Today I propose to our Itinari readers a tour during which one can discover the Little Italian Provence in Piedmont: I am specifically taking you to the small village of Sale San Giovanni among the Langhe hills.
The small village of Sale San Giovanni takes its name from the parish church of "San Giovanni Battista," dating back to the year 1000: it was built in the Lombard-Romanesque style above a pagan temple. The village welcomes its visitors with long rows of lavender plants lulled by the wind. It is, in fact, a village in the province of Cuneo, a province with less than 200 inhabitants. In summer, during the lavender bloom, it becomes one of the most visited areas in Italy. The scent of the lavender fields, between mid-June and the end of July, spreads for tens of kilometers. There is no need for a satellite navigator to find these places: your sense of smell will lead you!
The small village of Sale San Giovanni managed to reinvent itself and be saved from the abandonment of the countryside and agriculture, thanks to lavender and the cultivation of aromatic herbs: It has thus become real excellence in the officinal and herbal sector.
The architecture of the village is also very typical and maintains the characteristics of the ancient villages of the Piedmontese Langhe region.
In the most beautiful period, the hills are all in bloom with colors ranging from indigo to blue, to lilac, to purple—a show for nature and photography lovers. The roads leading to the lavender fields are accessible by visitors only on foot; the complete path between the crops is about 7 kilometers long, with many ups and downs, and the journey time is around two and a half hours. The same crops can also be reached through longer routes, on asphalt roads, dirt roads, and paths. Along the way, there are small shaded areas where you can stop for a picnic. The only bar is inside the village, outside the tour of the fields.
Very often, the hives are located next to the lavender fields, where bees move quickly between their home and the purple flowers. Lavender honey, in fact, is very aromatic and highly appreciated. Generally, the visit to the crops is free, but a cash offer or the purchase of some lavender or officinal herbs products is recommended. You can, for example, buy lavender spikes, to perfume wardrobes, drawers, and ambiance. They are inserted in containers including the most fragrant flowers inside their stems. Or you can buy small lavender bouquets, which, once dried, can be grainy, keeping the dried flowers inside handkerchiefs, as perfumers. But you can also purchase oils and essences and much more. In addition to lavender and medicinal herbs, there are many crops of enkir, the wheat of the ancient Egyptians, used for the production of baked goods.
Every year on the last weekend of June, the event "Non solo erbe" (not only herbs in English) takes place in Sale San Giovanni: it consists of a fair-market of medicinal and aromatic herbs, accompanied by a series of conferences on the topic and by refreshment points that offer recipes with local products.
The "Arboreto Prandi," also known as "Cascina Prandi," can be reached through an easy half-hour path, all on the plain, without any extra effort. This particular complex is the result of the work of Carlo Domenico Prandi, a railway worker with a passion for botany and exotic plants. He decided to bring various plants from all over the world to the family farm. In a heated greenhouse, he reproduced many exotic species. Upon his death, the arboretum remained in total abandonment for a few years and was subsequently transformed into an educational tour, with rare plants and splendid orchids.
Nowadays, Cascina Prandi is the heart of the herb district, the starting point of the path of nectars and perfumes, which leads to the fields of officinal herbs and cereals. All cultivations are carried out with organic and biodynamic methods with which, 20 years ago, the land was recovered, and today it is cultivated. The products of the area of this beautiful place are officinal lavender, sage, hyssop, helichrysum, lemon balm, mallow, Roman chamomile, rosemary, wild fennel, peppermint, and coriander. Lavender essential oils are mostly exported to France, where processing is widespread.
The castle of the Marquis Incisa di Camerana dominates, from the top of the hill on which it is perched, the center of Sale S. Giovanni. It is the most picturesque construction of the old village. It is a castle dating back to the 10th century. The main hall is noteworthy, decorated with paintings and small frescoes depicting the deeds of Aleramo; in the hall, there is also a monumental fireplace with the coats of arms of the family. Surrounded by walls, it features gardens and courtyards. The castle is currently private property and is often used as a location for weddings and ceremonies.
If you choose to visit the Little Italian Provence in Piedmont, stay assured that after spending some time among colors, scents, and nature, your mind will certainly be relaxed and ready to face another week of work. If Provence seems too far away, we wait for you in Piedmont!
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