Judging by the tiny spring, located at 2,020 metres above sea level, few would bet that the stream of water that flows at Pian del Re, in the municipality of Crissolo, was destined to become the most important river on the peninsula: the Po. Yet the Val, Po, Bronda and Infernotto, united by a lively Mountain Community, are not only this: the villages and towns that populate them recall ancient stories of people, among which the long-running history of the Vallesi and the luxuriant salt trade. How can we forget, then, the Monviso, another mainstay of the Po Valley, which Virgil could not omit in his Aeneid, that offers, today, a dense network of paths and walks? In fact it seems that nature in these valleys is the dominant face and that man’s ingenuity is relegated to the background, but the municipality of Crissolo with its millenary history would already be enough – we speak of Neolithic origins – to indicate a different way, and a descent downstream from the parts of Staffarda and Revello, a triumph of civilization, would confirm the reversal of the trend towards first impressions, so to speak “savage”. In fact, the Cistercian abbey of Staffarda dates back to 1100 and is the destination of many admirers of religious art and culture, while in Revello the traces of Margherita di Foix’s new wife of the marquis Ludovico II of Saluzzo remain intact. The name of Ostana, on the other hand, may not be known to most, but it was precisely the fact that it remained isolated for years, from the common neighbours, to have preserved it so rich in proud and attractive Occitan culture: in particular the typically mountain architecture (and «Montana» is synonymous with stone and wood), has resisted the last wave of innovators, and has rightly maintained its constructive canons.
Landscapes, art, culture, but not only: the snow-covered slopes of the area are the destination of crowds of skiers – directed in particular at Crissolo and Pian Muné di Paesana or Rucas di Bagnolo – and the peculiarities, not only gastronomic, of these three valleys further enrich: from the apples of the Valle Bronda or the hills of Envie and Barge, to the game cooked in Gambasca, from the Pagno mushrooms and from the typical cheeses of Barge and Oncino to the craftsmanship of Sanfront, of Paesana and of Rifreddo. Nothing is missing to these places to become the main attraction of the Piedmontese Alpe, not even a touch of magic and superstition: in August, in Martiniana Po, a “pyre” of dry fascines is burned, a symbol of popular heritage of a vow for the end of the shocking plague epidemic of 1630.
Strong in these valleys, indeed predominant, is a marked alpine architecture, characterised by a careful and incessant work of modification of the natural environment by man. Settlements, architectures, cultivations, terraces, mountain pastures, woods, canals, mule tracks, represent individual interdependent elements of a single integrated system. The actual testimony is Mombracco and Balma Boves, a complex settlement at 650 metres above sea level in the Sanfront area. The hamlet, inhabited until the fifties of the last century and now restored, is located in the middle of a chestnut forest and constitutes a sort of microcosm, with its shelters for livestock, living and service spaces, the oven and washhouse, stone paved pitches.