The Alta Langa
My Living Museum & Spiritual Spa
by Faustina Gilbey
It could be a picture of the legendary Isle of Avalon couldn’t it?! Nearly the highest point in the Alta Langa (the high Langhe), the ancient town of Murazzano appears to be floating like an island oasis in the misty skies.
I read an article the other day about the important role that art galleries and museums play in providing oases of peace – places of quiet where you can stop, detach and unplug from the frenetic world and rediscover a sense of the ‘miraculous’. A sense of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves.
You don’t need to do anything in a gallery or museum. You can slowly walk around or sit and absorb the peace….and just look. But not just look….the article also talks of the necessity – and joy – of taking time to really look at one painting or work of art, for an hour or two. It’s only then that you can receive the benefits of understanding and insight…and of peace. You realise you’ve not only truly ‘seen’ the picture but have also been transported beyond into a vast unknown….a peaceful ‘emptiness’ which is all part of the artist’s gift to us.
Well I call the Alta Langa my ‘Living Museum’ or even my ‘Spiritual Spa’. It’s the higher part of the Langhe where the vineyards start receding, the hazlenuts start growing and the land becomes more rustic and wooded. This is the area where I go to simply slow down and look. Its ancient hills heaving with history are surrounded by an amphitheatre of majestic mountains. Someone described it as a vast “golfo di terra”, a “bay of earth” which captures this idea beautifully. Eyes tired of staring closely at smartphone screens or computers can gaze up and away to the far snow-capped peaks and be refreshed by the sight of nature in its magnificence.
In our digital age of increasing unreality I find it vital to spend as much time as possible in nature, in ‘reality’; natural colours, sounds and rhythms have a soothing healing effect which, subconsciously, reaffirm the true source of life.
This is the joy of the Alta Langa for me, you don’t have to do anything to reap its wonderful benefits….you just have to be there and absorb it all. As Cindy Engel says in her book Wild Health….”simply observing the world without manipulating it is undervalued nowadays”.
In fact healing and medicine itself developed over thousands of years of watching, looking and observing animals and plants in the wild whether it was the North American Indians or famous plant-healers like Juliette de Bairacli Levy or Maurice Mességué – who learned his plant-healing skills as his father learned his: by spending his life looking at nature.
Looking brings a joy of discovery – the small details or those wide panoramas take us away from everyday stresses and leave us feeling in awe of the world and good within ourselves.
There’s a strength and depth in the Langhe and a spirituality that seeps into the spirit. Weary pilgrims and salt merchants have walked its hills. Battles have been fought on its land and brave partisans harboured in its woods and walls.
Life can be hard for the farmer (‘contadino’) and winters harsh. But the spirit is strong and is in all the glorious Langhe produce of complex aromatic wines, herby cheeses, hazlenuts & chestnuts, truffles & funghi, meats & salamis. You can taste that same earthiness, love and care that has gone into their cultivation, gathering and production.
This sense of the permanence, of something beyond ourselves, is always behind the work and care of the contadino – who are almost like artists themselves. You can be merely an observer in this living natural museum and yet, despite everything, you will leave renewed, reinvigorated and uplifted – not only physically but in spirit. Che bella terra! The Alta Langa.
About the Writer:
Faustina is English but, for the past 8 years, has been living in Italy. The first couple of years in the Alta Langhe, Piemonte and is now based in Albino near Bergamo. She is the author of “The Little Canadian Cookbook” and wrote for about 6 years for a daily Canadian CBC Television cooking show in Vancouver. Whilst living in South Africa she was assistant manageress of an African restaurant in Capetown as well as writing a pilot TV programme on African food. In London she did private catering and event organising as well as working for the media and independent Film & TV producers.
Faustina moved to Italy to be with her partner, Fiorenzo, and they now have a Feldenkrais, Floating and Food Therapy Centre: www.spaziof.org
She continues her love of food and research by exploring all the wonderful places and products here in Northern Italy; She is a member of Slow Food Italia and teaches seminars on healthy eating and juicing, as well as writing her food/health blog www.eatingcloudsinitaly.com