We feel that the hidden gems along the way often offer the best of travel, one of these jewels was the little town of Castelletto d’Orba tucked in the hills between Alessandria and Genoa.
This community of about two thousand turned out to be the kind of place we could get to know, even on a short visit.
People have been living on this spot since Roman times, making it one of the oldest towns in the region. As the name implies, there is a castle here, overlooking the Orba river, but it is not really the fairytale variety fortress.
It is more utilitarian in style, a large block of a building, good for keeping enemies at bay.
First built about twelve hundred years ago by the Marquis of Parodi Obertenghi, the present version is “like new” at only about eight hundred years old, and is the work of the Marquis of Monferrato.
But we didn’t come to Castelletto for the castle, we came for Rassegna Dei Vini e Dei Sapori Dell’Alto Monferrato, the “Review of Wines and Flavors of High Monferrato.”
Wine and food, just gotta love it. Because the town is famous for several of the most popular types of wine in the area – and they had asked David, along with our friend, Paolo Bonfanti-musician extraordinaire, to perform a concert as a part of the festivities – you couldn’t keep us away.
Before the show we had time to explore a bit, and sample some of the local vino e cucina.
Epicurean artisans had set up tables displaying their efforts all over town showcasing fresh cheeses, breads, olives, meats and the star of the show, wines, available to sample and purchase.
In addition to the food and drink, the festival incorporated the art of many local talents into the celebration.
We watched in awe while artists showed off the process of creating their works, sculptors chipping away at a chunks of marble, painters painting frescoes directly on to the walls along the narrow streets of the old town.
It was fascinating to eavedrop as they added the colors to the wet plaster, maintaining the exact style of the ancient masters.
Wandering the ancient streets we took in a few of Castelleto’s landmarks.
The Gates into the walls of the old town are perfectly preserved in the Porta Superiore and Porta della Berlina and The Tower Buzzi still stands proud after well over one thousand years.
The Chiesa di San Lorenzo, or Church of St. Lawrence, is the town’s most ornate building and dominates the main square.
While certainly more flashy, it has two older siblings here, the oldest being dedicated to St. Innocenzo, or Innocent, which was built around the year 320 on the site of an old Roman temple.
St. Innocenzo became a martyr and his remains reside in the towns main church, the Chiesa di San Antonio.
As luck would have it, the square in front of Saint Anthony’s was where the concert was to be held.
In fact, the stage was set up on the church steps, directly in front of the main doors.
While we were setting up our instruments, parishioners leaving Saturday evening Mass had to work their way between the drums and amplifiers to get out.
We’re pretty sure that a rock & roll concert on the steps of a cathedral housing the relics of a martyred saint is a uniquely Italian experience. With the exception of a few old ladies exiting Mass, and us, everyone seemed to think it was perfectly normal.
After the show we crashed in a wonderful little inn called the Casa Fonte Volpe, or the Fox Spring House. We learned the next morning that this was a true bed and breakfast when we were invited into the owner’s kitchen for a typical Italian family breakfast.
Sandra and Daniele, the perfect hosts, served up pastries, espresso and juice, and we were joined by their amazing kids Marta and Vittoro, while we discussed the history of the area and the house.
Turns out we had slept in the barn. Well not anymore.
The couple bought this old farm a few years ago and have done a splendid job reconfiguring it into a welcoming guest house.
We spent a perfect rainy morning in animated conversation, getting caffeinated, filled up and filled in on everything from music to politics to the kids’ lives.
We most certainly left Castelleto d’Orba feeling like we had found new friends.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com