Highlights and tour details
Basso Monferrato, the sea of rolling hills between the River Po and Roero, preserves an important medieval heritage in its many Romanesque churches. There are no large towns, and almost always parish churches and chapels are scattered throughout the countryside, in silent places where you can contemplate the beauty. Arriving there on foot changes the perspective, as you immerse yourself in the landscape, for a more intimate and authentic experience. In Montiglio Monferrato, an easy loop lends itself to a day in the countryside, but the purpose of the walk is not only the church of San Lorenzo. Between the village and its hamlets you will discover original sundials: a treasure hunt to be concluded before sunset.
Like many villages of Monferrato, Montiglio is perched on a hill, around a castle whose view will keep us company all day long. We postpone the visit to the village and its steep streets to the end of the walk. In the meantime, we take note of the position of the sundials in Piazza Regina Margherita. Some are on our route, others we can look for by making short detours to the hamlets. Then we stock up on water, because springs are scarce in Monferrato.
- The parish church of San Lorenzo is located a short distance from the village on a panoramic hillock, inside the cemetery. Surrounded by shady cypress trees, its exterior has retained its Romanesque forms, especially the beautiful apse, richly decorated with terracotta and sandstone friezes. But the real surprise is inside: so we open the door thanks to the Chiese a Porte Aperte app (Churches with Open Doors) to contemplate the eight capitals, each one different from the other and all finely sculpted with a variety of subjects and decorative motifs.
After a few steps beyond the church, we find the first sundial in Via Braia, the one in Ca 'd Capel, with an interesting motto in Piedmontese. At the end of the road we are already in the open countryside, walking towards bric Roico, an excellent observation point over Valle Versa, overlooked by Montiglio, and the amphitheatre of hills on the horizon. Towers and bell towers indicate where the villages are: we can make out the centres of Villadeati and Murisengo, as well as smaller hamlets and isolated farmsteads.
Then we can try our hand at reading the rural landscape. The mosaic of fields tells us that the territory offers diversified agricultural products, from the vineyards of Barbera del Monferrato DOC to the fields of fodder destined for the zootechnical excellence of the Piemontese breed of cows: precisely those peaceful white giants beyond the fence along the first stretch of country road.
The colours and mosaic of crops change with the seasons: in autumn the warm colours of the ploughed fields and the vermilion of the vines prevail; in May and June the green of the alfalfa and the gold of the wheat, but the spectacle is assured when the sunflowers bloom in late summer.
If we have a map for the sundials, the crops of this plant change from year to year, thanks to the good practice of rotation. So expect the surprise, perhaps, beyond the hedges of cherry trees on the climb to the hamlet of Carboneri, a cluster of a few houses, a grocery shop and a restaurant, where you can look for another sundial. And we find yet another one almost at the end of our loop, with a short diversion to the hamlet of Rocca, on a panoramic ridge opposite Montiglio.
Points of interest
Parish church of San Lorenzo
The first news dates back to the 10th century, when it is mentioned in a list of parishes dependent on the diocese of Vercelli, but the present church dates back to the 12th-century reconstruction, which originally had three naves and three apses. All that remains of this building is the external wall structure, in which rows of bricks alternate with blocks of "pietra da cantoni", which is a typical sandstone of this area that is very easy to sculpt as soon as it is extracted. The capitals, of excellent workmanship, rest on cruciform pillars, and we are enchanted by the intertwined vegetation, the eagles holding a bunch of grapes in their beaks, the double-tailed mermaids, the monstrous creatures of the medieval bestiary, whose allegorical meanings almost always escape us.
The sundials of Montiglio Monferrato
Almost all of them are the work of Mario Tebenghi (1922 - 2019), a graphic artist born in Montiglio Monferrato, who was introduced to the art of gnomonics when he was still a boy by Cichin, the sacristan, or "sacrista", of the village and expert sundial maker. Tebenghi made or restored 57 sundials in Montiglio, plus three wind roses. Over 500 were made in other places in Piedmont during his long life.
The Parish Church of San Lorenzo in Montiglio Monferrato will open its doors thanks to the Chiese a Porte Aperte app (Churches with Open Doors). Chiese a porte aperte is an automated opening and narration system for churches in Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta. Download the Chiese a porte aperte app. For info: www.cittaecattedrali.it.
Recommended period: spring, autumn
Devotional interest: Yes
Access by public transport: Yes
Disabled facilities: No
Provinces crossed: Langhe Monferrato e Roero
Notes on public transport
Departure, arrival and municipalities crossed
14026 Montiglio Monferrato (AT)
Astisee on map