- The House of Savoy created one of Europe’s grand cities in
Turin. Vittorio Emanuele II and Camillo Cavour were instrumental in
achieving Italian unification and succeeded in making Turin the capital
of Italy for three years from 1861. In Turin FIAT started making cars
and today, Piedmont is second only to Lombardy in industrial production
and is one of the country’s wealthiest regions.
The white truffles of Alba are considered Italy’s best and the
region accounts for two-thirds of Italy’s rice production. The
vineyards of Barolo, Barbera and Asti are famous vine-producers.
Turin is a gracious city of wide boulevards, elegant arcades and grand
public buildings. Turin has an enormous green belt in the hills east
of the river, proffering splendid views to the snow-covered Alps west
and north. There is much more to Turin than FIAT cars. Turin’s
grandest square, Piazza Castello, houses a wealth of museums, theatres
and cafès. It is dominated by Palazzo Madama, Chiesa di San
Lorenzo and Palazzo Reale. Turin’s cathedral, Duomo di San Giovanni,
houses the Shroud of Turin. Baroque Palazzo Carignano was the seat
of Italy’s first parliament from 1861 to 1864. You can see the
parliament as part of the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano.
For modern art of metallic sheen, head for the Museo dell’Automobile.
Turin’s single most remarkable sight is the Mole Antonelliana.
This extraordinary structure – 167m tall – is awe inspiring
when you first see if from surrounding narrow streets. Capped by an
aluminium spire it is engineering as art form and quite a spectral
sight when lit at night. Its glass Panoramic Lift silently whisks
visitors 85m up to the Mole’s stunning roof terrace in 59 seconds.
The Basilica di Superga became the final resting place of the Savoys.
In 1949 a plane carrying the entire Turin football team crashed into
the basilica in thick fog. Their tomb lies at the rear of the church.
The preferred residence of the Savoy family lies outside central Turin
in Rivoli. The 17th-century castle Castello di Rivoli now houses a
contemporary art gallery.
The more northern Valle di Susa meanders past a magnificent abbey,
the old Celtic town of Susa and a clutch of pretty mountain villages.
Its southern counterpart, the Valle di Chesone, is pure ski resort
– of which slick Sestriere reigns. Susa is a pleasant stop on
the way to the western ski resorts. In addition to the remains of
a Roman aqueduct, a still-used amphitheatre and the triumphal Arco
d’Augusto, the town’s cathedral is among Piedmont’s
rare medieval survivors. Sestriere ranks among Europe’s most
popular ski resorts. Embracing 400km of pistes and five interlinked
ski resorts – Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx, Sansicario, Cesano
Torinese and Claviere in Italy, and Montgenèvre in neighbouring
France – this prestigious area entices skiers and boarders of
all abilities with its enormous range of slopes and exceptionally
reliable snow conditions. In February 2006 it will stage the Winter
Cuneo is a provincial capital with a small but pleasant old town.
From here a clutch of valleys radiate west towards the southern French
Alps. The longest, the Valle Stura, leads to the Colle della Maddalena,
a mountain pass linking Italy with France. Northwest of Cuneo, the
dead-end Valle Maira climbs past Dronero, a pretty medieval village.
Solid red-brick towers rise above the heart of Alba, a wine town with
a medieval past. Alba’s modern claims to fame are its white
truffle crop, celebrated each October / November with a truffle fair,
and a donkey race in the same month. With picturesque vineyards to
see and wine cellars to visit, cycling and walking in the surrounding
Langhe hills is a true pleasure. Some of Italy’s best reds come
from the gently rolling Langhe hills around Alba. Barbaresco, Barolo
and La Morra – named after the surrounding pinprick villages
that produce them - are big names to look for.
East of Turin sits Asti, a name most link with sparkling white wine.
From here wide plains fan out north to Ivrea and northeast towards
Milan. The gentle green hills and vineyards of Monferrato aside, this
is a largely barren landscape typical to eastern and northern Piedmont.
Approaching Vercelli, a large town on the west bank of the River Sesia,
the land becomes flat. Following the river north past Varallo to Monte
Rosa, flat plains fizzle out and Alpine slopes kick in. Monferrato
is little visited. This green pocket amid on otherwise barren scape
is ideal wine-tasting territory. Ivrea is the town where Olivetti
typewriters were manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s. Varallo marks
the start of the Valsesia, one of the less-crowded Piedmontese valleys
which – together with the Valle d’Aosta’s Val d’Ayas
and Val di Gressoney – forms part of the Monte Rosa ski area.