Saturday morning, it’s cold outside but it’s sunny, beautiful and warm sunshine: the day is just right to immerse yourself in the hills of Piedmont, where the vineyards and castles make the views so unique and the light is perfect to take some photos … let’s go!
On our journey, we follow the route of the “Big Benches”. The Big Bench Project initiated by Chris Bangle was a brilliant idea for the enhancement of the Piedmont area and it quickly became a very trendy way to spend a few hours discovering the breathtaking views. It is through the eyes of this American designer that we allow ourselves to discover the magnificence of our Piedmontese territory. Chris Bangle, in fact, started out working in the automotive field: from Ford to Fiat to BMW where he ended his brilliant automotive career as Chief of Design. In love with the Piedmont area, he moved with his wife to live in the Langhe, in Clavesana, a town of about 800 inhabitants in the province of Cuneo, where he founded Chris Bangle Associates srl.
Here, to share with his friends the feeling of enjoying the landscape through the eyes of a child, he built the first Big Bench in 2010. It is an oversized bench designed to accommodate more people together and to return adults to being children: children who climb up to sit on the bench and discover a piece of the world, adults who with the eyes of children can be surprised and wonder in front of the splendour of nature. The initiative has been well-appreciated and today there are 59 benches in all, giant, colourful and unique.
We want to begin at number one, the very first, the red bench from where everything started. We leave the city behind and travel at first through a flat panorama, and then reach the well recognizable scenic vineyards and hazel groves and small villages, each with its own castle. Ahhh the Langhe!
Here the view of the hills relaxes, the pace is slow and our car climbs leisurely through the hills until we reach the design studio, greeted by an arch with legs flexed on one side and a beautiful coloured parasol on the other. With a brief walk, we reach the legendary red bench, the number one: it is positioned alone, facing the Alps. Sitting in front of the Monviso mountain, we lose ourselves in thought while our gaze goes from one point to another in this fantastic vista. So that’s why the bench was positioned right here!
Grabbing the car, we head south again: from the window, one can enjoy the excellent views and invitations to taste the exceptional wines produced on the farms that follow one after another in this area. Suddenly, another oversized bench pops into view: this time in blue and yellow: it is the bench of Briaglia. We reach it, we climb it, we observe and again, we fly.
And now why not enrich our trip with a little culture and art? With less than half an hour’s drive, we reach the Vicoforte Sanctuary: beautiful, imposing, elegant with its particular dome, the largest elliptical one in the world. The sanctuary is a masterpiece of architecture and pictorial art: it was built starting from a sixteenth-century votive pylon depicting the Madonna with Child, that was mistakenly shot by a hunter. This event (or perhaps the legend that blood had gushed from the wound caused by the hunter’s rifle) was the beginning of frequent pilgrimages to the area.
The Bishop of Mondovì, Msgr. Castrucci, in agreement with Duke Carlo Emanuele I, decided to build a sanctuary to welcome the pilgrims who came for the sect dedicated to the Madonna. In reality, the duke consented and participated in the construction of the temple because he wanted it to become the mausoleum of the Savoy family (that’s why today we find here the tombs of Vittorio Emanuele III and his wife Elena of Montenegro who were interred here in 2017), then fulfilled by the eighteenth-century Basilica of Superga.
The construction of the sanctuary began at the end of the sixteenth century with the architect Ascanio Vitozzi, who imprinted a mannerist style at the base, then it was interrupted and subsequently resumed at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Francesco Gallo who with the encouragement of the famous architect Juvarra, added the tambour (base of the dome) and finished with the elliptical dome, all in baroque style. The four bell towers and the copper roof of the dome were finally completed in the nineteenth-century. Inside, the sanctuary will leave you speechless: the ceiling, a huge surface, is completely frescoed with the unique theme: salvation through Mary (mid-eighteenth century).
An artistic, majestic architectural jewel and breathtaking beauty.
After design, panoramas and art, now we can finally enjoy the other sensations offered by the Langhe through taste. A good lunch in a quiet trattoria: mixed starters, agnolotti with a roast sauce and venison stew, accompanied by a glass of excellent wine. Homemade dessert and coffee. Mmmmm…
Off again and on the way back we make a small stop in Carrù to see yet another big bench and enjoy its beautiful view. This one is golden, located in a public square where it is surrounded by little, child-size benches. An idea that brings a smile to your face in imagining them all full of children, perhaps at the age when they have just learned to sit independently.
We return home enriched by so much beauty and content in the knowledge that we can always have such different experiences in our wonderful and multi-faceted region of Piedmont.