Discovering the Ligurian Riviera
December 06, 2020
In Liguria there is snowy air even at low altitude, yet we do not mind leaving our flats in Diano Marina to explore our territory. This time we decide not to go too far, resuming our route through Val Prino, starting from Prelà and its hamlets, up to Villatalla.
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Let's go back to the provincial road 39 that connects Dolcedo with the middle and high part of Val Prino, just a few kilometres before meeting the crossroads for Prelà. On one side, on the right, we go straight on towards Vasia, on the other, on the left, we reach Molini di Prelà, seat of the Town Hall.
Prelà is a scattered municipality with very few inhabitants, one of the most characteristic villages of this area. The valley was for a long time a feud of the Marquises of Clavesana, then passed to the Republic of Genoa, the Angevins - Lords of Provence - and the Counts of Ventimiglia. But before that, this place belonged to the Benedictine monks of San Colombano (7th-8th century), who, communicating with the monks of the Abbey of San Martino on the island of Gallinara (Albenga), introduced the cultivation of the Taggiasca cultivar in the Prino valley. Moreover, they facilitated the development of settlements along the valley, where the numerous water mills and oil mills in the area were built.
In the 13th century Prelà was divided into two districts: the upper one, with its seat in the Castle of Prelà, now included in the municipality of Vasia, and the lower one, in Costiolo. During the XIV-XV century this territory saw a consolidation of agricultural activity, especially olive growing. The economic development, together with the patronage of the noble Lascaris family, determined the artistic flourishing of the valley. Masters of work, local artists and architects, but also Piedmontese and Lombard artists and architects, came together in this part of the Prino Valley to produce some of the historic buildings that we still admire. Small stone craftsmen who gave life to a local school, a workshop that spanned the centuries, passing on to their children a knowledge capable of adapting to the new stylistic needs of the Renaissance and Baroque.
When we reach the main hamlet we can only be enchanted by the view of the medieval stone bridge, with its two arches that connect it to the village of Stonzo, now uninhabited, and the mule tracks that led towards the ridge. As the name suggests, Molini was born and developed thanks to the conformation of the valley, which favoured the creation of mills and various commercial and craft activities.
Here we find the church of San Giovanni del Groppo, probably built in the 15th century. The term "groppo" (big boulder) is taken from the Ligurian dialect, and probably refers to the location of the building on a rocky protrusion. The portico in front of the façade, added in the Renaissance period, is supported by two beautiful stone pillars. These were made by the sculptors Pietro and Bartolomeo Varenzi from Cenova, who skilfully decorated them, obtaining in relief the naturalistic and cordon motifs that we can see on the surface. On the cross vault and on the lunette, instead, we can admire the sixteenth-century frescoes depicting the Decollazione di San Giovanni Battista, painted by Giovanni Cambiaso, a Genoese painter active in western Liguria and father of the more famous Luca Cambiaso.
Read also - Discovering the Impero Valley
Leaving Molini di Prelà we go up the provincial road and cross Costiolo, a pretty hamlet where you can admire the church of San Bernardo with its beautiful churchyard. We go up again until we reach a crossroads with the road that leads to the highest part of the valley. But we turn towards Valloria, another of the hamlets of Prelà.
This small village surrounded by olive trees is known for its numerous cultural events. Among these, we remember the one promoted by the association Amici di Valloria that has promoted the requalification of the inhabited centre, entrusting contemporary artists with the repainting of the doors of private houses.
After spending some time snooping around the caruggi of Valloria we go down to Tavole, a hamlet in turn composed of numerous hamlets, whose names are linked to the settlement of families (Novelli, Oreggi, Revelli, Chiapparo).
We cannot miss a visit to the parish church dedicated to the Annunciation, built in baroque style by Filippo Marvaldi, but with decorative elements and the structure of the bell tower belonging to the previous late medieval plan. In the square in front of the church stretches the place where since ancient times the traditional handball (balun au pugnu in Ligurian) has been played.
From Tavole we continue towards the road that leads to the upper Prino Valley and arrive at Villatalla, the last village on this route. We visit the parish church of San Michele, built on the remains of a previous structure of the 15th century, of which the sculpted architrave, walled above the main entrance, is still preserved. Immersed in a chestnut grove, not far away we find instead the chapel of the Madonna della Neve, dating back to the XVI century, also suggestive for the presence of decorated architraves of the same period.
The second part of our journey ends here. In the next article we will continue the journey through Val Prino, from Pantasina to Vasia.
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