OssolanoSometimes when I travel I find that I am so assaulted with  the newness of things, that it takes me a few weeks- even a few months- to truly begin to assimilate what I have learned. That said, I am finally starting to process some of my most recent experiences in the Langhe and Northern Piemonte.  I can say now that this was the most important, most rewarding, and most truly educational trip to Italy ever.

ProfessoreMy Piemonte experience this October was really the first time I think I have truly begun to understand the concept of Italian regionalism, or campanilismo.  For example, I knew that the Toscani (people from Tuscany), are somehow different culturally, geographically, historically, linguistically even, from the Pugliesi (the people of Puglia).  What I did not truly appreciate, was how driving within a region like Piemonte, you can reach, in under a couple of hours, many different worlds.

ValOssolaposizioneI left the Langhe, mythical wine region, well-known for its powerful and historically significant wineries and noble families, and I entered a part of Italy I never knew existed.  The Val D’Ossola of Northern Piemonte.  This is the little slice of Piemonte that juts out into the Alps like an icicle.  Surrounded on both sides by Switzerland, encroached upon by looming mountains and treacherous, inhospitable forest and impossible mountain roads.

When I think now of my experience driving through Val D’Ossola I am struck by the visions of stark beauty, untouched wilderness, secret mystical forest.  This is not the well-manicured, gently rolling noble elegance of the Langhe.  This is wild, untamed, dangerous, dark.  The people are decidedly Celtic-looking. Their dialect is impossible to understand- full of the clipped, musical sounds of Welsh or Gaulish.  They are the direct descendants of Pagan warriors who roamed these hillsides and mountaintops, protecting their clans from invasions, pushing forward through the mountains for fear of extinction.  Even today there is an air of self-protection, especially as the weather begins to turn inhospitably cold and wet, and winter looms closer.

Cows-2The Alta Piemontesi (Northern Piemonte people) are closed by nature, self-insulating and defined by a curious skepticism of outsiders.  Today in some of the most ancient towns in the Valley, where American or French archaeologists have restored many ancient ruins, the general sentiment is unclear as to whether or not the exposure- the “help” and the research- is entirely welcome.

ForestThis is not to say the Alta Piemontesi are inhospitable- in fact they are as gracious and congenial as possible.  However I wonder if I could ever truly fit in here.  Could I be really accepted?  I doubt it- as the place itself does not run through my veins.  There is a connection between these people and their land, that runs deeper than anywhere else I have experienced.  Even in this honorable pride, there is a profound sadness here.  Does it come from thousands of years of hardship?  Of death and freezing cold and starvation and warring clan-ships?  You can feel it in the local music- the crooning lonely tones of an ancient wind instrument and the relentless, primal beating of a drum.

1471These are people who wander the hillsides alone and find solace and comfort in the predictable unpredictability of the forests.  They work around each other, foraging mushrooms in silence, drinking coffee in the bars without much exchange or idle chatter.  But they are bound together by this place- this primal wilderness and all of its ancient secrets.

DuskI am find myself fascinated by Val D’Ossola- although I am not as comfortable here as I am in other parts of Italy.  I must be drawn to the secret society, the elite obscurity and the rich history I know is here, just waiting to be discovered.

*A special thanks to Diego Meraviglia and Cantina Garrone for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I love your mountains, too.

13 Responses

  1. Harold

    Thank you for this post! I am intrigued by this area but have been hesitant to explore. Much like years ago when I would walk the walls around Lucca looking into the mountains, drawn to the Garfagnana, only to discover some years later it is not nearly as inhospitable as I dreamed. The same when in Stresa and Verbania… what lies in those mountains to the north? Even just west in the area of Biella my eyes and heart would be tugged further up the mountains. Now, I will visit Val D’Ossola… maybe there are old Celtic strings pulling at me! The entire Piemonte region is my New Tuscany. I love this region. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Joanie Karapetian, Italian Wine Geek

      Hi Harold, Thanks for your comment! You really do need to visit Val D’Ossola. I am completely bewitched by this place and these people! My next post will be about the wines I stumbled upon there too… equally self-defining and ancient. Your site is also very interesting- maybe you need to do a tour of Northern Piemonte!? Thanks again.

      Reply
  2. mario

    Hello Joaine,
    I would like to say many thanks for what you had wrote about our Ossola and I hope to see you soon by us in our B/B Ca’ d’Mate’ in Oira.
    For us is very important because not a lot of people knows Ossola,
    ciao
    Mario

    Reply

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