Access to the long and narrow Maira Valley has been always somewhat difficult as the road to the valley is narrow and steep. This meant that during the economic Italian development in the 1960s the valley has been preserved by mass tourism. That meant also a heavy emigration which emptied the villages of the valley. In the last twenty years the process has been inverted and the valley has rediscovered and enhanced that artistic heritage and traditional architecture coming from a prosperous and self-governed past when the valley flourished between the 13th and 16th century. In recent times, the valley has became popular especially for French hikers thank to the network Percorsi Occitani (Occitan Trails).
Dronero (Draonier) is the entrance of the valley, a small town build around the Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bridge, 15th century) which crosses the river Maira with three arches and a crenellated pedestrian way. The main road is Via IV Novembre in the town centre with artistic arcades and noble palaces (14th and 15th century). The Foro Frumentario, an octagonal loggia used as cereal market, dates back to the 15th century. Dronero has a long-standing tradition in the production of cutting tools, in particular of sickles.
From Dronero, following Via Roccabruna, the S. Costanzo al Monte church is to be found. The church represents a stunning example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture dating back to the 12th century.
Dronero is also the starting point for the visit of the natural reserve known as Ciciu del Villar in the municipality of Villar S. Costanzo. The natural reserve protects an extraordinary geological phenomenon, the erosion columns. The so-called “stone mushrooms” are columns of clay and quartz topped by blocks of dark stone. The Visitor Centre hosts many information concerning origin and characteristics of the place.
Continuing along the SP 422 road, not far from Dronero, one finds Cartignano (Cartinhan), dominated by its castle dating back to the 14th century. The valley gets narrower and on the hill side after the Porta di Lòttulo lays Celle Macra (Seles), composed of 18 hamlets. In the past, its inhabitants used to travel as anchovy peddlers and to that tradition a Museum is dedicated in the hamlet Chiesa (Museo multimediale degli acciugai). The parish church of S. Giovanni keeps a polyptych by Hans Clemer representing the Virgin on throne with Child and Saints (1496). At the hamlet Chiotto one finds the Chapel of S. Sebastiano (14th century) with 15th century frescoes by Giovanni Baleison (the Martyr of S. Sebastiano, the Last Judgment and devil’s pains).
The road continues to Stroppo (Estrop), whose 14 hamlets go from the bottom valley to about 2000 m above the sea. One crosses Paschero, the main hamlet, and toward Cucchiales reaches the extraordinary Romanesque S. Pietro Church (San Peyre) (12th century) with its frescoes dating back to 15th century (Nativity, Annunciation and other content of the apocryphal gospels).
The SP 104 road leads to Elva (Elva) along steep hairpin bends. The village lays on an attractive basin on the feet of Pelvo mountain and it is worth a visit for the magnificent landscape and for its artistic heritage. The parish church of S. Maria Assunta hosts frescoes such as Crucifixion and Stories of Christ and the Virgin Mary by the Flemish painter Hans Clemer, the master of Elva. The village hosts in the medieval Sundial House the Museum of Pels (hair) linked to the traditions of the “Pelassiers” (hair collectors), men travelling in Northern Italy collecting hairs then transformed in wigs for European aristocracy between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
Starting from the main hamlet, Serre, the «A spass per lou viol» trail proposes a well marked 30 km tour following ancient paths and passes linking all the Elva hamlets.
Continuing along the SP 422 road one reaches Ponte Màrmora, hamlet of Màrmora (La Marmo), a village made up of scattered hamlets in an astonishing side valley on the foot of the peak Rocca la Méia (2831 m). At the S. Sebastiano hamlet one finds the Ss. Sebastiano e Fabiano chapel (15th century) with frescoes by Giovanni Baleison with scenes of apocryphal gospels. From the Reinero hamlet the road goes up along the Marmora valley toward the Esischie col and continues as dirt road to the Mulo col (2527 m) and to the Gardetta pass (2437 m) in a majestic landscape of vast plateaux.
Not far from Mormora, at the beginning of the gorge Préit one finds Canosio (Chanuelhas), a village with interesting examples of alpine architecture. The houses dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries show local architectonic details such as round stony columns, the traditional lobbie (woody porticates) and carved portals, signs of a wealthy past.
Following the provincial road along the river Maira one finds Prazzo (Pras), a village of several scattered hamlets going from the bottom valley to the foot of the Chersogno Mountain (3026 m). Worth a visit is the building of the former town hall in S. Michele di Prazzo, with frescoes illustrating the fathers of the Unification of Italy. Nearby one finds Ussolo, a hamlet with a remarkable architectural heritage and setting of the movie Il vento fa il suo giro by Giorgio Diritti.
The road finally arrives to Acceglio (Assèj), being La Villa its main hamlet. Hamlet Chialvetta in the Unerzio gorge, hosts the Ethnographic Museum La Misun d’en bot, starting point of a visiting tour including the common oven at hamlet Ghèit and the mill at hamlet Pratorotondo. The hamlet Chiappera in the upper valley is a centre for trekking and mountaineering dominated by the massif of Aiguille de Chambeyron (3411 m) and its vertical peak of Castello-Rocca Provenzale with classic and modern climbing ways.
"Antipasti" (Appetizer) and "Percosi Occitani" (Occitan Trails)
Starting in Villar S. Costanzo, Percorsi Occitani (Occitan Trails) is a circular tour in 18 stages ending in Macra. It crosses hamlets and villages, it is an easy trail, it is completely marked with table and yellow marks and equipped with welcoming places to eat offering Occitan menues. Local dishes are so appreciated that have been mentioned in a popular Swiss Guide (Antipasti und Alte Wege, edited by Rotpunkt Verlag). The valley hosts also a deep network of well marked paths and several winter and summer mountaineering routes. The strada dei cannoni is a dirt road suitable for mountain biking. It was opened during the 2nd world war and follows the ridge between Maira and Varaita valleys, from the Rossana col (617 m) to the Bicocca col (2285 m).