Biella the Beautiful–A New Italian Discovery

by Donna on March 24, 2012

Laura was happy today—showing off her beloved home city of Biella and the surrounding area.  Biella itself is an unknown medieval gem.  But before reaching Biella we visited the old Ricetto di Candelo, a place quite unlike anything I’d seen before.  Candela is a little village outside the town of Biella and the Ricetto is basically a series of medieval 2-story buildings whose purpose was as a fortified storage facility for the town and surrounding inhabitants.  It looks like a little mini-town, but no one actually lived within the walled boundaries.  Its location is just outside the official boundaries of the Lake District of Italy, and, if Laura and Stefano Mosca, the director of tourism for the area, have their way, it will soon be on the tourist map along with the better known regions to the east.


At some point I wondered why we were walking all the streets of the fortified Ricetto until we arrived at a charming restaurant built into one of the old buildings.  There is nothing like dining on very nice 21st century food and wine with proper glasses and cutlery in a medieval 14th building.  A starter of fresh local white cheese and rocket greens was accompanied by a crisp local white wine, followed by a splendid dish of veal-stuffed ravioli.  Then a local red wine accompanied an entree of beef, chunks of aged Italian cheese, and crusty pureed potatoes.  Dessert was perfection, the best true tiramasu I’ve had in years, with proper Italian espresso.


The Ricetto itself was  as much of a gem as the midday repaste.  The cobblestone streets and buildings date from the mid 12th century.  Even the thick wooden doors are original.  Well off the beaten path, it was bypassed by many disasters ranging from the plague to World War II.  (Guess it pays off to not be popular or powerful?)      It’s storage-only purpose is particularly interesting.  People did not live in the Ricetto—it was to keep all kinds of supplies, including grapes (and wine presses), livestock, and grains.  The fortified walls were never breached or conquered.  The careful construction included sloping passage ways that allowed water to run from the south to the north.  The hilltop location provided the ability to just put little open areas in the walls for advantage over advancing enemies.  The same openings allowed for water to flow through the Ricetto (and who knows what else) down the hillsides.


Biella itself is as charming as better known Tuscan villages.  In a city center of walking streets,  everyone meets during the afternoon strolls.  There is an impressive Baroque church, and plenty of designer-filled storefronts.  But best of all is to watch Laura.  She is in her home, greeting friends who sing her praises to her somewhat bedraggled, but very contented, flock.


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