Mountain valleys of Piemonte: Part 4 The Valle Po

Published on:  | Last updated: 9 February 2018

The source of the Po

The Valle Po with Monviso in the distance

The Valle Po with Monviso in the distance

This section of the route takes you to Saluzzo and then climbs, following the river Po, to its source at the Pian del Re (plain of the king) - altitude 2020 metres.

Along the way there are couple of particular highlights:

  • the Castello della Manta.
  • the village of Balma Boves. This is an abandoned village near Paesana that provides a fascin­ating view of life in the mountains as it was, within living memory.

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Valle Po distances
Piasco - Castello della Manta 11kms
Castello della Manta - Saluzzo 4kms
Saluzzo-Paesana 24kms
Paesana - Pian del Re 23kms
Total 80 kms

The Castello della Manta

The castle itself would be well with the entry price (not to mention the climb) in its own right, but there are some excep­tional frescoes. The best known is the fresco of the Fountain of Youth a mythical fountain that would restore old people to their youth. The fresco shows the newly rejuvenated old people enjoying their second blooming.

Castello della Manta: detail from the fontana della giovinezza fresco

Castello della Manta: detail from the fontana della giovinezza (fountain of youth) fresco

The castle is owned by the voluntary organ­isation FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) . The castle was donated to the FAI and they have painstak­ingly restored it.

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Between March and September the castle is open every day except Mondays from 10 until 18:00. Admission is 7 euros (with a reduc­tions for students and members of the British National Trust) (check opening hours and other inform­ation on the FAI website: visitfai.it: Castello della Manta.

View the FAI's album of photos of the Castello della Manta on flickr.com.

Saluzzo

Saluzzo is the main city of the area. It was once the capital of an independent Marquisate. Chaucer mentions, Saluces as it was known, in his Canterbury Tales:

Ther is, at the west syde of Ytaille,
Doun at the roote of Vesulus the colde,
A lusty playne, habundant of vitaille,
Where many a tour and toun thou mayst biholde
That founded were in tyme of fadres olde,
And many another delitable sighte,
And Saluces this noble contree highte.

Chaucer: The Clerk's Tale

There is, in western Italy,
At the foot of cold Monte Viso
A fertile plain, with abundant crops,
Where many a tower and town you may behold
That were founded in the times of ancient fathers,
And many other delightful sight,
The name of this county was Saluces.

Saluzzo is a historic and authentic city, that would make a good place to stopover for the night, or for a meal, or simply to wander around and enjoy the delitable sightes.

Saluzzo shop sign

Saluzzo shop sign

Balma Boves

Balma Boves. This is an abandoned village near Paesana that shelters under a huge rocky outcrop. It recalls the Anasaazi pueblos in the south-western United States.

The hamlet is tiny: only three families lived here. The village offers a glimpse of village life as it must have been within living memory: the last inhab­itant left in 1960s - you can still see the bike that he used to ride to and from work at the nearby power station, until one day he decided that enough was enough and went to live in the town - where presumably one of the attrac­tions was electricity.

House in the uninhabited village of Balma Boves, near Sanfront, Piemonte

House in the uninhabited village of Balma Boves, near Sanfront, Piemonte

The villagers built terraces for wine and fruit, and you can see the rooms used for roasting and drying chestnuts (used to make flour), the baskets they used for hauling chestnuts and straw on their backs. and the communal oven used for making bread.

It's about a half hour walk to climb to Balma Boves. You'll defin­itely need shoes with grippy soles.

In principle it's visitable at any time, but the interiors of the buildings are only open when on summer Sundays (check the website above for current opening hours). Admission is 3 euros. Getting there: turn off the road following the signs for the Frazione Rocchetta.

The climb to the source of the Po

The Valle Po - Pian della Regina with Monviso shrouded by clouds

The Valle Po - Pian della Regina with Monviso shrouded by clouds

If you've been scrolling down and wondering when I'm going to stop banging on about castles and abbeys, here's the moment you've been waiting for…

The climb to the source of the Po takes you to the plateau of the Pian del Re (2020). From Paesana (614m) it's 18.5 kilometres and just over 1400 metres of climbing to the rifugio at the end of the tarmac road. Most of the climbing is concen­trated in the last 7.5 kilometres from Crissolo (1318m).

It's a very scenic ride with views of Monte Viso (or Monviso) in Italy it's also known as the Il Re di Pietra (The king of stone or stone king). 500 metres higher than the neigh­bouring peaks it is the landmark that is visible for miles around - on a clear day you can see it from the towers of the Duomo di Milano.

Ostana

If you have the time, it's well worth a short detour to Ostana - one of the Borghi Belli d'Italia (Beautiful Villages of Italy). The bar-restaurant at the Rifugio Galaberna looked so attractive and the people so friendly, when I stopped off for a coffee, that way I wished I hadn't already had lunch. It also looked like a nice place to stay.

Options

The route connects with the Po cycleway, so from here you could follow the Po to Torino and then across country. for more inform­ation see my guide to eurovelo 8 in Italy, or Ciclovia del Po on bicitalia.org.

If you don't mind a short detour then I'd highly recommend a visit to the Abbazia di Santa Maria Staffarda. There's also a very good restaurant in the complex ristoranteilsigillo.com (closed on Mondays).

You could also follow the Ciclovia Pedemontana Alpina north towards Pinerolo.

Cyclo-Monviso has inform­ation about a number of routes in and around Saluzzo.

The uninhabited village of Balma Boves: the bike belonged to the last inhabitant of the village

The uninhabited village of Balma Boves: the bike belonged to the last inhab­itant of the village

More information

Places to stay

Hotels and B&Bs etc

Useful links:

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route Saluzzo | Paesana | Sanfront

About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accom­mod­ation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.

Hostels

There are four hostels or rifugi along this section of the route:

The Rifugio Galaberna in Ostana offers economical rooms.

Campsites

I stayed at the Campeggio Valle Po in Paesana.

There's also:

  Map of campsites along the route:  MVP-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    MVP-campsites-map-show map in new window   

Resources

Tourist information websites

The best site for general tourist inform­ation about the area is vallevaraita.cn.it(it/​fr/​en/​de)

For Saluzzo see saluzzoturistica.it.

The tourist inform­ation site for the whole Cuneo area is cuneoholiday.com (fr/​en/​de/​it).

Cycling information

Cyclo-Monviso is a cross-border project involving the Italian towns of Saluzzo, Racconigi, Savigliano and the Val Varaita with the French town of Guillestre. The major route is the signposted route over the Colle dell'Agnello. The project has produced a useful leaflet (fr/​it/​en) about the Val Varaita. It's available from tourist offices and you can download it from visitterredeisavoia.it (direct download link:  Cyclo-Monviso Val Varaita

Articles in this series:


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