Castles of the Langhe

Looking across the hills of the Langhe, you can’t help but notice the castles on top of virtually every hill, but with so many wineries and restaurants to check out, they often get overlooked by visitors. They really shouldn’t though as they tell the story not only of the Langhe, but of all of Italy. So, overlook no more, as I’m here to tell you a little something about them!

Barolo and its castle, with Castello della Volta in the distance

Castello di Barolo

Situated right in the centre of Barolo, this is the natural place to start any discussion about castles in the Langhe. The first mentions of a castle in Barolo, guarding the Valle Talloria, are from the 10th century. At this time it would have been used to protect against attacks from the Hungarians and, later, the Saracens. 

In the 13th century, the Falletti family took ownership. The Falletti were a powerful family of bankers from the Asti area who came to own the whole of the Barolo and Alba area, some 50 or so comuni. They were a big deal. 

Over the years, they renovated and expanded the castle, until in the 19th century, it became the country residence of the last remaining members of the family, Carlo Tancredi, Marchese di Barolo, and his wife, Giulia Colbert. When Colbert passed, in 1864, the Falletti familiy was finished and the Opera Pia di Barolo was established. This was a non-profit body in charge of administering the family assets and continuing the good work of the marchesi. Ten years later, the castle became a college, providing education for local young people, including those less well-off, who were offered scholarships.

In 1970, the castle was purchased by the Comune of Barolo and it is now home to WiMu (the museum of wine) and the Enoteca Regionale di Barolo.

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Castello della Volta, towering over Barolo

Castello della Volta

If you like your legends, Castello della Volta is the one for you. Towering over Barolo, it is now deserted and crumbling, but it has a lot of interesting stories to tell…

It was built in the 12th Century by the Marchese of Saluzzo. By the middle of the following century it was owned by the aforementioned Falletti family, who had taken over the whole of the Barolo region. In 1864, when Giulia Colbert, the last member of the Falletti family, died the castle was abandoned before being purchased some 30 years later by Pietro Abbona (with help from Opera Pia di Barolo). It is now owned by his descendants, Cantina Marchesi di Barolo. It was damaged during the Second World War and has since sat abandoned, despite various plans over the years to renovate or sell it.

You’re here for the legends though, right? First of all, there is rumoured to be a tunnel which connects it to Castello Falletti in the centre of Barolo. This was used to sneak out late at night for huge parties up at the Castello della Volta. At one such party, in the early 14th century, it is said that the floor of the main salon collapsed, killing many of the partygoers. Their story doesn’t end there though… over the years, people have claimed to have heard voices and music and seen torches lighting the corridors, and some people claim that the castle is now cursed and that the collapse was a punishment from God for the decadent parties.

You can’t go inside the castle anymore, but it’s still a magnificent building and definitely worth a visit, if only for a photo opportunity. Just don’t go at nighttime…

Grinzane Cavour in the fall

Castello di Grinzane Cavour

This one is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you can actually visit it too! It houses a museum, wine shop, restaurant and conference centre, and you can even go on a guided tour with its ‘owner’, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour (or at least an actor pretending to be the Count…).

The castle was built somewhere around the 13th to 14th century. It changed hands many times over the years until, in 1830, its most famous owner, the aforementioned Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, moved in. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that name before, he was the architect of Italy’s unification. When he wasn’t busy bringing together the various disparate states that we now know as La Bella Italia, he was renovating the castle and planting vines all around it. He also found time to be mayor of Grinzane for 17 years.

The castle is also now home to the annual Alba White Truffle World Auction, where the best specimens are sold to bidders from around the world. In the most recent edition, a bidder from Hong Kong paid 100,000 euros for two truffles with a total weight of 900 grammes. 

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Il Castello di Serralunga

Castello di Serralunga d’Alba

Perched atop Serralunga d’Alba, this castle can be seen dominating the landscape from miles around. It was built between 1340 and 1357 by the Falletti family (yes, them again…). In 1864, on Giulia Colbert’s passing, Opera Pia di Barolo took over, and then in 1949 it was acquired by the Italian State.

The castle never served military purposes, and it was never a residence… it was used to keep a watch on, and occasionally to house, agricultural productivity, hence its shape… it is tall and thin, allowing a 360 degree view of the entire area, all the way to the Alps.

Guided tours are available and highly recommended. Check out this link for more details. 

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Castello di Govone

In comparison to the other castles on this list, this one is something of a new-build. The site was home to a 14th century castle, but it was rebuilt in the 18th century by the Counts of Solaro, who transformed it into more of a palace than a castle. They did such a good job that in 1792 the royal family of Savoy took a shine to it and made it one of their royal residences. In 1810, the Piemontese were defeated by the French army and the castle was confiscated by the French Republic. It was later put up for auction and was purchased by Count Teobaldo Alfieri of Sostegno, in order to prevent its demolition. In 1816, he gave it back to Prince Carlo Felice, so that the Savoy Family could be its owners once more. 

Felice carried out extensive renovation works and used the castle as his summer residence, often hosting monarchs and heads of state, until his death in 1831.

The castle is now used for meetings, conventions and cultural events, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also hosts Italy’s largest Christmas Market each year (in 2020 it was named Europe’s best Christmas Market, though I can’t imagine there was much competition that year…) and you can go inside the castle to visit Father Christmas and take part in a live action Christmas extravaganza! 

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