Dwight Peck's personal website

Northwestern Italy in the autumn

A sixteen days' exploration in northern Italy, 18 October - 2 November 2018

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Garessio and Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena

30 October 2018

We're on a little Strada Provinciale through the hills south from Vicoforte, bound for Castelvecchio and Zuccarello overlooking the Mediterranean coast.

At this point, though heading up into the Ligurian mountains, we're still in the province of Cuneo, Piedmont region.

From time to time, we notice that half the road has washed away down the hillside.

The Alps are in sight

Scenic countryside

Just along this road, SP178, within the Comune of Garessio, we passed a turnoff for the nearby 'Reggia di Val Casotto', or Castello Reale di Casotto, which began as a Carthusian monastery in the 11th century but was made over by the architects Francesco Gallo and Bernardo Vittone in the 1700s into a rural palace for the Savoy family. For King Vittorio Emanuele II it served as a favorite hunting lodge. Unfortunately, we were virtually out of diesel at that point and anxious to get down to Garessio. Still another missed opportunity.

Over a small pass here, and now rolling down to Garessio

Garessio is a small comune of ca. 3,000, 681m asl, still in the province of Cuneo, on the Strada Statale SS28, a road much to be preferred to ours, but unfortunately we're just crossing it and heading back up the SP582 over the Colle San Bernardo. But we'll pause here, halfway to our destinations.

Garessio was one of the cities awarded a national medal for the contributions of its partisans against the German and fascist occupation during World War II. This appears to be a monument to a fallen female partisan; in any case, it's very similar to Augusto Murer's famous Partigiana in the Venice lagoon.

We're crossing the river Tanaro, rushing northward past Alba and Asti and eventually to the Po. It's highly prone to flooding, most disastrously in 1994, and most recently right here two weeks ago (11 October 2018). Flooding is presently occurring all over Italy, and the Tanaro today looks like it might be getting ready to join the club.

High waters on the Tanaro

We're taking a quick look around this part of town, then back on the road. This is the Via Vittorio Emanuele II.

According to the panel, this is the ancient door of the Church of St John, now a florist's shop evidently.

The parish Chiesa di S. Caterine d'Alessandria, designed by Francesco Gallo, 1723-1740

Nothing very special, to our tastes at least

Just time for a coffee . . .

. . . in the Kavarna-Pub. In fact, as we drove up the hill out of town, we saw that there was a great deal more to Garessio, including a medieval quarter, extending up along the road.

Progressing towards the Colle San Bernardo . . .

. . . which is right here at 957m asl, with its own small wind farm. It's still in the province of Cuneo but we are soon descending into the province of Savona, region of Liguria.

The next appreciable town will be Erli, from which we will wind up a smaller road to Castelvecchio.

Erli is below left-centre, and Castelvecchio is above it just to its right.

Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena

A small cluster of fewer than 200 residents, the town is properly called Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, to distinguish it from all the other 'old castles' in Italy. It's named for the nearby mountain Rocca Barbena (1,142m) which is on the divide between the Po Valley and Ligurian Sea watersheds.

We're in a public carpark looking down onto the village and . . .

. . . looking straight across at the castello. Not in the best state of repair, it seems. It was originally built, evidently in the 9th century, to cover the route over to the Piemonte plain, an important route for pilgrims and merchants at the time. It passed into the locally very important Del Vasto family in 1100, we're told, and was the main military stronghold in these parts until the mid-1200s. This branch of the Vasto family founded the line of Marquises of Clavesana, and this is sometimes referred to as the Castello dei Clavesana, not to be confused with the Clavesana Castle or Castle of Cervo in Cervo on the coast near Imperia.

We'll parachute down into the village to see what's what, and then see if we can clamber all the way back up here again.

The central piazza, the Piazza delle Torre, dated to 1492. In 1326, the castle passed by marriage to the Del Carretto family, the Marquises of Carretto, but when in 1397 the head of the family became Marquis of Zuccarelli and moved his HQ to that town, this village went into decline. It was occupied by the Carrettos again in the 16th century but was taken over by Savoyard militias in the 17th. One wing of the castle was severely damaged by artillery during a siege by Genoese forces in 1672 and was never repaired -- the rest of it can be visited nowadays, evidently, but we saw no sign of that.

Some of the old town walls are on the left, and on the right an oratorio of the Disciplinati di Santa Maria Maddalena, the 'disciplinaries' of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene in the classic pose, and with skull.

We're looking for that little church now.

Down this way?


The Chiesa di Nostra Signora Assunta, Our Lady of the Assumption, originally from the 15th century but renovated in a Baroque style in the 17th. Locked up tight.

We'll see if we can get into the castle -- sneaking up on it like Genoese sappers.

A nice little arch, presumably helping to keep the old buildings upright

A lot of nice little arches!

Moving slowly upward -- this, actually, is the Via Roma.

We're as near to the castle as we're going to get -- we've hit a locked gate on the path, which may not even be the right path. We can see our cute little Volvo in that buttress carpark across the way.

One thing we've noticed during our visit to Castelvecchio: we never saw a single other human being.

The Piazza delle Torre, with the tower itself, according to the plan below, the Torre dell'Impiccato, the 'Hanged Man Tower' probably, dated to 1448.

A helpful guide to the attractions

We're on the road again, back down to the SP528 and 2km onward down to Zuccarello.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 23 December 2018.

Bobbio and
October 2018