Dwight Peck's personal website

Northwestern Italy in the winter

A very brief, valedictory exploration in northern Italy, 23-26 February 2019

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.

To the Canavese -- first stop, the Vecchio Mulino in Bairo

23 February 2019

Over the Grand St Bernard and down the Aosta Valley, we're passing Fort Bard on a 2½ drive to tiny Bairo in the Canavese.

Bairo, population ca. 800, is a tiny village in the Piedmont or Piemonte region, within the limits of the Metropolitan City of Torino, though in fact it's about 37km (23mi) north of downtown Torino. It's just 14km southwest of Ivrea, more or less central to the area historically known as the Canavese, which extends out along the subalpine countryside from the foot of the Aosta Valley.

There's not much to see in Bairo itself, to be honest, nor in many of the small towns nearby (except adjacent Agliè), but we're booked into this venerable mill now brilliantly restored as a B&B and venue for events (and restaurant on some nights) -- Il Vecchio Mulino, the Old Mill -- just two kilometres through the countryside south of the town centre.

The story of the mill began during the French occupation of the Canavese in the 16th century, when the commander of the French troops, the Marshal of France, Charles de Cossè, Count of Brissac, got permission from the French king Henri II to construct an irrigation canal, called the 'Caluso Canal', from the river Orco in nearby Castellamonte, past Bairo and Agliè, to his own lands in Caluso, a distance of some 17km, which was evidently completed in 1559.

In 1561, Marshal Cossè de Brissac licensed the community of Bairo to build a three mill-wheel mill here where the canal passes closest to the town, whereby the commune could profit by leasing it to an operator who could charge for grinding the cereals and pounding hemp for the local population. That relationship continued into the 20th century, with a few legal disputes from time to time, until the last operating miller died in 2006, and the facility passed to his two grandsons, who've renovated it beautifully, with a new wing, from 2008 to 2013 and opened it for commercial use.

The Vecchio Mulino has nine rooms of a kind of rustic elegance, like this one, and . . .

. . . a comfortable central salon that converts within seconds to a dining room when a party books an 'event'. A small party was here on our first night, and at our own table off to the side we had an excellent meal of an interminable string of interesting antipasti, followed (already stuffed) by a pre-set primo and/or secondo that (in my case, the primo) was great. On our second night, no groups were booked and they weren't serving, and it's not the work of a moment to find an alternative restaurant in the area. But with the help of some local teenagers we were led to the local birreria, which was not bad at all.

Melvin the Doge awaiting the Cat-Rapture

Souvenirs of the old milling days

The old mill and its new wing, security-fenced in on both sides as the canal passes round both sides of the building to maximize the mill-wheel opportunities.

We're presently at Station 4, the 'Mulino di Bairo', of the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano)'s collaborative project with local comunes and banks for the rehabilitation of the Canale di Caluso itself, begun in 2016. This part looks completed, but on the other side the works continue.

Looking towards the mountains -- that's the Gran Paradiso National Park up there somewhere. The ditch below is the other branch of the canal undergoing rehabilitation; the two branches rejoin just behind us, past the mill.

The breakfast room

Il Vecchio Mulino

We're off for some sightseeing, 24 February 2019 -- that's the comune of Bairo coming up.

The local church and civic tower

And the central piazza

Downtown Bairo

And, to be honest, that's about it for Bairo, for us discerning tourists anyway.

But, as we head out to the autostrada for a short run to Torino or Turin, we're privileged to pass by the back half of the Castello Ducale of Agliè -- we took the tour last May 2018 but only saw it from the other side.

Next up: The Borgo Mediaevale in Torino, an 1884 recreation of a medieval castle and its village with everything copied from surviving structures in the Canavese and Val d'Aosta.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 23 March 2019.

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