Situated on the northernmost border of the province of Alessandria, Camino is a small town on the hills overlooking the river Po, about 20 kilometres away from Vercelli.
The town’s castle dates back to the 11th century and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and well-preserved castles in Italy. Boasting one of the highest medieval towers in the whole Monferrato area, the castle originally belonged to the Bishop of Asti.
In the 13th century, it passed into the hands of the Marquis of Monferrato and, shortly after, to the powerful Scarampi family.
Today the castle is privately owned, but is open for visits as well as luxury accommodation.
If you're in the area during the end of August - beginning of September, check out local festivals and fairs; connected side events often take place in the castle, taking advantage of the beautiful frescoed halls and ancient courtyards.
A tip: if you're looking for a picture-perfect view, climb up to the castle's terrace - or, if you're daring, its 44 meter-high tower! - aside from being an incredibly picturesque setting, it's one of the most beautiful places to take in the view of Monferrato's gorgeous rolling hills. On clear days, the Duomo of Milan is even visible in the distance; try your eyes and see if you can spot it for yourself!
Want to visit the Castle or use it as a private venue?Any suggestions?
In a dominant position over the Po Valley, the Castello di Gabiano has a rich history dating back thousands of years. In fact, traces of the castle appear as early as the 8th century, when the Castle is referred to in texts such as cortem magnam nominal Gabianam.
Historically, the castle’s site was considered extremely important for its strategic position and economic role. For this very reason, the Castle was the object of long contentions by the Montiglio and Gonzaga families and the duke Ferdinando of Mantova. Duke Ferdinando eventually ceded the property in 1622 and the castle passed to the Genovese Agostino Durazzo Pallavicini.
The labyrinth of the castle of Gabiano is one of the rare examples documented within the framework of historical gardens in Piedmont.
The labyrinth is of exceptional importance not only for its rarity but also for the historic period in which it was created. Part of the restoration project assigned in the 1930s by marquise Matilde Giustiniani, the labyrinth’s current design is Parma architect’s, Lamberto Cusani, brainchild.
It is to him that we also owe the neo-medieval aspect of the castle and the structure of its surroundings. Symbolizing a return to the past, the labyrinth is representative of many elements: mythological travels, religious symbols, philosophy and mathematical perfection.
The labyrinth can be found at the heart of the park’s grounds and its position emphasizes the medieval conception of opposites in nature.
The location of the labyrinth is a metaphor of the contrast between the rigid and geometrical lines of the structure and the natural park that surrounds it, calling to mind the medieval concept of “forest” as natural labyrinth (park) and labyrinth as an artificial forest where nature is rigorously manipulated and controlled by man.
A curiosity: today, the labyrinth’s maintenance is of dire importance, as it is composed of age-old buxus sempervivirens, hard to keep and extremely vulnerable to harsh weather conditions.Any suggestions?
The heron is the most common bird you are likely to encounter in the Vercellese – a real treat for bird-watchers and photographers. These birds feed on the organisms living in the paddy fields and rely on the cycles of the local traditional agriculture to survive. In the Vercellese countryside, you won’t often find yourself ‘alone’; just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they can’t see you!
More than a third of the entire paleartic population of these animals nests in the Vercellese area, along with the outskirts of Pavia and Novara (both in Northern Italy).
LIPU, the Italian organisation for bird protection, has established over six protected areas in the Vercellese, including:
In this unique ecosystem, the protected areas comprise a mere 10% of wetlands and forest, while around 90% of the surface is considered ‘arable’ and 75% of it is currently used for rice farming and other forms of agriculture.
In these key areas for breeding and migrating waders, along with more common birds, eight species of protected birds reproduce and nest. These comprise: the Egretta garzetta (Little Egret), the Ixobrychus minutus (Little Bittern) and the Botaurus stellaris (Eurasian Bittern).
There are also numerous Nycticorax nycticorax (Black-Crowned Night Heron), Ardeola ralloides (Squacco Heron), Himantopus himantopus (Black-winged Stilt), Calidris pugnax (Ruff) and Chlidonias niger (Black Tern).
A fun fact: white herons are more frequent, while grey individuals are less common and are often considered by locals as a sign of good luck!Any suggestions?
Born in 1755 in Fontanetto Po, Giovanni Battista Viotti was an Italian violinist and composer, as well as the director of French and Italian opera companies in the French and English capitals.
An extremely influential violinist, Viotti is considered to be the founding father of the 19th century French Violin School. Today, his Stradivari violin is known as the ‘Viotti Stradivarius’.
As a child, Viotti immediately demonstrated musical talent and was taken into the household of Principe Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin. There, he received musical education and, now famous for his virtuosity, served at the court of the Savoys in Turin from 1773 to 1780.
Viotti then started to tour Europe as a soloist, receiving widespread acclaim.
In Paris, he served at Versailles and founded a new opera house. During the French revolution, however, his connection to the French royal family became a dangerous asset and Viotti decided to move to England. In London, too, his success was immediate and Viotti was often called to play in the homes of the English nobility. But with Britain engaged in war against Revolutionary France, Viotti was ordered to leave the country, suspected of having Jacobin sympathies. Although several gentlemen and even Princess Elizabeth spoke in his favour, Viotti left England in March 1798.
After a period spent giving lessons abroad, he was reported as living incognito on the estate of some of his English friends.
During this period he was no longer able to perform publicly but, in 1811, he became a naturalised British citizen, thanks to the Duke of Cambridge. In 1813, he contributed to the founding of the Philharmonic Society of London and worked as orchestra leader and chamber musician. He then spent three years in Paris as the director of the Académie Royale de Musique and died in London in 1823, leaving behind famous compositions such as his twenty-nine violin concertos, which had also been an influence on Beethoven’s works.
Curiosity: every autumn, in Vercelli, the annual Viotti International Music Competition and the Viotti International Music Festival take place to honour the memory of the great composer.Any suggestions?
Eastern Piedmont and the Vercellese area in particular have a long story to tell when it comes to rice-farming. Rice production goes back as far as the 15th century and consequently the local culinary tradition is strongly characterised by rice-based recipes.
Vercellese rice is considered to be the best in the world, as the area gives birth to three highly appreciated qualities: Carnaroli, ideal for al dente risottos; Arborio, which owes its name to a small town in the Vercellese and has big, rounded grains that make it ideal for the mantecatura of risottos; and Venere Nero (literally, ‘Black Venus’ due to its earthy colour), ideal for the elderly and small children, thanks to its high fibre and protein content.
When in the area, don’t miss out on a traditional risotto, maybe accompanied by a glass of the local red wine.
If you are in Vercelli during springtime, the local ‘must’ is rice and peas. A simple dish, yes, but when made by expert hands, a delicate, balanced risotto with fresh peas that you will adore from start to finish. If you are looking to try something even more special, Riso Acquerello, a superior form of Extra quality Carnaroli, is aged to perfection in Tenuta Colombara. Any risotto made with this rice has a particular flavour thanks to the finely aged grains - exported all over the world, it is used by the finest restaurants.Any suggestions?
The beautiful Abbey of Lucedio was founded in 1123 by the Cistercian Monks. Under their management the abbey became a prosperous religious and agricultural centre strategically positioned on the Via Francigena. The monksworked hard reclaiming the swampy area and were the first to grow rice in Italy in the 15th century.
Following rumours of unorthodox conduct, in 1457 the abbey was placed under the control of Pope Callixtus III, a vigorous opponent of heresy, therefore losing its prestige and independence.
The abbey was later owned by famous noble families such as the Gonzaga and later the Savoy family but the monastery was closed during Napoleon's period and later sold to the Marquis Giovanni Gozani di San Giorgio, the ancestor to the present owner.
Today the estate is a thriving farm known worldwide for the production of rice under the brand name Principato di Lucedio, with grounds stretching for 500 hectares and situated inside a Regional Park. It produces a wide range of high quality rice varieties from the more traditional Italian types such as Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano and Baldo to more peculiar varieties including Venus Black Rice, Ermes Red Rice, Basmati Rice, Brown Rice and Wild Rice. Other products include rice pasta, cereals, legumes, biscuits and various flours (maize, buckwheat, chickpeas, chestnut and rice).
Despite being a working business the Abbey of Lucedio is open to the public. It can be visited every day but booking is requested except on Sundays, where visitors can simply show up when their hearts desire.
During the tour, beautiful areas of the original building can be visited. Among them are the “Sala dei Conversi”, the Chapter House, the Cloister, the Refectory and the Gallery. The tour can continue in the modern farming estate, where visitors can learn about rice growing and production methods.
Tasting of traditional dishes can be arranged and those interested can purchase the farm's wide range of products in the shop “Tentazioni di Riso”.
Curiosity: This story of modern entrepreneurial success clashes with the dark mystery that surrounds the abbey. In legends and popular belief the Abbey was a place of torture, murder and disturbing rituals considered by many as one of Italy's most haunted places. The Fox Family Channel popular show "Scariest Places on Earth" featured the abbey in episode 9 of its second season in 2001 (with the title "Lucedio: Cursed Italian Monastery Dare"). In 2008 the Sci-fi Channel show "Ghost Hunters International" dedicated episode 102 to Lucedio. The episode was eerily named "Evil Unearthed".
Whether you are looking to uncover dark mysteries or prefer the bright atmosphere of a successful working farm, Abbazia di Lucedio is the perfect place for an interesting trip when touring the Vercelli region.
Ph. Credits: rosei83Any suggestions?
The Po is considered the most important river in Italy, extending for more than 650km through the Italian peninsula and touching 7 regions from West to East. The river is born from a spring more than 2000 metres above sea level, in Piedmont, and several natural parks appear in its course.
Among these, the Parco fluviale del Po offers a number of foot trails through the Vercellese territory, as well as the possibility to navigate the river’s beautiful colours in a raft.
The second option allows travellers to see the countryside from a privileged position and is a real delight for birdwatchers. Rafting is carried out with the help of specialised personnel and, on request, a local environmental guide.
A tip: if you aren’t an early bird and don’t feel like waking up at dawn, late afternoon or sunset can be the best times of the day to enjoy the ride. The river is tinted with warm reflections of gold, while the birds seem to relax, taking in the last rays of the warm Italian sun.
But remember: as the area is an ideal habitat for birds, it’s also an ideal habitat for insects, so take mosquito spray with you!Any suggestions?
Leri, today known as Leri Cavour, is part of the small township of Trino, near Vercelli. The area is mentioned as Aleram in a 999 document and as Alerh in a later manuscript from 1159 dating back to the time of Frederick Barbarossa. In those years the hamlet was probably a fortified village, although nothing remains of the original buildings.
What we presently know as Leri is an agricultural area with a farmhouse and other rural constructions.
In 1822 the land and farmhouse were purchased by Michele Benso of Cavour, father to famous statesman Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour (the leading figure of the Italian fight for independence and unification). Cavour became the first Italian prime minister in 1861 and helped make the Savoy dynasty a politically and diplomatically relevant royal family. He also promoted the role of his native Piedmont as the centre of Italian economical and political life.
At the time of his birth Leri was a fertile and productive farm and Camillo took over the administration of the estate in 1835. He carried out his function with passion and enthusiasm, always remaining attached to his native land despite the growing political and military activities, which eventually took up most of his time.
Today the estate, belonging to the town of Trino, stands abandoned in total disrepair. The ugly towers of the Trino Enrico Fermi nuclear plant, closed in 1990 following the 1987 referendum in which Italians voted against nuclear power, are sadly the landmark of the city and make it difficult for the town to find partners to finance restructuring projects for the estate.
Leri Cavour though is an interesting and fascinating site with potential to become a popular destination for tourists looking for history and nature. The elegant villa, the church, the stables and the windmill are all in desperate need of renovation and risk being irreparably damaged if plans to redevelop the area are not implemented soon.
Currently, different projects are on the table but none has been finalized; we hope that this charming site can soon be brought back to its original beauty.Any suggestions?
Falconry was a popular practice during the medieval period. Hawks and other birds of prey, such as falcons and eagles, were trained to catch wild quarry and accompanied noblemen when they went on a hunt. From the 18th century, however, falconry became increasingly less popular, partly due to the spread of modern firearms among hunters.
In the Vercellese, however, a few lovers of the ancient art still remain. If you get the chance, spare some time to assist a falconry show on the grounds of one of the many beautiful castles of the area.
For example, the Castello di Camino, on the far side of the River Po from Vercelli, usually organises a medieval day every year and hosts interactive falconry events.
If you would like to discover more about this ancient art, the Compagni di Viaggi association in Balzola organises one or two-day courses to introduce you to the world of falconry. They are a group of friends, passionate about falconry, and are usually busy preparing shows around the region. They don’t have a fixed schedule for lessons, so if you’re interested, give them a call in advance!Any suggestions?
The Church of San Michele in Insula stands on the outskirts of the village of Trino, in an area called insula (island) because it was originally surrounded by two branches of the Po. During flood periods, when the waters of the river rose, the church remained on high ground as if on an island.
It was built in the Romanesque style and was first quoted as a rural church (pieve) in a written document dating back to the 13th century.
The original building was partially destroyed during the early fifteen hundreds and restored becoming a burial place during the 16th and 17th centuries. Later works took place in the 18th century and after 1952, when the 18th century bell tower collapsed, following which the entire complex was completely restructured. The present building has three naves, one of which, the central one, is raised above the other two.
Some beautiful mediaeval frescoes were discovered in the presbyterium during the 1950s renovation: they represent a crucifix, the story of St Michael the Archangel and a Last Supper and can be seen when visiting the church.
Excavations carried out more recently uncovered Roman remains dating back to the 4th and 5th century: roof tiles, ceramic fragments, pieces of glass and coins from an even earlier age indicate that the site was inhabited well before the original church construction. Remains of a mediaeval settlement were also found in the surrounding area.
The church can be visited by contacting Trino's parish church (tel. 0161.801359) but unfortunately the digs are not open to the public.Any suggestions?
Muletta translates roughly to ‘little donkey’ but, despite its name, this specialty has nothing to do with the equine world.
Muletta is a type of salami exclusive to Piedmont and is a delicacy that was appreciated, among others, by the famous Italian statesman Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour.
It represents a culinary excellence as it is an all-natural salami made from highly-selected pork meat of which only certain types of cuts such as bacon, filet, and some parts of the snout are used. The meats are cut, ground and placed in a mixer along with salt, pepper, nutmeg, wine (typically Barbera), and spices which assuredly make Muletta a specialty niche product.
The name of the salami could come from Trieste where, in local dialect, muletta means ‘girl’. Perhaps the soldiers of the wars during the Risorgimento were impressed by the women of the area as they were returning from the eastern front and, as a way of paying tribute to the women of Trieste, they decided to give the same name to this Piedmont speciality!
The origins of the name ‘muletta’ aren’t entirely clear, but various hypothesis have been made on how the Piedmontese specialty got its name.
Roman Catholic sanctuary in the municipality of Serralunga di Crea, the Sacro Monte di Crea is not actually located on a mountain, but rather on the highest hill of the Basso Monferrato. Situated 455 metres above sea level in the province of Alessandria, the beautiful location overlooking the prosperous Piedmontese plains is what has probably earned the sanctuary it its name.
Construction of the sanctuary began in 1589, around an existing religious site dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Although the creation of this sanctuary is traditionally attributed to Saint Eusebius of Vercelli around 350 AD, there is evidence that the edifice was actually built on initiative of the Prior of Crea, Costantino Massino.
It was Costantino who designed the enlargement of the pre-existing Marian sanctuary, providing also for the construction of a series of chapels dedicated to the mysteries of life and to the triumph of the Madonna.
Eusebius is also said to have installed the wooden statue of the Madonna with child, which is still venerated in the sanctuary. However, the Madonna existing today dates back to the 18th century, and little is known of its origins.
The Sacred Mount of Crea includes twenty-three chapels built in two different construction phases: one in the 16th and 17th centuries and the other in the 19th century.
Among the first chapels built are those of the Nativity of Mary and of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. This oldest part is distinguished by complex groups of sculptures in polychrome terracotta inserted in frescoed environments, decorated by artists like Moncalvo, Prestinari and Wespin. Instead, the nineteenth century work that replaced the chapels that had been lost reveals a simpler style of statues with the exception of the chapel of the Salita al Calvario (the Climb to Calvary), in which Leonardo Bistolfi produced a composition of great emotional intensity.
The chapels, except for the first two dedicated to Saint Eusebius, are centered on different stages of the life of the Virgin.
These follow a path that culminates in the chapel of the Incoronazione di Maria (the Coronation of Mary), better known as Il Paradiso (Paradise). The Chapel of Paradise, with over three hundred statues, is the most complex of the Sacred Mount and really deserves a visit, possibly with a guide at hand to read about the history and curiosities of the different statues.
After a period of neglect following the Napoleonic suppression, the chapels were intensively restored and renovated in the course of the nineteenth century.
In 1820, significant restoration work began after the chapel’s partial destruction; this continued until the early twentieth century, and the works were carried out by Bistolfi, Brilla, Maggi, Latino, Morgari, Cabra and Rini Caironi.
Today, the sanctuary’s special setting enhances the religious building with an exceptional panoramic view over the surrounding hills and the alpine mountain chain.
Curiosity: the Sacra can be reached via a steeply ascending route which winds through a wooded natural park of 34 protected hectares, whose flora has been catalogued by the Casalese photographer and polymath Francesco Negri.Any suggestions?
The Bosco delle Sorti della Partecipanza is a regional park and part of the protected area of the Vercelli and Alessandria Po Region. The name "partecipanza" refers to an ancient way of sharing management and exploitation of a certain plot of land. According to some sources these woodlands were given by the local lords as a gift to the farmers' families (the participants) as early as 1202.
Shared management meant that every year a section of land was divided into a number of smaller plots, called "sorti" and then further divided into four parts. A lottery would decide who could cut trees in the various lots, hence the name Bosco delle Sorti from sorte (the Italian name for fate, fortune).
This system helped to limit the amount of trees destroyed in what was once a region completely covered by woods.
In fact, over the centuries the wooded area decreased dramatically due to intensive exploitation started by the Romans, who needed wood for their foundries and by the monastic communities who continued to exploit the land for agricultural purposes.
Today the partecipanza still exists but actions have been taken to reduce tree-cutting and protect the remaining woodlands. To that end the area became a regional park in 1991. The park, a rare extension of forest plain in a region mostly characterised by rice fields, boasts over 400 varieties of trees with a predominance of oaks and poplars.
Because of its position within a region almost entirely dedicated to rice cultivation, Bosco della Partecipanza is also referred to as "a floating raft in the rice fields".
The area is a pleasant haven of thick forest, small hills, natural springs and hiking paths. Reforestation projects have been carried out so that some of the land used for rice growing has been reclaimed. Other projects include the renovation of Cascina Guglielmina, a 1903 farmhouse which offers accommodation locally. In the park are also two mountain huts, Crocetta and Termini, built in 1913 as a shelter for the members of the Partecipanza working in the woodlands. Both were renovated in 1994 and can now be rented for lunches or meetings on a self-catering basis.
The Park’s administration also manages the church of Madonna delle Vigne and the Abbey of Lucedio, which stand in the neighbourhood and deserve a visit.
If you are touring the area and get bored with rice fields and lowlands, head to the park and enjoy the beautiful landscape and tranquil atmosphere.Any suggestions?