Villa Tornaforte is located in the hamlet of Madonna dell'Olmo, not far from the centre of Cuneo.
A notorial deed from 1445 mentions the "Nostra Signora dell'Olmo" chapel, in existence for some time and known for an extraordinary painting of the Virgin.
The original chapel proved inadequate to hold the growing crowds of pilgrims, and a sanctuary with an attached monastery was built using donations from the local population. On 5 August, 1595, the day sacred to the Madonna della Neve, the monks of the Augustinian order entered the monastery in a solemn procession.
Because of its geographical location, the monastery was regularly involved in various sieges of the city of Cuneo. During the siege of 1744 in the War of the Austrian Succession, the church, bell tower and monastery were seriously damaged.
After centuries of good fortune, the monks suffered the most tragic and cruel chapter of their history during the Napoleonic occupation. The Augustinian community was suppressed, the Church's assets were expropriated and the fathers fled or were massacred. The whole monastery complex thus came into the hands of Count Bruno di Tornaforte, who turned the building into a noble summer residence. The church was given to the municipality and became the parish church of Madonna dell'Olmo.
The structure has been well preserved, allowing for a clear reading of its architectural styles. The building is surrounded by a vast English-style park, a stupendous ecological oasis with around five hectares of ancient trees and a large number of tree, shrub and flower species. The splendid lake covers around 6,000 square metres; divided by an ancient arched bridge, it is home to some rare fish species.
The park has been featured in various publications for its beauty and unusual tree species. They include Il giardino di Villa in Italia nei secoli XVIII e XIX (Italian villa gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries) and most recently in 2007 in Arte e natura. Centoventi giardini privati del Piemonte (Art and nature: 120 private gardens in Piedmont) by Prof. Elena Accati.
The noble house contains part of the old Augustinian monastery, a reception room elegantly furnished with antiques and bedrooms dedicated to Napoleon and the House of Savoy.
Local sights: city of Cuneo and city centre, Villa Oldofredi Tadini
In the area: Fontanelle and Madonna dei Boschi sanctuaries in Boves with cycle of 15th-century frescoes (Last Judgement); Borgo San Dalmazzo, the deportation memorial and the Abbey museum; Vermenagna, Gesso, Stura and Grana mountain valleys; Filatoio di Caraglio silk factory; Roccolo castle in Busca
Typical products: Cuneo prosciutto, Cuneo peppers, Cuneo blonde hens, Cuneo beans, wild mushrooms and chestnuts from the Cuneo valleys, Cuneo strawberries and red apples, San Rocco Castagnaretta carrots, Cuneesi rum truffles
Sport: ski resorts at Limone Piemonte (20 km) and Mondolè Ski at Prato Nevoso and Artesina (35 km); golf; public swimming pool a few kilometres away; river park for walking, jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing in the winter, etc
Events: "Il Giardino Incantato di Villa Tornaforte" (May), Villa Tornaforte relives the battle of 1744 (September)