What to visit in Piedmont: highlights and hidden gems
Piedmont, this Northern Italy region so special to me. It's not only the place where I was born, my house, my family and friends, a lot of good memories. Piedmont is a concentration of natural resources and diverse landscapes, of cities marked by an industrial past, of deep faith, great wine and ancient traditions.
Let me introduce you to some of the most special spots you should visit during your holidays in Piedmont!
Turin: introduction to the city and highlights
Turin, the main city in Piedmont, is characterised by an important Baroque and Renaissance heritage, but also by its industrial past. In the XVII century, many famous architects as Guarino Guarini and Filippo Juvarra contributed to give the city its unique charm. Turin also played an important role during the unification of Italy, becoming the fist capital of the peninsula in 1861 (mainly for strategic and political reasons).
At the end of the '80s, Turin was one of the most prosperous industrial cities in Europe: cars, fridges, computers, writing machines and many other items of the modern era were produced here. Many famous industries such as Fiat were born here.
Nowadays, Turin is a vibrant pole and its universities attract students from all over the world. Definitely, a precious gem in the north of Italy that is still to be discovered!
What to visit in Turin:
Parco del Valentino with the Medieval citadel
The enchanting squares of Piazza Vittorio, Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo
Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Madama located in Piazza Castello square
Mole Antonelliana, the most emblematic monument of the city, that hosts the National Museum of Cinema
Turin's cathedral of San Giovanni Battista and Porta Palatina, the Medieval monument that was one of the doors to the city originally called August Taurinorum
Porta Palazzo market, one of the biggest open air markets in Europe and the gastronomic hall Mercato Centrale
Monte dei cappuccini to enjoy a beautiful view of the city
The majestic Superga Basilica located on a hill, sadly famous for the deadly accident of 1949, when a plane carrying the football team of Turin (Gran Torino) crashed right here causing the death of all its passengers
Museums: GAM museum, Turin Egyptian museum, the National Automobile museum and the Lavazza museum about the famous Italian coffee producer
For football lovers, it's possible to visit the Juventus Museum built in 2012.
Turin is also known for its connection with dark magic and mysteries, if you're interested, check the article about Torino Noir!
Langhe & Roero: Piedmont wine treasure
Piedmont also has a unique treasure, where the gastronomy and wine culture find the perfect balance between elegance and tradition, between the land and the local savoir-faire : The Langhe & Roero area.
In 2009 Langhe-Roero & Monferrato became part of the UNESCO World Heritage as cultural landscape, a title that highlights the special bond between the wine-growing area and its deep wine culture. For people like me that are born in Piedmont, The Langhe is a lot more. It's the place to go for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to have a visit at Fontanafredda caves with tasting, to enjoy a Barolo glass, to have a family lunch in a typical restaurant that includes the 'Battuta di Fassona'' (meat tartare) as a starter, to admire the breathtaking view from La Morra Belvedere, to drive along the vineyards with the majestic Cedro del Libano (cedar tree).
More and more local actors propose various activities apart from wine tastings and pairings: VTT in the vineyards, themed hikes, picnics and cooking lessons.
Recently, I've discovered two interesting realities: Cantina Moscone, a genuine family-run estate, and Cantina Oriolo where to enjoy a beautiful panoramic terrace on the Langhe.
Check this article for more addresses of wine estates and restaurants in the area!
Sacra di San Michele: a mystic monument
Sacra di San Michele is definitely one of the most symbolic architectures of the region. It’s a spectacular abbey built from 983 to 987 on the top of Mount Pirchiano, just 40km from Turin.
This mystic place fits inside a route of pilgrimage, Via Saenti Michaelis, that connects it to Mont Saint Michel in France and Castel Sant'Angelo in Apulia. While visiting the abbey, you'll immediately perceive a very mystic atmosphere and it's not a surprise that Sacra di San Michele inspired one of the most famous Italian writer, Umberto Eco, for his romance Il nome della rosa (The name of the rose).
Click here to know more about Sacra di San Michele!
Monte Bracco & Balma Boves, our dear mountains
Monte Bracco is a mountain near Sanfront to which local inhabitants are particularly close. It can be explored through several hikes, I personally did Le tre croci hike starting from Rifugio Miravaldi during the autumn season: the incredible view from the top, the majestic shape of Monviso and the autumn colours made it an amazing experience!
Click here to see the details of Le tre croci hike
Not far from Monte Bracco, there's a very characteristic place called Balma Boves. Balma is the name of these huge rocks where, at the end of XVII century, a small rural village was created. Three families lived here and the last inhabitants left Balma Boves in the 70’s. Now the area is an open air museum to preserve the uniqueness of the village and to show the basic lifestyle of its ancient inhabitants. It was extremely interesting to discover how was life here not so long ago, all about simplicity and in total symbiosis with nature.
Expert guides will explain you the story of Balma Boves and show you the stable, the ovens and the interior of the stone houses as well as the objects that were donated by its inhabitants to the museum.
To reach Balma you’ll have to take a car following the directions to Sanfront. There are guided visits every hour from 10h30 to 17h30 for a cost of 4€ (the reduced ticket is 3€).
Discover the Great Piedmont Wall: Fenestrelle Fort
Can you believe me if I tell you that in Piedmont there's a Great Wall? Fenestrelle Fort lies in Val Chisone and is the second largest wall in the world only to the most famous Chinese Wall.
This majestic structure of 1 350 000 square meters was built between the XVIII and XIX century and it's definitely the most impressive alpine fortification in Europe, spanning over 3 miles long. Fenestrelle Fort is actually made of an uninterrupted series of fortifications characterised by ramparts, ramps, lifts and stairs designed by the engineer Ignazio Bertola and commissioned by King Vittorio Amedeo II. The project was created in order to build a defensive structure that could protect the area from invasions. In fact, the fortress is located along the Italian-French border.
Visits are organised by some passionate volunteers of San Carlo Onlus Association that know every single corner of Fenestrelle Fort and have strong memories from their childhood here. In fact, after the II World War, the structure was abandoned and came back to life in the 90's, being recognised as a symbolic monument of the Province of Turin in 1998. Visiting this Great Piedmont Wall is today a unique experience that brings you back in time.
There are various tours: The royal walk lasts 7hours and goes over the entire Scala Reale and its 3 000 steps (adults: 15euro, reduced: 12euro); the Journey between the walls is a 3-hour walk (adults: 10euro, reduced: 8 euro); the discovery of San Carlo Fortress lasts 1hour (price: 5euro). Check the website to know more about the departing hours in the various seasons!
Pontechianale, a relaxing mountain escapade
Pontechianale is an historical village in Varaita valley, one of the typical so called Italian 'Borghi'. Its beautiful lake, the characteristic stone-made houses, the picturesque churches, the various pathways for panoramic hikes, the surrounding mountains and that breath of fresh air that makes you feel alive. Pontechianale is a place to visit both in summer or winter to relax, do mountain sports and feel connected with nature.
And of course, you can't miss the chance to try the local gastronomy in one of the local restaurants: ravioles from Val Varaita (gnocchi with Castelmagno cheese from the area), polenta, agnolotti piemontesi and Baci di dama or Lady's kisses as a dessert (delicious hazelnut cookies)!
Adrenaline along the Suspended Bridge of Claviere
This bridge located in Cesana-Clavière, less than 100km from Turin, is the longest suspention bridge in the world with 544m and 30m high.
You don't need to bring any special equipment with you, because everything is provided once on spot. The ticket is 15euro and gives the possibility of choosing between a via ferrata (iron way) or a trail on your way back to the boxe office. Tickets can be bought directly once arrived.
The thrill once you start walking on the bridge is impossibile to explain: you feel like you're suspended between the sky and the earth, your steps are cautious at the beginning and become more relaxed and confident little by little. This bridge is also spectacular for the surrounding landscape, in fact, it runs through the San Gervasio gorges and just under your feet a rivulet flows powerfully.
Definitely an incredible experience: check this article to know more about this activity!
Discover Piedmont Lakes
In this amazing region, you'll have the chance to visit the most famous Lago Maggiore and Lago d'Orta, but also the less known Viverone lake, Candia lake and Val d'Ossola lake.
A great mix of nature, relax and entertainment with a wide range of water sports proposed on the lakes as sailing, windsurfing and rowing. For the most adventurous ones there are agencies organising mountain bike tours and paragliding.
As for Lago Maggiore, one of the biggest in Italy, it has been owned for nearly 3 centuries by the powerful family Borromeo then in the XVIII century, it was delivered firstly to the Austrians and then the Savoy. You can't miss the view from Griffa, where the the Sacred Mountain of the Holy Trinity stands, and the tour to the Borromean Islands that rise on the lake: the Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori, Isola Madre.
Lago d'Orta is known for the incredible Sacred Mount of Orta and the Saint Julius island, the only one on the lake, with its cute narrow streets overlooked by ancient houses and Baroque palaces.
At the feet of the Stone King: Monviso mountain
If you like hiking in the mountains, you can’t miss this unique experience to admire the majestic Monviso mountains at its feet.
The hike starts at Pian del Re (2 020m) right at the sources of Po river and passes through Fiorenza and Chiaretto lakes. For 12km you’ll admire incredible landscapes until reaching Quentino Sella shelter (2 640m) in about 4h30-5h00.
You can spend the night at Quintino Sella and enjoy the homemade dishes prepared by the owners to gain back all the energies after the hike. From here, alpinistes start the Monviso ascent very early in the morning. I suggest you to wake up early to admire the first sun rays on the so called Stone King, it’s a magic experience!