#2 PiemonteStories: beauty and pride of the Occitan Valleys


This ideal route starts in Saluzzo and ascends into the Po Valley and up to Val Vermenagna. Along the way, you’ll stumble across a whole hostof interesting attractions, including a network of small, widespread food, drink and accommodation facilities, with visitors fuelling slow tourism in the area thanks to their loveof authenticity and unspoiled landscapes.

Saluzzo features a well-preserved medieval old town at its heart, with cobbled streets, a fortress, the ‘Salita al Castello,’ churches home to some incredible artistic heritage, and noble residences, making it the perfect departure point for a trip up tothe valleys. It’s also worth mentioning that Saluzzo hostsa renowned antiques and furniture exhibition every May and September.

Let’shead to Ostana, a tiny alpine town belonging to the "Borghi più belli d’Italia" association and awarded the Cresco Award for sustainability back in 2017.This village is located right at the centre of the Orizzonte Monviso hiking trail, which is a 50 km loop that passes through all the towns and villages in the Upper Po Valley and is best tackled on foot or by mountain bike. Here, you’ll find yourself at the base of Monviso, otherwise known as the Re di Pietra(Stone King).In fact, Monviso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cross-border biosphere reserve .It stands 3,841 metres above sea level, and its peak was first climbed by an Italian national in 1863,with the honour going to the Finance Minister, Quintino Sella from Biella. In reality, he beatthe first woman to the summit by a whisker. Her name was Alessandra Boarelli from Verzuolo, and a bivouac near the lakes of Forciolline is now dedicated to her. Also worth a visit is Il Buco del Viso, which stands2,800 metres talland is the oldest gallery in the Alps. It was built by the Marquis Ludovico II at the end of the fifteenth century.

Sampeyre (San Pietro, from ‘Peire’ in Occitan)in the adjacent Val Varaita is a village famous for itsrustic artisan furniture and carved wood. It’s also well known for theBaìo, a very popular event that is celebrated every five years during the carnivalseason in order to remember the expulsion of the Saracens in the 10th century. Further downstream you’ll find Venasca, which is home to the Fabbrica dei Suoni, the veryfirst Italian attraction dedicated to sound and music. Continuing along the same route, you’ll soon reach Piasco,  where you can visit the Harp Museum, which features historical harps collected by Victor Salvi, a well-known harpist who performed under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.

In Valle Maria, which is famous for its Ciciu – eroded rock columns that stand 10 metres talland 7 metres wide–you’ll certainly be intrigued to hear about the history of the small community of  Elva. This particular group of people was once famed for caviè, the process of collecting and trading the hair of country women. Once collected, the hair was transformed into wigs, which were in high demandat French and English courts. While in ValleGrana, we recommend a visit to the area of Coumboscuro, which is the beating heart of the local Occitan community, famous for its traditional festivals. Meanwhile, in Castelmagno, which gives its name to one of the best known and finest DOP cheeses around, we recommend a visit tothe alpine sanctuary of  San Magno, where you can stop offwhile travelling the Grande Traversata delle Alpi. Also worth a visit is the medieval old town of Caraglio, which is home to the fantastic Church of San Giovanni, whose Gothic structure was remodelledduring the Baroque period. We also suggest stopping by the Capuchin Convent and Filatoio Rosso (Red Spinning Wheel), built between 1676 and 1678 by the well-known silk entrepreneur, Galleani. In its place today, you’ll find the Piedmont Silk Factory Museum, which puts on modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

Up in the Valle Stura, the roads reach an altitude of 1,996 metres on the Colle della Maddalena, which connects Cuneo to the Ubaye Valley and Barcellonette. Here, near the top, you’ll find a stele in honour of Fausto Coppi, who victoriously broke away from the pack to establish his famous lead during the Cuneo-Pinerolo hill climb of the 1949 Giro d’Italia. Partly included in the Natural Park of the Maritime Alps, the valley boasts a whole host of summer and winter sport activities, from climbing to biking, and downhill and  Nordic skiing (these are the native mountains of champion skier Stefania Belmondo, after all).The imposing Forte Albertino and sulphurous thermal baths –whichsit at about 1300m above sea level – are open all year round. And you can also visit the Ecomuseum of Pastoralism in the hamlet of Pontebernardo di Pietraporzio.

Last but certainly not least is Val Vermenagna. Here, you’ll find the Treno delle Meraviglie (Train of Wonders), which runs along the Cuneo-Ventimiglia trail between the two sides of the Roya Valley. Not far from here are the Riserva Bianca ski resorts (Limone and Limonetto), which boast over 80km of downhill slopes. The resorts also offer plenty of outdoor activitiesto enjoy during the summer months along the border ridge between France and Italy. This area is one of the most important stops along the Via del Sale, which is a hiking, trekking and MTB trail that leads from the Alps to the sea, and runs through bountiful unspoiled nature. While you’re in the area, make sure to stop by Vernante to admire the murals dedicated to Pinocchio. These outdoor artworks were created using original sketches by Attilio Mussino, the very first person to illustrate Collodi’s famous book. He spent the final years of his life in the village.

One final thing worth mentioning is the extraordinary food and drink served in these valleys.Many family-run trattorias offer complete Occitan menus, featuring the likes of lo comaut (pumpkin soup), macarons e trifolas (macaroni and potatoes with mushrooms), croiset (pasta, leeks and cream), los fesqueiròls (pasta with onion, bacon, peas and cheese), sambucano lamb, game, los panets (apple turnovers), and ‘ Tetti di Dronero’ cake.