this route is ‘La Pavoncella’ in Camerana, a hill station on the edge of the Belbo Source Nature Reserve, useful for nature enthusiasts who want to stay in the area to observe, for example, the flowering of local wild orchids in May. Set out in the direction of the Arbi hamlet, situated on the crest of the Alba-Montezemolo hill chain, from the top of which you can admire a breath-taking view of the Alps.
Stay on the crest and turn right onto the tracks that run parallel to the road. On your left, you will come to the turning for the lovely medieval village of Sale San Giovanni (the name ‘sale’, salt, derives from its position along the salt roads leading inland from the sea), where you can admire stupendous frescoes in the little cemetery church of San Giovanni or, in June, visit the Fair of Medicinal Herbs gathered from the flowery meadows surrounding the village. More beautiful Renaissance frescoes – probably the best preserved examples in the whole of the Langa area - are to be found within the church of Sant’Anastasia situated right on the crest of the hill, in the middle of fields of alfalfa. The keys to the church are kept by Sale San Giovanni’s parish priest and will be lent on request.
After this visit, you will soon arrive at the cross roads for Paroldo, the so-called ‘paese delle masche’, or witches’ village. Local wise women or witches used to be known as ‘Masche’ and the village has dedicated its yearly fair to them, held at the beginning of November during the ‘summer of St Martin’, (Indian summer). From Paroldo, you head up through Via Viora to Pedaggera – another reminder of the ancient salt roads (the ‘pedaggera’ was the toll along the route) – and then continue along the hill top until you come to the large village of Murazzano, recognisable for its high medieval tower (which can be visited) and for its lovely stone-built historical centre. Just outside Murazzano is the only windmill left in the whole of the Langa. Between Murazzano and Paroldo many cheese farms can be found, producing the renowned local ‘toma’ cheese ‘Murazzano DOP’. This cheese is made from sheep’s milk and is matured for various lengths of time to give different consistencies.
Leave the village in the direction of Bossolasco and you will soon come to the famous ‘Passo della Bossola’ pass, featured in Beppe Fenoglio’s novels (the author used to take his summer holidays in nearby San Benedetto Belbo). If you now continue down towards the village through the terraced cultivations of these high hills, you will come to an ancient Benedictine monastery, once belonging to the monks who re-colonised the area during the early Middle Ages. There are many information panels describing the life and works of Beppe Fenoglio and also trekking routes through the hills featured in his books. Now leave the village and turn left along the river bed then left again towards the village of Mombarcaro, through the characteristic Lunetta hamlet. Mombarcaro is the highest village in the Langhe, at 900 metres above sea level. On a clear winter’s day it is said that you can see the sea from here (the name itself may indicate this fact: ‘Monte Barcaro’ could be taken to mean ‘boat mountain’). Don’t miss the church of San Bernardo with frescoes illustrating the ‘cavalcade of vices’ and the narrow little streets of the historical centre. Your path now takes you along the crest of the hills, with wide views over both the Belbo (on the right) and Bormida (on the left) valleys, until you once again begin your descent towards the river and its source near the ‘Pavoncella’ hill station.