30 August 2011

Meet Guido Ronchail, Sculptor and Ghironda Maker of Pragelato

The Maestro and one of his Ghironda

One of the wonderful things about being married to a local mountain guy, and there are too many wonderful things to mention, but one of his many charms is that he speaks the local Piemontese dialect, which is a calling card for acceptance rather than suspicion. It is a very useful gift when we are seeking out the not so well known and sometimes inaccessible gems that there are to discover in Val Chisone and Germansca or the greater Piedmont region. Fabrizio, my husband, not only knows most of the valley, he has a way of getting most people to open the door and their life to us with just a bit of chat and genuine interest. It is a wonderful quality that I admire and benefit from in so many ways. Recently we went up to Pragelato in search of S.gr Guido Ronchail, a man of many talents who also is a bee keeper, sculptor, and maker of the Ghironda, also known as a hurdy gurdy, which is a medieval folk instrument, popular in traditional Occitan music.

Wooden Sculptures in his garden in  Pragelto
Our valleys are part of, if only just, the outer most border of the historical Occitania region. We were once part of France, and even longer were we part of the Savoy kingdom, but now firmly Italy. Mr. Ronchail has lovingly restored and enhanced his traditional old home with his wood working and masonry skills along with many artistic flourishes, as well as adding a gallery for his collection of mainly stringed instruments with the Ghironda, prominently featured. 
Stone gate leading to his garden and musical instrument gallery
 We dropped in one day following up on an invitation from him when we ran into him at one of Pragelato's Tinber art gallery's opening, which had featured some of his work, along with fellow sculptor Carlo Piffer of Sestriere
What a delightful day we enjoyed as we chatted about his work and admired his workshop that had accomplished many projects and had so many more in various states of progress. It was a clutter workshop that he apologized profusely for it's state of disarray, but I found comfortable and fascinating as I surveyed the tidy stacks of home made tin can drawers and pieces of musical instruments strewn about. His canine companions bed tucked up in the corner and his trilling orange feathered canary were part of the charm of this well used and loved work area where he spends endless hours tinkering about on his various projects.
Various parts of instuments
Beautiful canary songs to work by
Tools of the trade

Several clock projects

Drawers made from old anchovy cans

After a bit when the stories were flowing, he pulled out a bottle of slightly sparkling local red wine and we quenched our thirsts before moving on to take in his wonderful collection of Ghironda and various other stringed musical instruments, hung whimsically from the ceiling or scattered about the spacious room. It is a delightful collection of various ages and types from different parts of Europe.
Three Ghironde

Ghironde with Appalacian dulcimers on wall and various clarinets 
He also had a mountain dulcimer whose home harkens from Appalachia in eastern America, an instrument with whom I am very familiar. It is not a proper museum per se, but he is happy to share it if we want to bring small groups to visit on one of our small tours. I am sure we will, especially as his son and daughter in law have built a small artisanal dairy shop where they make a wonderful aged Toma cheese, not unlike nearby Cuneo's Castelmagno cheese, from their 5 cows. It's a delightful cheese made by a delightful family. 

Guido's sculptures and artisan cheese shop

Where they store their cheese

The proof is in the tasting
And if all of this hasn't convinced you to get off the beaten path with us then there is always the Ghironda festival in August for some Occitan dancing. We arrange small tours that covers a wide range of interests, mainly about food and drink, although the culinary aspect is an important part of  experiencing a place, immersing yourself in the cultural parts of is interesting and of course, fun. 

We are happy to organize a variety of experinces for you depending on your interests and the time of year, through our T.E.M. association for promotion of our valley. If we have a group of 6-8 we can tailor a holiday or short break for you with our full attention, for groups less than 6 we have to consider the demands of running our B&B and balance it all out. Write us for more information, Info@bellabaita.com and have a look at out web site, Bella Baita Italian Alps Retreat. We'll be waiting for you.


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

A very talented fellow. I often think we need to be able to speak other languages to get to the real essense for these places we visit.

Anonymous said...


Bella Baita Marla said...

Yes bellini, speaking another language is a real gift and gives one a different experience, but at least visual art can speak volumes as well and of course there is always the language of gesture and body language, limited, but interesting all the same.
I'mg glad you enjoyed it Tina.

James Higham said...

Have you posted the story of how you came to be with your mountain guy?

Bella Baita Marla said...

Not really James. Thanks for asking. I have a bit of the story on our web site, but have never formally written it up although it is the number one question we get asked by our guests. Guess I need to consider that post.

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