Imagine the most beautiful 16th-century building in the Alpine arc, the only one to be saved in Piuro after the landslide that completely devastated "the Pompeii of the Alps" in 1618, and a magnificent vegetable garden that gives life to the famous Vertemate wine Passito. Let's go and discover the secrets of the marvelous Palazzo Vertemate Franchi in Valchiavenna.
It is an immense amazement that catches the visitor at the gates of Palazzo Vertemate Franchi and which leads us to wonder why such a magnificently decorated villa is found, romantically isolated, among the bucolic valleys of Valchiavenna.
To understand this, we need to take a step back and tell the story of a unique territory, that of ancient Piuro, which, especially during the 16th century, experienced a period of enormous economic splendor thanks to its importance as a crossroads for traffic between Venice, Milan and Switzerland.
One of the most beautiful buildings of the Lombard Renaissance, with all the charm of the sixteenth-century walled clos and a splendid view of the surrounding valley.
In fact, the Vertemate family moved to these lands at the beginning of the 13th century and gradually became very powerful thanks to the trade in precious soapstone as well as cotton and silk. Thus, in the second half of the 16th century, the brothers Luigi and Guglielmo Vertemate decided to create their sumptuous Renaissance residence of dreams, giving life to the current monumental complex which was conceived without sparing expense.
Its walls were covered with precious frescoes, the ceilings with refined wooden sculptures, while in the surrounding fields – thanks to its climate Piuro was nicknamed the “Nice of the North” – a wonderful Italian garden was created, with a private chapel, orchards, vegetable gardens and vineyards, those same ones that have come down to us today, which give life to one of the symbolic products of Valtellina, the Vertemate Vino Passito produced by the Memete Prevostini winery.
Then the tragedy that no one expected. On 4 September 1618 a huge landslide buried the entire town of Piuro, destroying it completely. Their main building having been lost, the survivors of the family moved to what was their “second home for recreation and delight”, the current Palazzo Vertemate Franchi, the only building in the town that was saved from the natural disaster. Reason revealed why today it is called a “palace”, even if it looks more like a villa, and stands isolated from the rest of the world.
A jewel that has remained almost identical to its original sixteenth-century conformation. Once the Vertemate family became extinct, in 1902 it was, in fact, purchased by the Milanese antique dealer Napoleone Brianzi, then in 1937 by Antonio Feltrinelli and Luigi Bonomi, up to the last heir, Eva Maria Sala, who, after her death, donated it in 1986 to the Municipality of Chiavenna with the obligation to make it a museum.
An exceptional guided tour with Ralph Oliver Gschwind-Guanella, organized with the help of the Valchiavenna Tourist Consortium, “guardian” of the building and one of its greatest connoisseurs, will lead you to discover its treasures and secrets. Like the first, wonderful hall, known as Jupiter and Mercury, completely frescoed, or the “stüa” of Giunone, an imposing meeting room covered with refined boiserie, where we read Vertemate family motto, Industria Auget Imperium, Commerce increases Power.
Upstairs, the Sala dello Zodiaco leaves you breathless, with one of the most beautiful wooden ceilings in the world, one of a kind, and its refined furniture. As can be seen from the inscriptions still present, part of it was exhibited in Rome in 1911 on the occasion of the famous International Exhibition in the pavilion dedicated to the most beautiful objects of Lombardy, among which also stands out a suggestive wooden vessel, perhaps in memory of an expedition of the Vertemates discovering the New World.
The bedrooms and boudoirs are also wonderful, such as the one apparently finely decorated to host Napoleon Bonaparte, the Bishop’s room, and that dedicated to the famous poet Giosuè Carducci, who was a regular of these valleys.
Once you have visited the Palace, it’s time to go and taste the wine that is grown here in the nearby Crotasc, a gastronomic restaurant managed by the Prevostini family, where you can experience the best of Valchiavenna’s food and wine production.
In the entrance corridor, there are numerous writings on the walls. What may seem at first sight to be scribbles, are actually signatures and engravings left by the guests of the villa with brief dedications to their hosts and which date back to the 1600s.