The land of the rice
On the rice roads: at the discovery of Vercelli’s rice fields
Surrounded by over 89 thousand hectares of rice fields and with more than 100 varieties of rice cultivated, Vercelli can be considered for all intents and purposes the European capital of rice. Vercelli has been the headquarters of the rice stock exchange and an important social lab during the twentieth century (it is thanks to the struggles of the rice weeders if the 8-hour workday was introduced!) Vercelli and its plain have been linked to rice cultivation since ancient times.
The rice field landscape
Arriving by train, by car, or by foot, perhaps along Via Francigena, visitors will be amazed by the unique show of the lands of rice that boast their full charm in spring, when the flooded rice fields offer an idyllic show also known as the "squared sea”. Here in the lands of water, the passing of the seasons creates surprising shades of colors: the brown of the plowed fields in winter; the light blue of the flooded rice fields in spring; the bright green of the fields in summer; and the yellow of the ripe cobs in autumn.
The granges and the Abbey of Lucedio
In the Vercelli area, Cistercian monks began the land reclamation works and started the massive cultivation of rice, known for centuries in Asia, but arrived in Europe much later. From these first land reclamation works, in the land that extends between Trino, Crescentino, and Larizzate, the Grange were born, ancient residential units and agricultural centers where the lay brothers, or Cistercian monks not part of the convent, carried out land reclamation works on the land covered by lowland forests (of which the "Sorti della Partecipanza” Forest Nature Park in Trino is the only example) to make it suitable for agricultural use. The granges that arose in the Vercelli plain had their center in the Abbey of S. Maria di Lucedio.Transformed over the centuries into modern farms, the granges are still today the centers of rice production where it is possible to discover the past and present of rice cultivation.
The Cavour canal and the irrigation system
The history of rice cultivation has a deep connection with the water, so abundant in these lands, not only because of the presence of large rivers and impetuous streams but also thanks to ingenious hydraulic works carried out to bring water directly to the cultivated fields. The most important engineering work of the area is the Cavour Canal, wanted by the Piedmont-based statesman Camillo Benso Count of Cavour from whom it takes its name. The canal, about 85 km long, was built by hand by thousands of men in just three years and, crossing the entire Vercelli plain, connects the Po River to the Ticino River. The irrigation network of Vercelli, one of the most efficient in Europe, is also made of many canals and waterways that operate ancient mills and pilerie (rice farms), such as the ancient mill of San Giovanni in Fontanetto Po, along which it is possible to find hidden jewels of great importance such as the hydrometric station of Santhià.
Baraggia and PDO rice
Between Biella, Vercelli, and Novara, one can find a landscape that appears endless: it is the Baraggia, once a wild moorland, a paradise for oaks, hornbeams, and molinia grass as tall as a man. Today this land is part of the Guided Nature Reserve of Baragge that protects and gives value to its uniqueness. In addition to preserving a unique environment that is full of charm, the Baraggia, the Reserve also preserves many proofs of the past. Buronzo is an example of it: a small and charming village consisting of seven castles, a consortium, and an evocative scenic architecture where different styles and eras merge. It is important to keep in mind that these lands also boast their key excellence: the Baraggia rice from Biella and Vercelli, representing the first and only Italian PDO rice in the rice industry.
The Great Outdoors and Nature among the rice fields
The rice fields offer a landscape that is full of charm and capable of bestowing a feeling of great balance created between nature and human activity. The rice-fields chambers and irrigation canals represent an environment conducive to the life and breeding of many species of wildlife linked to the water, such as birds, amphibians, and plants. Near the rice fields, it is possible to visit beautiful nature parks, such as the Lame del Sesia Natural Park and the Po River Nature Park in the Vercelli-Alessandria stretch, true oases full of biodiversity. In this unique and fascinating environment, which represents the ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts and slow tourism, it is possible to travel, on foot or by bicycle, following several itineraries in contact with nature, such as the "risaie ciclabili” rice fields biking trails to admire places that in every season offer unique and different scenarios.
Itineraries among the rice fieldsAre you curious to learn about the rice roads? All you have to do to explore them is to follow one of the many itineraries that take you to the discovery of the treasures hidden among the rice fields. You may travel by car, bicycle, or foot. You can stop at a farm to buy excellent varieties of rice and learn all the secrets of its cultivation, as well as discover magnificent farmhouses with closed courtyards and stop in beautiful natural oases. Of course, tasting superb risottos and traditional dishes in the many restaurants and farmhouses in the area is a must! You will have the opportunity to discover a cultural, environmental, and human heritage of great value and a product of excellence, rice, that has a centuries-old link with the water lands where it is cultivated.