A pale face gazing out of a dimly-lit window; footsteps on the tower stairs; cries of revelry from a party held long ago: Piemonte is full of castles and ancient forts, and every good castle comes with its ghost story.
Halloween is not widely celebrated in Italy, where Italians dismiss it as an American holiday (when in reality, its roots are deep in Old World ancient paganism and early Christianity). And yet, around the same time the grape harvest and truffle festivals are in high form, trailing tendrils of mist wrap around grapevines and shroud castles hundreds of years old, setting the perfect spooky mood.
If you want to feel the thrill of All Hallows’ Eve, look no further than these haunts in Piemonte’s wine zones. Just be sure you have some vin brulé - hot mulled wine - to calm your shaking nerves when you return.
Barolo – Barolo Castle
Photo from Antonio Tombolini, mod. CC. License
In the 1700s, the erratic Count of Druent married his only daughter Elena to the lord of Barolo’s firstborn son, Girolamo. After five happy years of marriage and three sons, Elena’s father decided, on a whim, that his daughter was not to live with her beloved husband any longer. He cruelly separated Elena from her husband and sons, and she was so shocked and dismayed by this sudden change in her happy life that, on February 23, 1700 at midnight, Elena threw herself from one of the windows of the Barolo castle. Still today, when the clock strikes midnight, some say they hear her footsteps climbing up the castle stairs, retracing her final steps before the last fall.
Piazza Falletti, 12060 Barolo (CN) | www.barolodibarolo.com
Barolo – Castle della Volta
Photo from Andrea Mucelli, mod. CC. License
On the road from Barolo to La Morra sits this castle, whose spectacular view does not quite match its state of conservation. Perhaps due to its eerie haunted castle exterior, locals regard it with superstition. Long ago, one of the castellans was infamous for his extravagant living style, earning a reputation as a sort of Medieval party boy. One such dinner party degraded into an orgy and wild, naked dancing in his magnificent hall of mirrors. The floor collapsed, swallowing all of the guests. When stonemasons came to clear the rubble, they found not a trace of the unfortunate party-goers. What’s more, the ground floor of the castle and its tower was found to be completely walled up with no discernible entry -- the devil's way of effectively cutting off escape or help from the outside. Today, passing under the walls at nighttime, you just may hear the voices, shouts, and running of people through the abandoned rooms.
Loc. Castello della Volta, 12060 Barolo | www.barolodibarolo.com
Torinese – Castle Malgrà
In this castle in the Canavese wine territory, the ghost of a poor woman constantly wanders the halls. Long ago, her husband ordered her to be assassinated for reasons lost to time, and she appears in a bloodied dress with a gash in her neck and tearful eyes. Her ghost appeared to the murderous husband not long after her death, and he was so overcome with guilt that he committed suicide.
Via Maurizio Farina, 10086 Rivarolo Canavese (TO) | www.amicicastellomalgra.it
Monferrato – Castle of Cortanze
One of the best-conserved castles in the province of Asti, the Castle of Cortanze is home to a shadowy figure of a long-haired woman in a billowing, white dress. This young lady was Viola Maria Galante, daughter of Count Ercole of the Roero, and she had fallen for a most unsuitable young man – the town’s pastor. Whether the pastor succumbed to her affections depends on the gossip at the time. The prim, elderly ladies said that the pastor held steadfast to his religious creed, while the men of the town were sure they had an affair. The pastor, however, met a unanimous fate one Sunday morning when he was stabbed to death. The women said that Viola crept in during Mass and pulled a long knife from her sleeve to kill him; the men contend that the father, furious at discovering their affair, locked the girl in a tower and knifed the pastor himself during Mass. Whatever truly happened, the ghost of Viola may still be seen in her bedroom, searching for someone that had never been there in life in the first place.
Via Marchesi Roero, 1, Cortanze (AT) | www.castellodicortanze.com
Alto Piemonte – Castle dal Pozzo
This castle in its Tudor Gothic splendor today is an exceptionally beautiful 5-star hotel and resort, but behind its walls lies a sad story. Barbara Visconti, a young lady of the 15th century, fell in love with a captain who stopped at the castle on the road to France for a mission for the Milanese Sforza family. He was destined to never return, and Barbara wasted away gazing listlessly from the window to watch and wait for him to come back. Some say her ghostly pale face can be seen gazing out one of the windows over the waters at night.
Via dal Pozzo, 24, Oleggio Castello (NO) | www.castellodalpozzo.com
Roero – Castle of Monticello d’Alba
An 18-year old daughter of a Baron, Chiara was promised to a rich, older distant cousin. She fell in love with an officer of a French garrison, instead, and even convinced her parents to allow her to wed her true love. Happily ever after was snatched away on the day of their wedding, however, when her ex-fiancé barged into the church and stabbed the French officer to death. Chiara was vindicated, at least, when the officer’s troops chased the snubbed ex down and hung him from the battlements; but she could not overcome her own pain, and lived the rest of her years in a convent. Her ghost wanders the castle, searching for her lost love.
Via San Ponzio 2, 12066 Monticello d'Alba (CN) | www.roerodimonticello.it
Langhe – Castle of Carrù
In one of the castle’s rooms hangs an infamous portrait of a woman dressed in blue, known as “La Dama in blu.” The lady is Paola Christina of Carretto, the wife Gerolamo Costa, lord of Carrù. In her portrait, she is carrying an arrow and depicted as Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt; both she and her husband loved hunting. Her passion for this sport proved fatal, however; one day while out hunting with a bow and arrow, Paola was shot and killed. Every first Friday of the month, she walks out of the portrait and goes in search of her unknown assassin.
Via Stazione, 10, 12061 Carrù (CN)
Gavi and Tortonese – The Fort of Gavi
The Fort of Gavi has origins that possibly date back to before pre-Roman times. The giant rock upon which it’s built was once the base of these ancient fortifications, and seem to hold memories of their own. Not long ago, some people swore they saw an entire battalion of Roman soldiers marching towards the fort, singing a hymn to Mars, the god of war.
Via al Forte, 14, 15066 Gavi (AL) | www.fortedigavi.it
Acquese and Ovadese – Castle of Novi Ligure
A ghost more fit for Halloween doesn’t exist in Piemonte. In Novi Liguri, a headless horseman on a white horse has been seen to circle the remains of the castle twice before disappearing. His identity is unknown, but the details gathered from witnesses say he is wearing metal armor with an inscription in red, "VI A CAPPELLA NIGER.” Its exact meaning is unclear, but the best translation comes to, "Turn away from the goat." One hypothesis as to his identity is grisly: Donna Orriga, the lady of Novi for many years, was a woman whose favorite pastime was seducing men who she then disposed of as they fell under her disfavor – decapitation included. The headless horseman seen circling the castle is one of her discarded endeavors. The inscription on his armor reminds him and all men to stay away from evil women, as the goat represents evil.
Via Castello, 15067 Novi Ligure (AL)
Barbaresco – The Devil’s Bridge in Neive
While no haunts rattle their chains or whisper chilling secrets here, you might walk a little faster if crossing this bridge at night. Local legend has it that the town’s sexton needed to cross the river to ring the church bells. To build a bridge in one night, he enlisted the help of the devil in exchange for the soul of the first living being that crossed. The devil was fooled by a passing dog, and he sent the poor thing back to its owner with such anger that a big hole was rent in the bridge. Today, the ruins of the ancient bridge are covered by a modern structure; but if you walk down Via Casasse, you'll spy the belltower of the old Santa Maria del Piano church from the 1200s that just might be the very one the sexton needed to reach.
Tower of the Monastery, Località Santa Maria del Piano, 14 - 12057 Neive (CN) | www.latorredelmonastero.com
Cover photo from Andrea Mucelli, CC. License