It’s a game of reflections of water, land and sky that cuts the horizon in the stretch of land between Novara, Vercelli and Lomellina, an area that is well known for the production of rice. It’s an area of plains that are crossed by the canals and the rows and are spotted with farms, parish churches, mills and castles to be discovered all through the year, on your table as well. It’s a sort of mirror that puts together the plain and the sky, an unexpected show before the rice fields. You can see it in Spring when the water fills the fields and the little plants that give their best fruit in Autumn, precious grains of rice that represent the final step of one of the most important productions of the made in Italy. The rice fields show different landscapes and when the days get shorter between September and October the temperature is perfect to taste a dish of hot risotto. The areas between Novara, Vercelli and Lomellina are featured by a production of rice that goes back to the ancient ages, you can discover the customs and the places and have a slow holiday to wake up your senses and enjoy the pleasure of the culture, the nature and the food. Between Piedmont and Lombardy there is a web filled with water and soil that are sometimes mixed up and they draw stretches of land spread with farms, it’s an amazing glance where the details stand out. Between the irrigation canals, the banks, the trees, the storks and the herons.
Under the dome of Novara
The first thing you can glimpse in Novara is the dome of San Gaudenzio, designed by the same Alessandro Antonelli who gave his name to the famous Mole, the symbol of Turin. From the top of its 121 metres you can see the landscape then you can go down and stroll around under the arcades to taste the typical cookies or have a drink. When you leave the town you’ll really slow down along the “green routes of rice” to discover the villages, the monuments, the farms that are spread in the surrounding countryside “I Strai di mundini”, the streets where the mondine (the rice field workers) used to work. It’s a route marked by some information boards like the Graziosa farm-house, the Romanic church in Casalino, the Carrera farm-house and the Calcinara where the festivals used to be held at the end of the rice peeling season. You can drive around or you can cycle and see a landscape that sounds multiplying in Spring that is featured by networks of water stretches with the Alpes in the background when the fields are fully flooded. Your sight and your imagination compete with the tastes so it’s great to be cherished by the typical dishes like the “cassoela” made with the goose meat and the paniscia that is made with the rice, the beans, the vegetables and the pork meat. You can buy the rice from the producers and if you are there in Autumn you’ll be able to buy the rice that has just been picked up instead of seeing the flooded fields.
Briona, between the countryside and history
If you go around the countryside of Novara you will bump into Briona, a village that hides some interesting curious details for the lovers of history. The castle dominates the village, it overlooks the below plain and it has been doing so since the age of the Longobards. When you visit the castle you can imagine the peasants who used to pay the duties on the Medieval bridge on the top of their donkeys in the district of Proh, there’s a typical saying in the lower area of Novara that goes like this "va piài sul punt da Proù " that is "go and get them on the Proh bridge" meaning the money that used to be lent and that wasn’t generally paid back. The Mora stream has been flowing under the bridge since the 14th century, it was maybe a waterway in the past and in the same district you can see Pieve which is set in an area where there were the forests instead of the rice fields that used to separate the water networks from the natural and artificial streams and they used to anticipate the turning of the territory into the rice fields you can see nowadays.
Between the water and the land: Fontanetto Po
The plain of Vercelli as well as the one of Novara is a long stretch of rice fields, lines of poplar trees and watering canals to be discovered through a journey that is also a journey through time that starts in the early Middle Ages when the first infrastructures for the cultivation of rice were built up to the Renaissance period. Fontanetto Po is one of the main villages related to the production of rice, it’s a village with an important history between the land and the water that is crossed by a thick network of canals: the big wheel on the Logna and the turbine that used to supply the needed power to the Mulino Riseria San Giovanni (the mill) still witnesses of an important past since it was the only “riseria” (rice plant) powered by the water and it represents an important step to understand a bit more about the production of rice. It is a museum nowadays. It’s a process that leads to the grains of rice you find in the typical dish like the panissa from Vercelli, not to be confused with the one from Novara that has been cooked by using the rice, the salamino of duja and the beans from Saluggia, in the same area, since the 18th century.
Lomello, the legendary village
Lomello is the village that gives the name to the area in the province of Pavia that is called “the triangle of rice” together with Novara and Vercelli. Lomellina is a really charming area stretched between the Sesia river and the Po river, spread with rice fields and castles where Laumellum has been an important trading centre since the Roman Age. It wasn’t an ordinary place, it was even chosen for the wedding of the Queen of Longobards, Theodelinda, with the duke of Turin Agilulfo. You can visit the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Baptistry of San Giovanni ad Fontes to see its important architecture and fill your imagination. The legends can also attract your attention mainly the one according to which the columns and the vaults of the church change their position although it is only an optical effect due to the perspective. Since you are in the Lomellina area you could also try the typical risotto with frogs that used to be a typical dish to celebrate the weddings.
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