I più belli - the most beautiful.
In Italy the borgo is a cherished place - ancient and characteristic, these tiny communities are everywhere but were never truly appreciated until RAI (Italy's principle TV channel) put them on the map with their programme "Il Borgo dei Borghi".
The borgo is functional as much as it is quaint.
What is a Borgo?
Best described as a small collection of dwellings or hamlet of under 6000 inhabitants, the borgo has been classified according to the official Cultural Heritage Committee as such:
"Per borgo si intende pertanto un 'piccolo insediamento storico che ha mantenuto la riconoscibilità nella struttura insediativa storica e la continuità dei tessuti edilizi storici prevalentemente isolati e/o separati dal centro urbano non coincidenti con il centro storico o porzioni di esso.'"
"A small, historic settlement which maintains its character within the structure of these hamlets, continuing to use traditional materials, it is isolated/separated from the urban centre and not part of the historic centre.'
Ok.. so a small group of traditional homes far from the madding crowd - sounds divine, and it is!
We are lucky to have lived in two borghi, the first was a group of family homes and the second a village. The borgo can mean many things, it's used generically in Italian as a collection or cluster of buildings but since televised fame shined the spotlight, some sort of official specification was needed. If you believe your borgo is rather special you may apply for official status which adds it to the 'Borghi più belli d'italia list, but it must meet the criteria.
I Borghi più Belli d'Italia Association was founded in March 2001 by the Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani (The National Association of Italian Municipalities) with the aim to preserve the heritage of these little pockets. The list is 300 borghi long with sagre, village get-togethers and patron saint days advertised on their website. If borgo-life takes your fancy, you can even stay in one! See the prestigious list for all kinds of events, travel tips, regional specialties and sights to see.
But Italy is full of borghi without even knowing it, when we were looking for a house to buy we asked at the local bar and they said, "Try the borgo." We went in search of a cluster but found a small village! Not sure if Borgo Val officially qualifies but it's still known by everybody around here as one.
The Family Borgo:
A family home is a family nucleus and traditionally gets built onto, becoming a multiple family home, but still all one family. Makes no sense? It does here!
Where land is owned, it's incredibly common for Italian parents to add another building onto their existing property for their children. Not so easy in the licencing department, but as this tradition plays such a major part of Italian heritage, it's completely acceptable and in the end makes a lot of sense. The nucleus grows until it becomes a cluster and is then called a borgo.
When Isabella was born we moved into Borgo Campardi, close friends of Francesco's family, and a place where he'd spent much of his youth. There lived the Campardi grandparents, uncles and aunts, two of the three children with their children and us, 5 homes. They also worked in the family business on the same property. So baby-sitting was never an issue, fresh vegetables were in abundance from the orto and Sunday lunches were always big! But that's not to say the family borgo had no issues - per primo, you had to all get on. Yes, each had their own home but there was very little distance between neighbours who sometimes needed some space.
The Village Borgo:
The second borgo we lived in was Borgo Val in the foothills of the Pre-Alps. The houses are all in stone, some falling to bits, many abandoned for the cities, others beautifully restored. Once, children played amongst the dwellings running the carefree streets in groups and they still do, but much less now. When we stumbled upon our house, the rain had washed away a phone number scribbled on a FOR SALE sign tied to the gate stating VENDESI. As often happens in Italy, an elderly neighbour peeped out from behind her door and said "Buongiorno." She said they'd put the sign up yesterday but it had rained all night. She kindly told us who to call and asked if we'd be moving in. "Ah," Ornella said wistfully, "How lovely to have children back in the borgo once again."
She'd lived in Borgo Val her entire life but her house now stands empty.
The idea of keeping the borghi of Italy alive is more than a TV programme, tourism or cultural heritage, it's about preserving a certain 'stile di vita' - a certain way of life. Of playing outside until dark, befriending your neighbours, celebrating together and cherishing a slower routine where genuine relationships are nurtured, doors are kept unlocked and life's ups and downs can be shared.
If you do visit rural Italy, take the winding roads and perhaps check the Borghi più belli d’Italia list to discover little lesser-known pieces of this beautiful country where time stands still for a moment:
The best borghi in 2022 according to 'Associazione borghi più belli d’Italia':
1. Soave, Veneto - You'd think the origins of a world-famous crisp, white wine would be a substantial town but Soave is classed as a medieval borgo sitting pretty within its walls near Verona. Visit Soave for all kinds of delectable wine celebrations and her stunning Castello Scaligero.
2. Millesimo, Liguria - Think Liguria, think Cinque Terre but this inland stone hamlet was voted top 3 for 2022 and is worth a visit for a hap-hazard jumble of dwellings beside a trickling river with the glorious white-truffle as pride and joy.
3. Castelfranco Piandiscò, Toscana - Tuscany to me seems one beautiful borgo after another separated only by golden wheat fields and sunflowers, this was voted as one of the best. Set in dramatic, craggy landscape with the cutest central piazza, think farmers markets, village parties and long, sumptuous lunches.