The “stony” viticultural landscape extending from Settimo Vittone to Donnas, passing through Carema and Pont-Saint-Martin and reaching Nomaglio and Borgofranco d’Ivrea, where the Alps meet the Canavese morainic sierra, constitutes a unicum that attracts the observers’ eyes.
Historical passage between Piedmont and Aosta Valley (the Via Francigena passes right through these vineyards), the area is a terraced landscape born thanks to a very favorable microclimate, on the sunny slope on the left bank of the Dora Baltea, where the local communities – certainly from the Middle Ages, but according to some already since the times of the Roman domination – managed to create spaces for carrying out excellence agricultural activities.
The formerly rocky slope, smoothed by the alpine glaciers of the Quaternary era, has been reshaped over the centuries by human action, building countless retaining walls using the stones deposited by the glacier during its retreat and creating others through small quarrying activities on site. Later on, the spaces enclosed by the dry-stone walls were filled with earth taken from the neighboring woods and carried by pack baskets, especially by women.
The par excellence cultivation, so nowadays as anciently, is the grapevine, above all the nebbiolo grapes. Since the beginning, local viticulture had and still has its maximum expression in the system of the pergola – locally called tupiun -, which forms with the terracing an element of great visual impact, in particular when the frontal vertical support is made by pilun, a stone circular pillar with the function of retaining heat during the day and gradually release it at night, thus favoring the maturation of nebbiolo grapes, late by nature. In the past, grapevine cultivation was accompanied by an important niche horticulture, which offered the best of the season to be sold in the main local markets.
Besides terraces and sets of tupiun and pilun, the landscape is characterized by the routes of the connective roads: cobblestones and stairs made entirely of stone, that enable to reach the different cultivated areas. Where the slope slightly levels off, one can see small rustic dry-stone buildings for rural use, whose ground floor, generally with a vaulted ceiling, was intended as a shelter for a maximum of three or four animals.
Another peculiarity of the area, complementary to the viticultural activity and integrated in the context, are the Balmetti of Borgofranco d’Ivrea, a set of about three hundred buildings concealing natural cellars created among the rocky masses of the mountain. Situated at the foot of the slope, in the hamlet of San Germano, the set of balmetti creates a charming village. The temperature inside the cellars is constant throughout the year, between 8° and 13° C, in a natural geothermal system originating from the geomorphological characteristics of the site.
This unique landscape is the result of a centuries-old work by man, who built it stone by stone, enabling with considerable efforts the development of a prosperous agricultural economy, the rediscovery of which – along with the renewal of an olive-growing whose traces in the area are unexpectedly ancient – is nowadays decisive for reversing the process of abandoning the vineyard terraces that we witnessed in the past decades and we are still partly witnessing.
As evidence of the uniqueness of the area, in October 2016 the site hosted the third World Meeting on Terraced Landscapes, as suggested by CIPRA Italia and by the Institute of Mountain Architecture of the Polytechnic University of Turin. Moreover, with a view to safeguarding and enhancing the landscape and its related activities, the municipal administrations – together with the Landscape Observatory of the Morainic Amphitheater of Ivrea (Osservatorio del Paesaggio dell’Anfiteatro Morenico di Ivrea) and the Italian Association of Landscape Architecture (Associazione Italiana di Architettura del Paesaggio) – presented in 2018 a candidacy dossier for the insertion of “Vineyard terraced landscapes on the slopes of Mombarone” in the National Register of Historical Rural Landscapes.