Julia Montforte was an American exchange student to Cuneo when she was in high school in 1976. When living in Cuneo, she discovered the small town of Garessio, nestled in the Ligurian Alps a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea. It was not until years later when she decided to retire from her career in architecture and property development, that she remembered this small village in the area that she had seen in her travels through the Ligurian Alps. With a post graduate degree in Building Conservation Julia began to purchase historically interesting yet neglected homes and renovating them.
Later, after moving to Garessio and continuing to renovate properties she realized this was the perfect opportunity to put these properties together and make them available to artists that needed a place to work and teach. She contacted her friend Gregory Burns who has been teaching art and is a professional artist. The two decided to organize an art camp for those interested in spending some time in this corner of Italy.
Garessio attracts artists from all over the world now.
The town is perfectly located forty minutes from the Mediterranean sea, a half hour drive from the world famous Unesco World Heritage Langhe wine region and in the foothills of the Ligurian Alps which offers spectacular scenery, mountain biking and hiking. The old town area of Garessio has been passed over by modern development leaving the buildings surrounding the main piazza preserved in their original state.
Garessio was once an important stop in the salt trade from the Mediterranean sea and northern Europe. The salt was smuggled on the back of mules on paths cut through the Ligurian mountains to avoid paying the salt tax. Once in Garessio, the salt was repacked and shipped to the rest of Europe. Consequently Garessio became a wealthy town due to the salt merchants and their trade. It also developed into an important center of religious life with the Dominican monks establishing a monastery and university in the town center.
At the turn of the century, Garessio developed into an important place to spend the summer holiday. With the construction of the Miramonte Hotel, Garessio attracted tourists who would come and spend a season in Garessio, taking in the famous waters and enjoying the refreshing climate, an escape from the summer heat found at the lower elevations.
The water, famous even today and sold under the name Acqua San Bernardo, was an excellent detoxifying cure due to the water's low mineral content. The Hotel Miramonte provided luxurious accommodation with the clientele taking the waters, walking and dining as a cure for city life.
Unfortunately, this came to an end with the occupation of the town by German troops during world war two. The german troops used the Hotel Miramonte as their headquarters and Garessio as a base from which to fight the Italian resistance. After world war two, Garessio, as an important tourist center, went into gradual decline.
Garessio has now been rediscovered. People from all over the world have stumbled on this small town, untouched by the march of time, and have begun buying properties in the old town and renovating the homes. Compared to prices paid in the rest of Europe, Garessio is an absolute bargain. Americans, Germans, Irish, and Russians have begun renovating the homes and this has made the old town an increasingly desirable place. With this return of people to the forgotten old town, several hotels have reopened their doors and even the Italians have realized what a treasure the old town of Garessio is, right in their backyard.
Julia Montforte has set up the Montforte Foundation to make her renovated properties available to artists from around the world. Staying in the Montforte Foundation is free to accepted artists, selection by application. The foundation runs two programs, an Artist in Residency program where an artist is given free accommodation and a studio from which to work and an Art Class Residency Program in which a teaching artist is given free accommodation and support to run art classes to visiting artists. The program has been a great success which helps the Montforte Foundation realize their mission, in supporting the revitalization of the Garessio Old town and the preservation of buildings.
Gregory Burns, an artist who has produced and shown his art internationally, continues to offer the Artist in Residence Art Class in Garessio every September. He teaches beginner artists along with artists who are well established in their careers. Gregory has produced several art shows in Garessio over the years and continues to attract artists from around the world to his classes.