The Alpine rocks of Cuneo

The first place cited by Dante is Monviso, which in Hell (XVI) is referred to as “that stream which holdeth its own course / first from Monte Veso tow’rds the East / upon the left slope of the Apennines”.


The River Po springs from the mountain, symbol of the Piedmontese Alps, as Dante recalls in Heaven (VI): “It brought the pride of those Arabians low / who traversed, in the wake of Hannibal / those Alpine rocks, whence thou, Po, glidest down”.


From the “Stone King”, which dominates the Occitan Valleys of the Cuneo area, there are numerous itineraries to be covered on foot, by car or bicycle to discover the traditions and age-old trades of this cross-border area: like the Ecomuseum of hemp workers ("La vio dal charbu" in Prazzo) and the one dedicated to saddlers ("Sentiero dei Bastai e Sellai" in Marmora), to coopers (a stretch between Macra and Celle Macra) and to anchovy makers (in Celle Macra), historical figures of wayfarers who went from farmhouse to farmhouse in the cold season, selling the precious load of salted anchovies purchased in the Ligurian ports, the main ingredient of the inimitable Piedmontese "bagna cauda".


Here, from Val Maira (part of the UNESCO Monviso Biosphere Reserve) the Occitan Paths branch out: 177 km of trekking in 14 stages, through a biodiversity that is among the most varied and wild of the entire Alps, for an open-air experience that is decidedly unique. A curious and fun experience, especially for families, is the hike to the Ciciu del Villar Nature Reserve in Villar Costanzo, in search of stone and earth geological phenomena similar to gigantic porcini mushrooms (called "pupazzi" in Piedmontese) that emerge in the thick of the woods. Especially during the summer, the Cyclamen Trail lights up the path from Macra to the villages of Caricatori and Camoglieres with colour. At 1637 metres, between the Maira and Varaita Valleys, stands Elva with its hamlets, guardians of rare wonders such as the cycle of the Life of Mary and the Crucifixion, masterpieces of the Flemish painter Hans Clemer, the "Master of Elva" (1496-1503), author - in the nearby Celle Macra - also of the precious altar polyptych in the parish church of San Giovanni Battista. Still in Elva, an authentic curiosity of its kind is the Museo dei Pels, dedicated to the history of the "caviè", the collectors of women's hair who travelled throughout Northern Italy in the 18th and early 20th centuries to procure the most beautiful locks of hair for elegant wigs that were in great demand by courts, nobility and the rich bourgeoisie throughout Europe. Following the signs from the village of Serre, you can reach a spectacular rocky spur suspended over the Valley, with an extraordinary view of Monviso and the surrounding peaks: it is the "Fremo Cuncunà" (or 'crouching woman', in the Occitan language).  From the 1650 meters of the Acceglio Base Camp in the upper valley, you can set off on itineraries of a few hours or several days, or practice rock and ice climbing, ski mountaineering, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing in winter. For bike-mountaineers, the challenge is the road from the Colle di Sampeyre pass to the La Sousto dal Col Refuge, with a branch-off to the Strada dei Cannoni built by the military engineer Ignazio Bertola, creator of the imposing system of fortifications ordered by the Savoys in the 18th century, such as the Citadel of Alessandria.