ITINERARY 1 Acqui – Cavatore – Ponzone Pieve di Ponzone
This itinerary gradually climbs up the Apennine roads that from Acqui lead towards the sea, far from the valley floor routes. It meets castles and parish churches, characteristic hilltop villages and towers that once protected a territory whose control represented for centuries, the political, military and economic authority in a strategic area between the Po Valley and the sea.
Leave Acqui T. and the Bagni area passing across the “Carlo Alberto” bridge, built in the first half of the 19th century; the river’s right bank offers a panoramic view overlooking the Roman aqueduct, datable to the 2nd century AD, that once supplied the city with the waters from the Erro torrent situated in the Lago Scuro locality. The itinerary continues for 12 km along the Erro valley, proceeding straight on along the road 334 to Sassello, but then turn to the left following the direction for Cavatore. The last view before climbing towards the Apennine area of the Ponzonese opens onto the Bormida valley and the Alessandria plain on the horizon. This is the wildest aspect of the Acquese area, which is divided between badlands and woods rich in mushrooms and game, that are distinctive characteristics of the Apennine area.
The village of Cavatore is nestled away on a hill with its square tower that was firmly owned for centuries by Acqui’s bishops, that guarded the plain and the borders of the Erro and Bormida valleys, positioned in eye contact with the other towers of Terzo and Castelletto d’Erro. Dated between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, the tower is connected to the village where some 16th and 17th century noble houses and the late Renaissance parish church of Sant’Antonio still remain. A short walk away, next to the cemetery, is the Church of San Lorenzo, an ancient Romanesque parish church, which preserves, in addition to the beautiful apse in square stone segments, some frescoes traces from the late ‘400 early ‘500 representing a series of saints to be attributed to two different artists. Cavatore can also be reached from the hamlets of Lussito and Ovrano, where we recommend a visit to the suggestive tiny church of Ss. Nazario and Celso, situated by the cemetery of Ovrano, that preserves the Romanesque portal, the walls and the semicircular apse. Continue the itinerary along the ridge, and you’ll reach Ponzone, an ancient feud belonging to a branch of the Del Carretto family, now a holiday resort appreciated by the Genoese and Savonians for its fresh summer climate. Ponzone, is a village dominating the Erro valley with an breathtaking view overlooking the Alps, and for centuries was a crossroads for trade and transit across the plain and the sea, and was therefore the centre of many disputes regarding the control of the roads network, the salt and oil routes that crossed the Apennine territory between Acqui and the coast. Ponzone still preserves the parish church of San Michele, designed by Bartolomeo Scapitta dating from the end of the 16thcentury to the beginning of the 17th century, the portico houses and the oratory of the Suffragio, which were built at the same time. The oratory houses the Museum of Sacred Art where the barrel vault frescoed by the local painter Pietro Ivaldi, known as “il Muto” is worth mentioning; it also houses various wooden statues dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as the wonderful Vision of St. Giovanni Evangelista in Patmos of the Maragliano. The castle, that underwent different archaeological excavations, was destroyed in the seventeenth century by the Spaniards: ruins and foundations are still visible. After leaving Ponzone, the itinerary descends to the right towards the Erro valley, along a narrow and panoramic road that connects the ridge with the bottom of the valley, passing by the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pieve, a destination for devotional pilgrimages, founded in the eleventh century and rebuilt in 1694, with its harmonious chapels representing the “Via Crucis”. The facade preserves the baroque portal of mid17th century, inside you can admire fine paintings of Piedmontese and Ligurian schools. According to the legend, the Madonna appeared to a deaf-dumb girl who was grazing her flock and asked her to build a small church right there. Subsequently, the girl began to talk about the Apparition and was believed by everyone. The Sanctuary was used by the local rural population on the right bank of the river. Afterwards when you reach the bridge of Guadobono you go down the Erro valley again.
ITINERARY 2 Malvicino – Turpino – Montechiaro – Castelletto d’Erro – Arzello
After visiting the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pieve in Ponzone and the suggestive Via Crucis, the itinerary continues downhill to the bottom of the valley and reaches the state road 334; from here it goes up to Malvicino, Turpino, Montechiaro, Castelletto d’Erro and finally to the Romanesque church of S. Secondo in Arzello, crossing charming and panoramic roads, surrounded by chestnut woods and featuring suggestive rock formations called badlands “calanchi” that confer a rough character to these hills that are the watershed between the Erro and Bormida valleys.
The visit starts from Malvicino, considered a real jewel, a village of a few ancient houses gathered around a square with a rural Renaissance church, the parish church of San Michele, an ancient Romanesque church that stands in a clearing surrounded by woodlands dating from the 14th – 15th century, its apse preserves four fragments of paintings that came to light after a recent restoration. The author, who probably was a local artist, painted the Last Judgment with the Resurrection of the Dead and Lucifer at the centre of hell. After leaving the Romanesque church, we take a narrow road that goes down to the valley and climbs up towards the village of Turpino, a tiny group of houses in a panoramic position built around the parish church of S. Giovanni Battista. The church dates back to the 16th century but was later enlarged to house the holy water font and the baptistery, while the confessionals, the pulpit and the choir stalls were added later. On the other side, the hills of the Langa Astigiana territory act as a background interrupted by the isolated Torre di Vengore and the Torre di Roccaverano. At a short distance, we find among the badlands, the recently restored church of the Madonna della Visitazione, from which you may also enjoy a pleasant walk. You can reach it from Turpino continuing uphill to the junction to Spigno on the asphalted road; to then turn right until you reach a first group of houses on the left hill, immediately after we can find the chapel of Santa Rita. In the proximity of an open space, you mayn find on the right a country road that leads down to the church. Coming from Turpino, continuing to the right, you reach Montechiaro Alto along a ridge road through the badlands. The medieval village set in a stunning panoramic position, was recently recovered and the picturesque corners of the stone houses were the setting for the movie Il Partigiano Johnny. The parish church of San Giorgio dates back to the end of the 16th century preserves the portal from 1595 representing the Saint killing the dragon, inside you can find the baptistery, the holy-water font and the choir balustrade, of the same period, a decorated baroque pulpit. The old parish church, now the oratory of Santa Caterina, houses the Peasants’ Museum. In the lowland, not far from the main road, you can admire the ruins of the ancient Parish Church of Cauro, whose monolithic christening font is preserved in the adjacent church. Continuing along the ridge, you arrive at Castelletto d’Erro where the tower, dating from the beginning of the 14th century, dominates the village. Proceeding downhill to the bottom of the Erro valley you’ll reach a crossroads, then turn right towards Arzello. Once you reach the small village you continue along a narrow country road, off the beaten track, that leads to the suggestive church of San Secondo set in the valley on the left of the Erro stream. Your itinerary ends returning to Acqui, on your way we recommend a visit to the village of Melazzo, which was the birthplace of San Guido, Bishop and Patron Saint of Acqui Terme, before reaching the town.