The symbolic starting point of the Stura valley is located at the centre of Cuneo, in that Francia Road that points straight to the Maddalena Col toward France. The valley is in a strategic transalpine position and for this reason it suffers traffic congestion. In the past, it represented a military road: the roman troops passed across the valley heading to Spain in 77 b.C. whereas in the 10th century it was a route for Saracens invasions. In the Middle Ages, first the troops of Charles I in 1259 and then those of Francis I in 1515 passed through the valley. Even the state road SS 21 that crosses the valley was built at Napoleon times. The valley was then well fortified by the military works of the Savoy House which in Vinadio built the Albertino fort. In the 20th century, fortifications were realized at high altitudes, where a network of military roads, forts, paths and defence posts were built along the French border. None of these constructions were used in battle and today they are employed for civil purposes: the Albertino fort is a place for expositions whereas the military roads are used as hiking trails. The valley is also well equipped for cross-country skiing in winter time which together with the thermal resort of Vinadio and a selection of local foods give a wide offer for high-quality tourism.
At the valley bottom the village Roccasparvera (La Roca) is to be found with the ruins of its castle dominating the valley. The village hosts some 15th century buildings in its historic centre, record of a glorious medieval past when the village competed with Cuneo for territory control. Continuing further, the valley becomes narrower in proximity of the villages of Gaiola (Gaiòla) and Moiola (Moiòla), both close to the river Stura di Demonte and well equipped for canoeing. Nearby, the hamlets of Valloriate (Valàuria) and Rittana (Ritana) are to be found in a nice position on the left-hand side of the valley on a mountain slope among chestnut tree woods.
The valley becomes wider near Demonte (Edmont), a small town of roman origins. The main road has arcade pavements with nice Romanesque capitals and columns. The Museo etnografico Lou feracaval (the Ethnographic Museum Lou feracaval) is located in a former farrier workshop and documents the activity of this ancient craft. The village is placed at the confluence of the valley with the side Arma valley which goes up to the Valcavera Col in an astonishing scenery. From here some hiking routes bring to the Maira valley. On the right-hand side of the valley one finds the hamlet Festiona, a small winter resort well equipped for cross-country skiing.
The road continue to Aisone (Aison), whose territory (the Valletta valley) partially belongs to the Natural Park of the Maritime Alps. The right side of the mountain shows steep cliff faces deeply eroded and it is characterized by caves and shelters inhabited in prehistoric times. The village and its hamlets are situated on the sunny side of the valley and benefit of a Mediterranean microclimate.
Vinadio (Vinai) - situated on a valley bottleneck - has always been a military fortress. The complex military defence system includes the Neghino and Sarziera battery on the top of the village and the Albertino Fort on the west toward France. The latter was built between 1834 and 1847 and represents one of the most relevant military building of Piedmont whose construction implied the demolition of part of the medieval historic centre. Today, the fort is open to the public with a multimedia exposition “La montagna in movimento” about environments, nature and future perspectives of Maritime Alps (www.fortevinadio.it). The village keeps a pleasant historic centre and the S. Fiorenzo church with a nice Romanesque bell tower.
Vinadio is the starting point of several hiking paths: toward the Neraissa valley characterised by houses with local rye-thatched roofs, toward the wild Riofreddo valley situated on the right-hand side of the valley, toward the S. Anna di Vinadio Sanctuary, evocative place between Stura and Tinée valleys at 2035 m of altitude. The sanctuary dates back to the 14th century and formerly it was an hospital on the road between the two valleys through the Col of Lombarda. Today, the sanctuary remains open as a hospice-refuge and is a destination of walking pilgrimages. The church keeps an interesting collection of ex-voto.
Continuing along the SS 21 road, beyond Vinadio, one turns to the right-hand side of the valley to Bagni di Vinadio (1323), a thermal resort highly regarded even at Roman times. The modern building dates back to the 18th century and underwent subsequent changes and enlargements. The thermal water comes from a medium mineral water spring at 60°C high in sulphur, calcium, lithium and chlorine content. The spa offers health and beauty treatments and includes saunas in natural caves, indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Continuing along the small valley Corborant one arrives to the tinyl village of S. Bernolfo, starting point of hiking and ski touring trails.
The main valley of the Stura di Demonte opens up in wider grassy basins in Sambuco (Sambuc), a village in a nice position on a hillock on the left-hand side of the valley. Several houses - today covered with metal roofs - up to few years ago were covered by rye-thatched roofs. The village is renowned for breeding of the local lamb, agnello sambucano.
The valley becomes narrower near Pietraporzio (Pèirapuerc), village built near a river. Further on, at the hamlet of Pontebernardo one finds the Ecomuseo della pastorizia (the EcoMuseum of mountain stock-breeding) illustrating traditional activities and transhumance toward Provence.
The road continues toward the natural barrier of Barricate, a gorge whose steep limestone walls attract many rock climbers. Some ancient defense constructions are still visible in the rock. Further up along the road one arrives to Bersezio, hamlet placed in a grassy basin and then to Ferriere, hamlet keeping interesting examples of alpine architecture. The last inhabited hamlet before the Col is Argentera (L’Argentiera), starting point for ski touring trails. The state road goes up to the Col of Maddalena (1996 m) by several hairpin bends and brings then to the French valley of Ubaye and to Barcellonette.
L'Occitània a Pè
In July 2008, from the main square of Vinadio a group of around 100 people started their hiking trip toward the mountains between Italy and France. This was the starting point of a journey lasting 70 days across South France. The final destination was Vielha, in Aran Valley, Catalonia, Spain. The travel was organized by the cultural association Chambra d’Òc with the aim of knowing the vast Occitan territory and gather witnesses about the state of the common language, Occitan. Everybody was welcome to join the group even for only one day. Overall, the trail was done by seven permanent hikers and it was supported by 1480 persons which accompanied the group for short periods, with a daily average of 20 hikers. The participants included mayors and elected representatives of local French, Italian and Aranese administrations. The local communities, mainly of little dimension, hosted the hikers offering always warm hospitality, proving the meaning of the Occitan concept convivencia. The project “L’Occitània a pè” (Hiking in Occitania) covered 1345 km with a total difference in altitude of 50 000 m. Above all, the project reached the goal of awaken people to Occitan culture and to coordinate efforts for the proposal of Occitan to be classified as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.