Wandering the narrow streets of Pescarzo, a village with views over the Valcamonica, feels like walking a Medieval maze. It would engulf you and drain your spirit of toxic memory if you weren’t busy poking your camera at each somber ballatoio, wooden balconies typical, they tell me, of the houses of foothill Lombards.
I couldn’t help wondering, “What are these houses like inside?”
There are four of us. One by one, wanderers all, we duck into narrow passageways and lose ourselves and each other.
I eventually end up on a small piazza with a lavotoia, a communal wash basin still in use. An old woman, passing by, asks, “Bello, no?” I answer in the affirmative, explaining that I was last here over 20 years ago. The hotel we stayed in those days was long gone; the woman didn’t remember it.
“You must come back in July”, she says, “for the Cantine Aperti, (open courtyards), where there are artists and traditional food.” She speaks with an excitement usually reserved for children upon receiving a gift that promises to satisfy a great pent-up desire. “Everything is open!” she says as she thows open her arms to the piazza and its tightly shuttered houses. “It’s beautiful!”
It turns out she was talking about ImmaginArti, a festival of mountain arts that runs from late July to early August. Artists come from the Valcamonica and surrounding areas to set up shop in the courtyards and cantinas of the locals. They work on and sell traditional art pieces like the old craft masters, including the rock artists that populated the valley with thousands of rock engravings.
When night falls the streets are illuminated in candlelight and there is music and dancing. The old folks tell stories. The young listen and smile.
And this is the way to see the insides of those old houses and interact with happy locals.
Pescarzo was once a town of slate harvesters. The “blackboard rock” was used as roofing material in mountain towns. You didn’t need an architect to design a roof with slate; you just layered the material on a suitable substructure. The work was hard and came with some of the same risks and lung diseases as coal mining; workers seldom lived past 50.
Come at the right time of year and you’ll see corn hung from balconies, drying before being ground into the local staple, polenta. If you’ve had polenta before and thought of it as relatively tasteless, you must try it here.
The web of streets opens to a web of hiking trails. Many years ago we made this a hub from which we took a different walk each day.
Bed and Breakfast I Camuni is the place to stay in Pescarzo. The owners can point you to the trails and are passionate about the history and antiquities.