White mountains or green hills? Glaciers or still lakes? Industrial districts or medieval villages? The choice is yours! Dense in history, rich in natural wonders, famous for its food and wine. The region of Piedmont (Piemonte) conceals pleasant surprises for every traveller. Part 2 of our must-see guide is finally here…
Piemonte ‘s Palaces, Castles and Abbeys
Piemonte has thousands of castles, palaces, forts and abbeys. This is unsurprising given the area has been conquered, colonised and fought over for more than 2,000 years. Luckily, most points of interest have been restored and are accessible via guided tours and art exhibitions. However, only the most adventurous hikers can reach others, which stand on steep, challenging cliffs.
Also called the ‘Piemonte Great Wall’, this fortress spans over 1,300,000m². Built over more than 100 years (between 1728 and 1850), Fenestrelle has never been under siege. It has only seen minor skirmishes during modern wars. Restored and opened to the public since 1990, the fort is now a main tourist attraction. Its complexity and mystery is a wonder to behold. More than 20,000 tourists climb its perched steps every year.
Sacra di San Michele
It seems like a halo of myth surrounds the thick walls of the Sacra di San Michele (St. Michael’s Abbey). Built on an imaginary line that links it to Mont-Saint-Michel in France, and two sanctuaries in Puglia and Jerusalem, the Sacra overlooks the city of Avigliana, at the gates of Torino. Charmingly, legend tells of a woman being chased by soldiers of fortune, who jumped off the highest tower. However, angels saved her and returned her unharmed.
Reggia di Venaria
Another favourite site, the Reggia di Venaria (Venaria Palace), is in the outskirts of Torino. Venaria Palace was formerly dedicated to the king’s hunting trips. The Reggia is not only an historical wonder, but also a natural hide. Its surrounded by the broad park of La Mandria, and embellished by gardens and pools. The Reggia celebrates ten years since its renovation in 2017 with a particularly busy calendar of events and art exhibitions.
The Temperate Piemonte Plains…
The Po River (Italy’s longest river) has carved out the Piemonte plains over millennia. As a result, these plains have diverse geology, and provide unforgettable vistas. Framed by the Alps and always visible on the horizon, the mitigated rivers, lakes and hills of the region are a peaceful environment to explore on foot, by bicycle or boat.
In the town of Stresa, the characteristic mists of the Padana plains caress the shores of Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second biggest lake. Lake Maggiore demarcates the border between Piemonte, Lombardy and Switzerland. The colourful hills surrounding the lake match the hues from the three Borromean Islands – once inhabited by the local aristocracy. The islands are reachable by boat and have been chosen by many celebrities as the perfect venue for weddings and holiday retreats.
Writers and philosophers like Nietzsche, Butler, Byron, Balzac and Browning regularly visited the peaceful and unexplored shores of Lake Orta, near Novara. Here they found harmony and inspiration. Its poetic landscapes are an ideal getaway for the residents of Orta San Giulio, a small town stretching over a peninsula across the lake, whose narrow alleys and low buildings seem to belong to another era.
Monferrato and Langhe
The gentle hills of Monferrato and Langhe are the homeland of the award winning wines Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. The two regions are renowned as top lifestyle destinations as a result of the quality of their structures and their unbeatable services. Thermal cities like Acqui Terme abound with spas and hot water springs.
…and the Wild Piemonte Peaks
Where the eagles dare and the wolves dwell, there seems to be a world that city lights and pollution cannot reach. It is a place of breathtaking majesty and mystical might. In addition to the brim of perennial glaciers and sheer drops, deer, boars and groundhogs roam free amid the alpine flora.
Connected to 146 skiable trails, for a total of 400km, the village of Sestriere is one of the many towns of the Via Lattea (Milky Way), in Val di Susa. Consequently, Sestriere hosted the main alpine ski events of the 2006 Winter Olympics and several World Ski Championships. Ski experts as much as amateurs frequent Sestriere, which is equipped with state of the art facilities. Both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France pass by Sestriere, and several hiking trails connect the town to the nearby mountain peaks.
The Gran Paradiso National Park is home to several endangered animal and plant species. It was densely populated until modern times and its villagers practiced steenbok hunting. Mountaineers now use the traditional ‘baite’ (mountain cabins), preserved on the slopes and pastures of the mountains, as shelters.
Another must-see attraction: the massive mountain of Monviso is the most visible from all over Piemonte. With an elevation of 3,841m, it stands out among the mountains of the Cottian Alps. Notably, Monviso’s slopes are where you’ll find the source of the Po River, Pian del Re (2,020m). Its majesty inspired several authors, including Dante, Petrarch and Chaucer.
Most of all, Piemonte offers a once in a lifetime gastronomic and mountaineering experience – a must-see stop on your itinerary!
For more info, visit www.visitpiemonte.com.
Check out our must-see guides from previous issues: Puglia region and Alto Adige/Südtirol!