Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena: The Contrarian Village
Are you a Contrarian? Do you always think differently from everyone else? If so, this is the perfect place to lose yourself in – the ancient feudal village of Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena in the Neva Valley.
Perched on the mountain at 1100 metres above sea level, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, a medieval village with the “Orange Flag” and among the most beautiful villages in Italy, captivates with its labyrinthine paths that lead to the lordly castle, still privately owned today. The structure resembles a Mediterranean village, featuring medieval aspects with its fortified houses. Timeless are the stone houses clinging around the castle. Walking through the historic centre is an unforgettable experience, under a sequence of arches supporting the houses. Must-see attractions include the restored old washhouses, the piazza della Torre (Tower Square), where the ancient gallows were located. Porta Soprana, majestic with its ogival gate, the entrance to the village. Next to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace, there’s a small curiosity: the small heart-shaped cemetery. South of Castelvecchio, the Ilaria del Carretto Trail begins, passing through Borgata Fontana and the country church of San Giuseppe to reach the village of Zuccarello.
The village of the “Contrarians”
When everyone goes to the sea, do you seek the mountains? Your friends choose pizza, but do you prefer a trattoria? And at the cinema? Art films or blockbusters? In short, you never agree.
Then, perhaps, you are a Contrarian. In Liguria, there is the village suited to you: Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena. This is where the famous saying is believed to have originated.
The story goes like this: During one of the endless conflicts involving Castelvecchio, especially the 1672 dispute between the Piedmontese and the Republic of Genoa, a notorious Sardinian brigand named Sebastiano “Bastian” Contrario was commissioned by Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy to carry out robberies and raids in the border areas with the Republic of Genoa, plundering all the Genoese carts, goods, and caravans that crossed.
But Bastian Contrario and his gang didn’t bother to respect the agreements and decided to attack whoever they wanted, including Piedmontese travelers. It’s not clear how the story ended, but it probably didn’t go well: it’s said that Bastian Contrario perished when, after a long siege, the Genoese blew up the castle and seized the fiefdom in 1672. But his name – and who knows, perhaps his spirit – still lingers in Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena and has even become a common nationwide definition, as attested by the Accademia della Crusca.
Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena brings everyone together
Immersed in a medieval atmosphere, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena is a village perched on a heart of stone, only in appearance. Its narrow alleys leave few alternatives, immediately bringing everyone together.
They will lead you to the washhouses, in the piazza della Torre (Tower Square), the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace, and the small heart-shaped cemetery. Walking among geraniums on the windowsills, lazy cats hunting for rays of sunshine, you’ll find portals, balconies emitting aromas of boraggine broth or rabbit stew, a herb similar to lavender.
You can reach Castelvecchio by walking along the ancient Via del Sale from Zuccarello to Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, following in the footsteps of Ilaria del Carretto, whose story connects these two villages and their impressive castles. In the surrounding areas, there are beautiful treks to the wild rocks of Rocca Barbena or the “Sentiero delle Terre Alte.” Beyond the mountain pass, you can reach the sources of the Bormida. Alternatively, you can come to Castelvecchio on a mountain bike – the ASD Castelvecchio Rockriders will guide you to the best trails contributing to the care and maintenance of Val Neva.
During the first week of June, the village transforms into the “Paese dei Balocchi,” a festival showcasing traditional games. Then there’s the “Festival Contrario,” featuring concerts, readings, and music inspired by guess who. But, of course, someone might not agree.
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