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San Bovo, a microcosm of ancient culture

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Starting at Alba, go in the direction of the Alta Langa hills on board a motorcycle for a sensational ride that brings you closer to the open road than any ride in a closed car would. From the muggy plains of Alba, humid and dusty, pass through the crystalline air of Benevello, Borgomale, Manera, and San Bovo, whose forests smell of musky earth and ferns in the cool shadows, even in full summer.


Visualizza Il mIcrocosmo antico di San Bovo in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori

Ascending the Alta Langhe, the setting changes from populated Alba hills to a wilder zone where the vines give way to hazelnuts, fields of grain, pastures, and gullies of healthy vegetation. From the anthropomorphized countryside of clean-cut Langa and its great wines, the road gradually reverts to the splendor of untouched and untamed nature, beautiful but tough and often miserly with its comforts and satisfaction, as the writer Beppe Fenoglio describes.

In fact, our first stopping point is one that Fenoglio wrote about for its intriguing atmosphere: Pavaglione, whose farmhouse plays a big part in the romance La malora. Pavaglione was one of those ancient country dwellings that gathered its manpower from the surrounding villages. Here, young manual laborers and stable boys quickly learned that, indeed, “the ground is low” «la terra è bassa» (as the farmer’s saying goes), as they worked and played the card game bevute, with the knowledge that in these hills, fatigue is as common for everyone as death.

The farmhouse (cascina) of Pavaglione was restored in 2006 after a long period of abandon.  Today it hosts photographic exhibits, cultural events, and artistic and literary encounters.  From Alba, continue the itinerary in the direction of Cortemilia; once you reach Manera, turn left for Mango and after the cluster of houses called Montemarino, turn to the right onto the roadway that leads to San Bovo, a tiny community of Castino.

Riding this road on a Vespa or motorcycle is one of the most satisfying and pleasurable ways to experience the countryside. As you eventually proceed towards Pavaglione, the atmosphere becomes more ancient, and human civilization vanishes in favor of forests and uncultivated fields. Even the vegetation mutates, mixing conifers with broadleaf trees and opening up to large spaces similar to high altitude grasslands.  

After visiting places that Fenoglio cited, don’t miss the opportunity to push ahead to San Bovo, just a few more kilometers’ distance. This small village is constructed of a single piazza, its centerpiece the magnificent church dedicated to Bovone (or Bovo), protector saint of animals, miracle worker and, above all, the horseback-riding foe of the Saracens.

Immerse yourself in the peace of this piazza, peaceful and white, always sundrenched and encircled by forests and trails that venture into the unexplored areas of the Langa. Even for its microscopic size, San Bovo offers refreshment and the possibility to take a horseback ride. Get a bite to eat and a glass of wine at the Locanda San Bovo, where, during tourist season, you can also rent a room. Reconstructed not too long ago, the building has a lovely dining area that faces the valley.  

You may also want to direct yourself towards the riding stables of the Horse Association of San Bovo in front of the Locanda. Founded by a kind and rather eccentric Swiss family who decided to buy a house in the area in 1988, this is a point of reference for horseback riders. For information, ask for Michael or Sara, both competent experts.

Saddle up once again – on your Vespa, of course (leave the horse behind) – and head back along the same road that brought you to this small corner of paradise. After about half a kilometer, turn to the left and go downhill on the asphalt road that takes you to Belbo Valley. This is another memorable stretch of road. Pass through forests that suddenly break open to the surrounding hills covered in hazelnut trees and Favorita grapevines, from which the Langhe Favorita DOC wine of Rocchetta and Cossano Belbo is produced. The landscape is dotted with stone farmhouses that have recently been abandoned or restored. One of these expertly-restructured homes presents a peculiar votive pylon:  the Madonna and Christ are houses in a lodge, above which is written, “Make love, not war,” not exactly a Biblical quote.

The road ends at a busy state road that leads to Rocchetta Belbo on the right. To return to Alba, take the left until Capetto, a frazione, or very small community of houses, situated on a bridge that crosses the Belbo river. Here you may want to take an espresso break or an aperitivo at Osteria del Ponte; or drive until Borgomale to admire the magnificent medieval hamlet dominated by the powerful castle of the 12th century, rebuilt in 1429. Here, stop by the popular Osteria della Pace for dinner, known for its affordable prices and wild boar; or the Community Wine Shop (Enoteca Comunale). This was restored in 2005, bringing the wine cellars of the Castle back to their original splendor, called the crutin and infernot. Here, Claudia and her husband, other than having a wonderful choice of the best winery production in the Langhe, prepare dinners and merende sinorie (“snacks” of rural tradition with salumi, cheeses, and dessert) upon reservation, the meal’s leading role played by the well-known red meat of Cossano Belbo.

Last modified onMonday, 15 April 2013 15:49
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