An unusual, traditional place
The Balmetti – from the word balma, i.e. “cave” or “place dug into the mountain”, according to the ancient Ligurian language – to an inattentive eye appear to be merely a group of old huts and farmhouses, one next to the other leaning against the mountain.
Actually these dwellings spread over a length of 500m in an area north of Borgofranco di Ivrea and look like what seems to be an abandoned hamlet. But they actually hide a secret: because of a series of natural geological phenomena, fresh air comes out of holes in the ground. The ancestors of the present inhabitants of this, which in ancient times was a vine-growing region, saw an opportunity and a help in the production of the “nectar of Baccus”. Hence they built a number of cellars around these natural vents which make for an excellent climate for the perfect storage and ageing of wine. In fact, thanks to the fresh air coming out of these so-called “ore”, humidity and temperature (7-8°C) are constant throughout the year, thus protecting the wine and the other products (cheese and salami) against the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter.
The structure of the Balmetti is not as simple as it may seem: rooms have been added to the cellars built against the mountain slope, which indirectly exploit the flow of air coming out of the ore; in many cases a floor has been built on top and is a place where to welcome friends and relatives. In the front of the dwelling lays an enclosed courtyard furnished country-style with benches and tables made of wood and stone.
The Balmetti are not only a peculiar phenomenon with a utilitarian application but are also an important element of culture and tradition. According to a census conducted 30 years ago 267 were the owners of 213 Balmetti built around 292 “ore” and which gave rise to a hamlet with roads whose name would be perfectly suited to a place of the imagination: the street of Hope, the street of Good Mood; the street of the Goblet, Bacchus’s alley….
People go to the Balmetti every day, but the place truely come to life three times a year: at Carnival, at the Festival of the Balmetti and during the grape harvest.
Carnival is something people have a strong feel for throughout the Canavese; its roots sink into the local tradition which, in the Balmetti means banquets and feasts organised by the three carnival associations together with music by the brass and drum band. On these occasions, with the high spirits and a few sips of wine, people get together and everybody is dragged into the feast.
On the third Sunday in June the Balmetti fill with people and music on the occasion of the feast called “Andôma ai Balmit”(let’s go to the Balmit), a 35 year old kermis with new events every year to get people to discover these places, rich in history and tradition. There is food to eat, music, dancing and folklore, together with guided tours of the naturally ventilated cellars.
Last comes the grape-harvest, a time which brings us back to the original use made of the Balmetti; this is a moment in which the streets and the wine cellars come to life with the picking of the grapes and the making of the wine which will then be drunk on the occasion of gatherings and celebrations with friends and relatives.
“Andôma al balmit” is not only a moment in which the Balmetti are shared with the community, but also an expression meaning moments of merrymaking and gaiety accompanied by toma e salam dla doja (local cheese and salami) and excellent white and red CDO wine made by the local producers.