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THE Paradise of BacchusOLTREPO 'PAVESE


THE Paradise of Bacchus

The articles were published in Speciali di Motociclismo, Superwheels and Motoitalia magazines in 2003.

How not to deepen a visit to the Oltrepò Pavese, one of the most renowned and important wine areas of the peninsula. Here, the areas destined for the cultivation of vineyards are equal to 50% of all Lombard wine production.

Read the story published in the Superwheels magazine.

Read the story published in the Motoitalia magazine.

The Oltrepo: throughout the Middle Ages, a land of castles, a land of weddings and battles, of inaccessible towers, a coveted prize for winners, a land of steps and tolls, of monks and poets.

The power and the nobility had given the entire Apennines a fief and precious and simple goods, such as salt, departed from the ports in the shadow of the lookout towers, destined for the villages and cities that were slowly being reborn in the plain.

And with the goods, thoughts, words, ideas and hopes traveled and traveled all over Europe.

And then in a short and tasty itinerary we go to the exploration of the Oltrepo.

Best periods April and May and of course September and early October, the harvest period.

The conditions of the road surface are generally good, except for depressions due to the clayey substrate, which is prone to settling.

We start from Voghera, easily reachable with the A7, leave the city and head towards Varzi, taking the SS 461 of Passo Penice.

Medieval memories already begin with Rivanazzano; the pentagonal tower on the square is singular, while the Castle of Nazzano dominates the town.

Entering Val Stàffora we will have the sensation of a new painting, the panorama suddenly opens, the hills begin to show the mountains in the background and the valley in front of our wheels is wide and green.

Shortly after Ponte Nizza, we turn left into a silent road in the woods heading towards the Abbey of Sant’Alberto di Butrio, a marvel of medieval architecture, founded in the 11th century by the Benedictine hermit of the same name. It is a complex of civil and religious buildings, built in different eras, dominated by a solid quadrangular tower, the rest of the walls that defended the Abbey.

Before entering Varzi we will again see a magnificent medieval building, the mighty Castle of Oramala which at 758 meters above Poggio Ferrato dominates the entire valley; the road from Sant’Alberto to Varzi, although spectacular, is steep, dirty and bumpy.

Varzi has a fantastic set of natural beauties, mild climate, blue skies, scents, flavors, colors, suggestions.

The views are very varied: the mountains and hills covered with luxuriant vegetation, the waters of the Stàffora that flow happily, the roofs and walls with delicate colors softly softened by time.

The medieval old town is definitely worth a visit. The characteristic corners are innumerable and it is easy to invent an ever-changing route: via del Mercato, via della Maiolica, vicolo Dietro le Mura, Via Roma, via Di Dentro. Here beats the oldest "heart" of Varzi. Everywhere you can breathe the air of the past: eight centuries of history documented in the testimonies of its churches, its towers, its castle.

Characteristic are the two gates, La Soprana and La Sottana, both surmounted by towers and the Malaspina Castle, which has become a private home.

We will now enter the Apennine heart of the Oltrepo, continuing on the SS 461.

The wood slowly begins to close on the road until once it becomes dense and in dim light: we are climbing on the 1460 meters of Passo Penice, a road that is a meeting place for all motorcyclists from Pavia. Watch out for those in the mood for ballistic performance along the hairpin bends and stretches.

The whole area is dotted with villages that retain a medieval aspect, and you can feel the fact that you are walking along a borderland. On favorable days you can feel the sea in the air and in the light.

Once on the hill it is almost a must to go to the top of the mountain where suddenly the boundless distance of the Alps assails us.

Among the telecommunication antennas there is the small church of Monte Penice whose construction can be traced back to about 1000 years ago.

We go down now and in the locality of Casa Matti we take the road to Romagnese where the Alpine Garden of Pietra Corva is interesting, numerous rare plant species grow there and come from the most diverse mountain environments, from the Andes to the Pyrenees. Even for those who are not fond of botany, the Garden is in any case a pleasant walk, and in spring of course the flowering of the plants is at its maximum.

We now head towards Zavattarello, a small town surrounded by woods, has buildings with characteristic stone-covered facades and is dominated by the Castle which is high above the town, in an impregnable position and appears very well preserved thanks to long restoration works that remedied to the devastation of the Second World War.

From here we head towards Strabella; at Casa Marchese the road begins to rise again with many beautiful curves, in a fascinating landscape of woods and stone houses.

We are going towards the Passo del Carmine, at the top you can make a short diversion to visit the Molato artificial lake, before starting again in the direction of Santa Maria della Versa.

Soon the vines return to keep us company while the wood thins out and here and there glimpses of panorama open towards the Po Valley. On clear spring days we will even see the Alps in the background.

On a hillock, before entering Santa Maria della Versa, the small village of Soriasco is beautiful, dominated by a mighty thirteenth-century tower, the only remnant of the castle that was destroyed by the Piacentines.

In Santa Maria the Cantina Sociale is imposing, on the left, with the Grapperia in front, the two buildings are connected by the Vinacciodotto and the Grappodotto, galleries that bring the raw material of Grappa to the distillery and bring the finished product back to aging.

It can be interesting to visit the cellars, which extend over several floors underground.

The road is now in a valley floor where almost all the houses stand.

The vineyards stretch out on the hillsides and at almost every crossroads we will find signs for this or that farm.

Almost all wineries allow you to taste and buy their wines.

If you want you can make other detours towards the hills scattered with vineyards of Rovescala, Montù Beccarla, almost on the border with Piacentino and San Damiano al Colle.

In Montescano, in front of the Winery of the Cantina Sociale di Santa Maria della Versa stands an incredible Monument to the Bottle, whose construction a few years ago aroused lively discussions.

We soon arrived in Stradella and at the end of our little tour of the Oltrepo hilly area.

We pass from the square to see the Tower, the last remnant of the Castle. At this point we will be on the flat again, near the highway we left a few hours ago.

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