This past Fall, my husband and I and a few of our friends took a motorcycle day trip to Vogogno, a small hamlet tucked away in the mountains of Northern Italy. It was a quintessential autumn day with the leaves on the trees beginning to turn shades of burnt orange, amber golds, and burgundy reds. The air was clean and crisp with a sky resembling an unbroken sea of robin’s egg blue. Simple perfection and the perfect backdrop to wind our way around on country roads carpeted with leaves, past stunning lakes before pushing our way inland into a stunning valley with majestic mountains rising up around us.
Vogogna is a small medieval town nestled in the heart of Ossola valley (Val d’Ossola) between Lake Maggiore and Lake Merges near the border of Switzerland in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Thanks to its strategic position in the 14th century by Giovanni Visconti, the Bishop and Lord of Milan, to be the capital of the Lower Ossola valley and it became the political and administrative capital of the area.
We parked our bikes and literally went back in time to the 14th Century. Vogogna has the highest percentage of preserved buildings from the medieval period in the Piedmont region of Italy so it makes it especially impressive and it feels like you are literally taking a walk back in time.
If you have the chance to go,which I highly recommend if you visit the Milan area, here are some of the highlights I suggest for you to see and do:
This castle was built by Giovanni Visconti in the 14th century as a defense bastion due to its dominating position in respect to the rest of the village. Today they have an interesting museum that depicts the flora and fauna of the region and fantastic collection of dress from the medieval time period.
It has an interesting round tower and if you make the climb up to the top, you will be rewarded with a spectacular panorama view of Vogogna, the valley and the surrounding mountains plus if you feel so inclined you can have a swing; which of course I did. The castle became a prison in the second half of the 18th century and you can see the graffiti of some of the prisoners etched into the stone walls as you explore the rooms off of the tower.
Besides catching these highlights, take some time to wander around the town, down the side streets and lose yourself in the rich medieval history this town has to offer.
If you are up for some more adventurous walking or hiking, there are two self guided tours, “The breath of history” with an historical and anthropological theme, and the “Geographical Trail”. You can check out the specifics at http://www.parcovalgrande.it(the site is also in English). They are both spectacular and it gives you a real feel of the natural surroundings around Vogogna.
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t highlight some of the local delicacies you should try when visiting the area.
Prunet Wine – This wine has a storied history. Ancient Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, wrote about the Celtic tribes of the Northern Piedmont region having a grape that they were cultivating which he referred to as “Prunus Spinosa” or the “wild prune”. Prunet wine was first documented in 1309 and is considered the original Nebbiolo. It has a deep ruby color with flecks of garnet. It has a complex aroma of floral and vanilla notes with a full bodied structure and a spicy aftertaste. It pairs beautifully with meats and cheeses. Today, there is only one winery – Cantina Garrone – that produces this wine. In fact, they pioneered an association of mountain organic growers to restore and restart production of this wine on a larger and more professional manner.
You can visit the winery where you can sample the wines, take a meal. They also have a very quaint b&b if you feel like staying overnight. You can check out the winery at: http://www.cantinegarrone.it
Coimo Brown Bread
This bread has very ancient origins. It was originally produced with buckwheat flour. Today it is made with rye wholemeal flour (80 to 90%) and wheat flour and brewers yeast. The end resulti s a dark brown, round and flat load; crusty on the outside and a compact soft center.
If you visit this area, then a must try is the gnocchi. It is the most famous dishes of the local cuisine. The gnocchi are made from a mixture of chestnut flour, pumpkin puree, and boiled potatoes, It is usually sauteed in brown butter and sprinkled with a bit of local cheese. I will be posting a recipe for this soon.
How to get there:
By train: Vogogna station vie trenitalia. You can look at timetable at: http://www.trenitalia.com
By car or motorcycle: Take the A26 motorway to Gravelling Toce, the SS 33 (Sempione), and take Exit Piedimulera-Vogogna
Where to Eat:
Ristorante Vecchio Borgo, Piazza Chiesa, 7 Vogogna, Telephone: +39 0324 87504
Happy wanderings and Buon Appetito!