Following the flow
From Turin to Saluzzo, visiting the ancient abbeys and enchanting castles of Piedmont
From Turin we take the South ring-road (tangenziale sud) as far as the La Loggia exit and, after a short stretch of the SS20 highway, we come to the first site on our itinerary, Vallinotto, where to find the delightful Sanctuary of the Visitation built in 1738 on a hexagonal plan and the undisputed masterpiece of the young Bernado Antonio Vittone.
To reach Villafranca Piemonte we take the secondary road which skirts the river Po, where to breathe the atmosphere of the ancient Via del Sale which, since 1100 has animated the riverbanks. Those visiting the area in September, should be sure not to miss the Fishermen's Festival which celebrates the centuries-old fishing tradition of the Po. Before departing from Villafranca, obligatory a visit to the Missione Chapel, earliest documentary evidence of which dates back to the 11th century. The façade of the building is of particular note; adorned with fabulous frescoes which bear the mark of the studios of Bernardino Luini, pupil of the great Leonardo.
Just 10kms away, we find the town of Cavour, behind which lies the Rocca di Cavour, the powerful form of the ancient fortress rises up from the flood plains to dominate the surrounding countryside. The imposing edifice can be reached by foot from the center of town, along a pedestrian highway. The Rocca, which is part of the Parco della Fascia Fluviale del Po, is situated in a quite unique landscape: where the remains of megalithic carvings, polychrome paintings from the Neolithic age, and the ruins of medieval castles cohabit with the lush flora of this fertile land. In the vicinity, within the Park of the Rocca, there is the Abbey of Santa Maria, founded in 1037, and considered to be one of the most significant Romanesque buildings in Piedmont.
After Cavour we come to Bagnolo Piemonte, where to visit the 12th century Malingri Castle; encircled by three surrounding walls and accessible by foot along pathways through centuries old woodland.
A little further along the Provincial 27 road, and its time to stop off for something to eat at Barge; a small town resting at the feet of Monte Bracco and Monte Media, famous for its batiaje; crunchy biscuits made with cornflour and an ample quantity of local butter.
Not far from Barge, in the Saluzzo plain, we find the Abbey of Santa Maria of Staffarda, the foundation of which dates back to 1135. The elegant cloisters and Romanesque-Gothic church are more than worthy of visit.
Having passed the village of Revello, we arrive at Saluzzo, capital of the powerful marquisate since 1142. During the month of May, the town hosts the prestigious "National Antiques Show". The most enchanting of the streets through the medieval historic center is that of the Salita al Castello, which, past elegant patrician town houses and the Torre Civica, leads up the hill to the Castiglia, the town's 13th century Castle.
In the direction of Cuneo, just 3kms from the town of Saluzzo, we find the Castle della Manta. Constructed in the 12th century as military outpost, the fortress was enlarged at the start of the 15th century to become the magnificent family residence of the Marquis of Saluzzo. It was this noble family who commissioned the cycle of frescoes depicting Prodi and Eroine; characters taken from Le Chevalier Errant, the novel written by the Marquis Tommaso III, and to be seen in the Baronal Hall. Just as worthy of admiration is the fresco of the Fountain of Youth created some time before 1420 and which depicts the lustful meetings between young lovers with such desecrating irony, as if to suggest the existence of another, more noble, form of courtship.