Valdese, North Carolina, is a town in the western part of North Carolina with green valley pastures and rolling hills. In 1893, 125 years ago, it was settled by a group of Italians from the Alps in the region of Italy known as the Piedmont.
They were called Waldensians because they practiced the Waldensian faith. Persecuted for their religion for centuries, in the late 19th century, they saw a population boom and branched out to live elsewhere. A group founded Valdese and created a lasting legacy. Valdese is a good day trip from most of North Carolina’s major cities. On August 10-11, 2018, the city celebrates its 125th anniversary with the Waldensian Festival. Here are some sights to see in Valdese:
- Village Park Mural–A beautifully painted mural in an outdoor park on Main Street detailing the history of the Waldensians from their start to their founding of Valdese.
- Waldensian Heritage Museum on Rodoret Street–The museum is a must-stop to learn more of the day-to-day life of the Waldensian people with examples of their traditional dress as well as a replica of a Waldensian home. The museum also has a really nice gift shop with books and gifts from and about Italy and the Waldensians.
- Waldensian Presbyterian Church–In 1895, the Waldensian Church became part of the Presbyterian Church. During the festival, the church sponsors a traditional Waldensian meal.
- Waldensian Trail of Faith–Here, you can tour the replica of a Waldensian village in the Alps.
- From This Day Forward–an outdoor drama from the Old Colony Players about the Waldensians of Valdese. It celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
- Waldensian Heritage Winery–The winery was founded in 1930 by Waldensians where they use traditional methods to make wine.
- Bocce courts–Bocce is a favorite pastime of the locals, as is evidenced by the bocce courts off Main Street.
- Le Phare des Alpes–The Valdese Men’s Club started as a mutual aid society created by the Waldensians. Today, it hosts the North Carolina Bocce Tournament. During the festival, you can check out the bocce tournament and also sample some handmade soutisso, the local Waldensian sausage that I wrote about for Primo magazine. (Scroll down the page for the recipe.)
- 100 Main–A restaurant on Main Street that serves soutisso a few different ways, but also the traditional way with green beans and potatoes.
- Local street signs, architecture and cemetery–Waldensian culture is evident in the names of local streets, in architecture of older buildings and houses, and in the names of those buried in the local cemetery.
–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com, first wrote about Valdese, North Carolina, in 2003 for the Italian magazine Primo.