Monday 14 June 2021

Cycling in the Uzzone Valley, the Langa of Cortemilia

by Toni Farina

Alta Langa, on the border with Liguria. The Uzzone stream flows into the Bormida di Millesimo in Cortemilia. The valley that takes its name is wedged between the Bormida di Millesimo Valley to the west and the Bormida di Spigno to the east.


A valley where the woods have largely replaced the crops of a time. However, the terraces are still visible in many areas that characterized the agricultural landscape in an important way.
Their historical and landscape value and the importance of their conservation are enshrined in the presence of the Ecomuseum of the Terraces and the Vine.
The absence of motor traffic, a real absence in many roads, makes the area ideal for cycling. You can program several days in absolute tranquility. What is said refers to three days in a clockwise direction: departure from Cortemilia, going on the right orographic ridge and returning to the opposite ridge.

Three days of cycling in Alta Langa, "in a free range of winds"

How not to think of Fenoglio (Il Partigiano Johnny) up here, on this welcoming ridge between the Uzzone Valley and the Bormida di Spigno Valley. Up here with the sea wind (the Marin) that envelops everything in humid and wandering mists, waiting for the Mistral wind that combs the grass and clears the horizons. 

Up here it is a challenge of twenty (without winners), a harbinger for us pedalers of opposing sensations: the first humid, the second exhilarating.

And these three days of pedaling in Alta Langa were really exciting.
Langa di Cortemilia, Langa of hazelnut and terracing. Langa di Fenoglio.

"Okay, I'll wait for you, but I can only give you breakfast ..."
"But there is a kitchen area ..."
The tone of voice of Tania, owner of the  B&B Il Poggio delle Ginestre, it is just the right professional, what is needed to put the potential guest at ease.
No dinner served therefore, but local kitchen available. That's okay, the bags are roomy and it won't be half a kilo of pasta and a can of (organic) peas to make the difference. In this era of Covid then, it is better to avoid the crowds. On the other hand, it is not difficult in Alta Langa.
As often happens, the journey begins on Google maps united in informing (and confusing) the traveler. Then there is the weather, which announces: scattered clouds on the first day, clear and windy (and cool) the other two.
The friend of mine Enrico Rivella, a sublime connoisseur of these places (and not only them), was generous with information and advice that we will only partially follow (time is running out).

Let's go!
Let's go, but when you get to Cortemilia the "scattered clouds" are actually low and compact clouds. The sea is not far away and imposes its rule of humid air that climbs the steep and verdant slopes of Liguria and creeps into the Langhe valleys, which are also green for this reason.

Direction Serole, after crossing the Uzzone stream, there are wide hairpin bends on the right side of the homonymous valley. The characteristic dry stone walls surround it, admirable testimonies of the rural world and its millenary know-how.
Going up, the mists turn into drizzle and force us to countermeasures. Out of the jackets, what will a bit of Langa dew ever be? And then in the afternoon the weather announces the sun ...
It borders, from the Langa of Cuneo to that of Asti. And Asti is the village of Serole. Few houses, a lot of quiet. Astigiana is also the drizzling mist, which however wets the same as that of the Granda. The map informs us that we have passed through the Bormida di Spigno Valley. You travel on a narrow and winding road, high on the picturesque gullies. Which would be even more picturesque if we could see them, but you don't go beyond the 10 meters granted by these marine vapors.
But where is the sun? My travel companions look at me badly ...
Suddenly, however, the hood rises and the road stretches out on a welcoming ridge.

We are back in the Uzzone Valley, but beware of the next crossroads that if we make a mistake we will find ourselves in Savona on the beach. We are on the border of Liguria, and Ligurian sounds have toponyms: Piana Crixia, the natural park, a starting point for future trips.

But now we stay in Piedmont. Despite the return of the fog we manage to identify the right direction: we go west, on a wider road that climbs from Pezzolo. The stillness continues to reign supreme, and so does the fog.
And it is by pure chance, or due to a favorable astral conjunction, that we see the signpost "Gorrino" in the scrub, Pezzolo hamlet, where the first night in Langa is scheduled. And it is again by pure chance, or by an even more favorable astral conjunction, that we see the signpost "B&B Poggio delle Ginestre". Hurray!

First day

Kilometers traveled: 17
Motor vehicles encountered: 3.

A landing place between woods and terraces
This is the Poggio delle Ginestre. For us, pedal travelers, a sumptuous shelter after a day of navigation by intuition, lost in the vapors that the Ligurian Sea sometimes sends to these parts.
To remind us that in Piedmont, in addition to the mountains, the plains and the hills (and which hills, in this case) there is also the sea. The two buildings of the b & b are the result of a wise and careful renovation. Renovation? Not at all! Tania, the owner, explains to us: “The structure was an old stone barn that I really wanted to recover and not simply renovate. The aim was to maintain the local style, using wood, stone and natural paints ”.
Chapeau a Tania (see video below).

A la carte dinner. Pasta, tuna and peas, as in the days of free youth camps. In this case, however, the dinner is complemented by a fresh goat robiolina, purchased from a nearby farm.
A product at "1 kilometers".
Dark comes early. Despite the absence of lights (what is light pollution?), Stubborn clouds hide the stars from us. But, in addition to being a landing place for sailors without a compass, the Poggio is also a landing place for winds.
They challenge each other continuously, and every victory is provisional. So it can happen that during the night the Mistral gets the better of the Scirocco (the Marin). And so, in the morning, looking out of the window, you rub your eyes for too much light.
And you get lost in an infinite and too blue sky, in elusive horizons. On one side the Ligurians, on the other the Cozie, and the church of Gorrino that emerges from the foliage.

We linger with pleasure: a look around, a look at the garden (bio: not just a slogan), a group photo, then off we go.
Today is a long stage, but haste is banned. The May sun is with us.

Let's go, "in a free wing of twenty".
Let's go. A greeting to the welcoming Poggio, you go through dense woods and sudden clearings and welcoming ridges.
And even more welcoming today is the ridge of yesterday that we reach by walking backwards for a while along the road of the day before. Up there, “in a free range of winds”, we hang between Piedmont and Liguria, with the Mistral that pushes us offshore.

Sail at noon, direction "Todocco Sanctuary".
The time to lay our gaze on Pian Soave (Soave in name and in fact) and the wood swallows us. Dense forest, but in the rare windows you can see the sanctuary, against the sky on a ridge.
From the deceptive map I imagined it on a plateau, but it is not. I imagined him silent, and so he is. Traveling during the week is a privilege.
At Todocco a pause for reflection is required. There are two roads and two possibilities to go down to the valley floor, in Castelletto Uzzone.
Direct, safe and without unknowns the first, well indicated by a road sign. The second is longer and completely uncertain, with no indications.
Obviously we choose the latter, relying on intuition and fate. Which lead us on a small road in the thick of the scrub, between walls surrounded by vegetation and scattered villages.

We only see the indications, will they really exist? With these questions (unanswered) we arrive at a crossroads, but above all we find, hanging in a precarious position on a log, the sign indicating "Castelletto Uzzone". You go down, and what a descent!
A swoop, to be faced with great caution. The gravel is very treacherous ...
With aching wrists and singing brakes, we leave the scrub to land in San Michele, a pretty village on the right side of the valley. And here the slope finally grants respite, with great relief for wrists and brakes.
(Photo 26 is missing) San Michele welcomes us with beautiful homes and an old chestnut tree. It stands there among the houses, like a monument, a natural sculpture. A totem, to which we pay due homage before descending on the last, and more relaxing, descent.

"Go up to Prunetto da Castelletto, the road is very beautiful"
His friend Enrico Rivella is right. We follow his advice and we are happy with it. Thanks Enrico.
Hairpin bends wind through woods and daisy-studded meadows.

Valuable artifacts (in the sense of hand-made) on the side of the road announce a beautiful experience: La Banca del Fare (do not confuse with the “government of doing”, please).
In Cascina Crocetta, every year in summer, an architectural recovery school is set up, curated by the Alta Langa di Monesiglio cultural park.
Student camps, where young people fix walls and slippers. They learn the art and put it aside. School and conservative recovery: good.

Higher up, the skyline of the Castello di Prunetto indicates the direction. The destination is the Locanda del Borgo, where the second night in Langa is planned.
Inn located in the village, in a singular location, dominated by the overhanging (and somewhat disturbing) wall of the castle.

Going up from Castelletto instead of from Gottasecca, as the initial idea predicted, we did not pass through Colma and the nearby Bosco di Faggi.
The May afternoon is “blue and long”, the intense light and the vigorous breeze invite you to supplement pedaling. The forest is there, in front, inviting on the homonymous Bric. Invitation accepted.
The beech forest is an experience of shade, or rather, of plays of light generated by the soft green leaves.
A pure beech forest, unique in these parts. We linger at the Rifugio dei Faggi, surrounded by trunks that point without hesitation towards the sky.
Then we go up to the top of the Bric: what do you want, we are mountaineers even here in the hills ...

Eight hundred meters, the Bric dei Faggi is the Cima Coppi of the journey. And at the inn, dinner is truly "a la carte". The accent of Marlene, the manager, betrays an overseas origin, carioca to be exact.
But the menu, rich, varied and absolutely local, tells us that there has been integration on these hills. Brazil and Langa united in welcoming.

Second day

Kilometers traveled: 35
Motor vehicles encountered: 7, 5 of which on the "busy" road at the bottom of the valley.

At the edge of the sky, between Uzzone and Bormida (by Millesimo)
This foresees the program of the third day. And as for the second, the rule is: no rush!
To respect it, we grant ourselves a prolonged greeting to the castle and the splendid Church of the Madonna del Carmine which keep company on the open knoll above the village (and above the village inn).

Even today the Mistral is the master and frees the horizons. The gaze sails from the Ligurians to Monte Rosa with the Monviso in pyramidal evidence. The Stone King is always exaggerated ...
Like the ruler of the Cozie, we too decide to exaggerate and so, instead of following the provincial road (where a car passes every half hour, more or less) we let ourselves be tempted by the narrow streets of the ridge. That's where the Mistral pushes us.

Ascents bold, followed by even more daring descents. But finally we arrive in Levice, a town lying on the Bormida side.
Senza lasciarci tentare da altre varianti seguiamo ora la via principale. Prossima meta “Bergolo”, borgo di cui conosciamo la fama e dove prevediamo uno spuntino. Bergolo, “paese di pietra”, ci accoglie con le sue vie selciate e i suoi murales.
E la sua quiete, davvero tanta in questo giorno infrasettimanale di maggio. Non scorgiamo nulla di aperto per cui non ci resta che proseguire. Con un certo rammarico si lascia il crinale per calare sul fondovalle.

“Due sono le strade e due sono le possibilità per scendere a Cortemilia. Diretta, sicura e senza incognite la prima, bene indicata da un cartello stradale. Del tutto incerta la seconda, diretta a Pezzolo e della quale non troviamo di indicazioni. Ovviamente scegliamo la seconda, affidandoci all’intuito e alla sorte.
Che ci conducono su una stradina che scende tosto nel fitto della macchia.
Scende? Mai verbo fu più inadatto! Ancora una picchiata, da affrontare con suprema cautela. Polsi dolenti, freni che gemono. Chi lascia la via principale per la via ignota… trova un bel ciabot di singolare forma a lato strada.

L’incontro compensa il disagio, qualche tornante ancora ed ecco, improvviso e insperato, il fondovalle, l’acqua limpida dell’Uzzone. In planata distesa e rilassante da Pezzolo ne seguiamo le anse verso Cortemilia. Dove, tre giorni addietro, è iniziato il viaggio.

Terzo giorno

Kilometers traveled 20 + 10 for variants
Motor vehicles encountered 10 up to Cortemilia
In Cortemilia: many, too many ...

Epilogue: this land is made up of terraces
Attenzione! Ci eravamo scordati il traffico e così a Cortemilia rischiamo di finire arrotati. Il progresso impone le sue regole (poco rispettate, peraltro),
after all, we too have come this far by car ... but this afternoon in May is blue and long, leaving this corner of former Savoyard land too quickly would be unforgivable.
And so we decide to use the time that the afternoon (blue and long) generously allows us to appreciate what the fog of the first day prevented us: Monte Oliveto, with the spectacular sequence of terraces overlooking the Pieve di Santa Maria.

The terraces are changes to the environment that have become landscape, to be preserved and made known: this is the purpose of the Ecomuseo dei Terrazzamenti e della Vite which is based in Cortemilia and which has its nodal center in Monte Oliveto.
Going up some hairpin bends towards Serole the show is complete. The light is very different from two days ago.

The challenge of winds is for now won by the Mistral, but soon it will be Marin's turn again.
Without clouds, the blue of the sky would not be appreciated.
And without the rain that comes from the sea, this May Langa wouldn't be so green.
Au revoir!

Video on the Uzzone Valley

Video taken from:


Download here the GPX file of path 1 from

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