One of the things I love the most about Italy is the fact that you can discover hidden gems in every little town, in every secluded corner of the country.
If you are in Liguria and take the road that from Savona takes you to Piedmont, you’ll get to Altare, a nice little village surrounded by woods.
To be more precise, the main road used to pass through the town; nowadays a faster road has been created, making Altare a tad more isolated than in the past. Now you really have to be willing to go there, but it is definitely worth the detour.
Its secluded feature is introduced by a small entryway through the walls of an ancient fort and what expects you on the other side of the walls is a small little town, quite similar to many others in the area, but with its own peculiar character – if you are willing to know more about it.
What makes it so special?
This little town, unbeknown to most, is home to one of the most ancient glass traditions in Italy and the world. Dating back to the 13th century, the tradition of glassmaking in Altare has deep roots and a very interesting history.
There are no documents that prove when glassmaking exactly started, but the activity was surely in full swing by 1495, when we have proof of the fact that a guild, known as Università dell’arte vitrea, was operating in Altare. The guild included all glassmakers working in town and had very strict rules.
One of the rules was that the craft of glassmaking could only be handed down from father to son so that there were entire families of glassmakers and not enough work for all of them – forcing some of them to emigrate.
This is why, even if Altare is so little known, we have traces of Altare glassmaking traditions all over the world, from Europe to Argentina. Some of these glassmakers abroad became quite famous: the most famous of them was Bernardo Perrotto, who worked for Louis XIV or the Sun King and even invented its own color, aptly named rosso perrotto (Perrotto’s red).
The last big wave of emigration from Altare was directed towards Argentina, precisely to San Carlos Centro, where they established a glass industry that is still thriving these days.
Unfortunately, Altare has never been very famous and not many people know of its remarkable glass-making history.
The glass tradition of Altare, mainly devoted to making everyday objects and to use glass to solve everyday problems, has always been a bit overshadowed by Murano and its Venetian splendor. However, if you visit the Altare Glass Museum, you discover that there are amazing works of art there too.
The collection includes a series of objects made between 1650 and our days and also some glassmaking tools and equipment. There are artistic and ornamental pieces, everyday objects – equally amazing – and the garden hosts a glass furnace where glass masters give free demonstrations.
But the reasons for visiting the museum do not end with glass: the villa where the museum is hosted is a gem in itself.
As a matter of fact, the museum has an amazing location: an Art Nouveau style (known in Italy as stile liberty) villa built in 1906 and commissioned by Monsignor Bertolotti, the parish of the town, as a present for one of his sisters, Rosalia.
The villa has been designed by Nicolò Campora, one of the most important architects of the time, who was up-to-date with the latest architectural trends. It is part of a series of Art Nouveau buildings in town, which show how rich the village must have been at the beginning of the last century. Some of them can still be seen today and make a nice series of sights for a walk around Altare.
But there’s still something that makes this place so peculiar.
Food, of course! No post of mine can end without a reference to food, you already know. Anyway, food in Altare is quite different from that of surrounding towns and villages and has some very typical dishes.
This is due to the fact that the Altarese glass masters, traveling around for work, brought dishes and recipes from far away places, which have been eventually incorporated into the cuisine of the place.
In Altare you can find maccheroni all’ago, which come from the South of Italy, croxetti, some kind of pasta made with a proper stamp (each noble family used to have its own personalized stamp, in the past) – typical of Genoa, spongada, a sweet focaccia that comes from Lombardy, and riso in cagnone, a rice recipe originally from Biella, Piedmont.