Piedmont is one of the largest Italian regions: it occupies almost the whole of north-west Italy, covering over 25,000 km2 with a population of 4,500,000. The area around Torino is spotted with Savoy residences: La Palazzina di Caccia (the Royal Hunting Lodge) of Stupinigi, and the Castles of Rivoli, Racconigi and Aglie. Artistic holy buildings include the Abbeys of Ranverso, Vezzolano and Novalesa, the Sacra di San Michele, the Cathedral of Torino, which houses the Holy Shroud and Holy Mounts. In addition to the mountains that will host the Games, Monviso, Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa guarantee unique opportunities for practising winter sports. The hilly regions of the Langhe and Monferrato feature numerous castles and characteristic villages, making these charming areas to visit. There are an infinite number of opportunities for practising sports in close contact with nature: on lakes, rivers, in woods and in specially equipped centres.
Image courtesy of Comunità Montana Alta Valle Susa
To discover Torino one has to search through twenty centuries of history. Walking through its streets is a bit like visiting an open-air museum. From Roman Torino, represented by the Palatine Gates, to the Baroque face of the town, designed by great architects such as Guarino Guarini or Filippo Juvarra: examples of this style being Palazzo Carignano, or the dome of the Cappella of the Sindone (the chapel that houses the Turin Shroud),both of which are the work of Guarini.
In the period of the Italian
Risorgimento, the city, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861
until 1864, changed again. The new pre-industrial periphery which was developing
did not contrast with the historical town centre, where the streets,
architectonic structures and long extensions of arches gave space, shape and
life to harmonious, welcoming squares. The city's ancient aristocratic imprint
Today the city has a number of excellent museums: the Galleria Sabauda (Savoy Gallery) and the Egyptian Musuem, which is the world's oldest and second in terms of importance; the GAM, Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, is the second most important museum of modern art in Italy; the Museum of Ancient Art housed in Palazzo Madama; the Royal Armoury, with one of the world's most important collections of weapons; the Mole Antonelliana, the symbol of the city and home of the new National Film Museum.
Torino also has a thousand faces in everyday life: a serious industrial city with unexpected charm and joie de vivre. From the rite of aperitifs to restaurants which offer food made from extraordinary products native to Piedmont; cheeses, mushrooms, truffles, chocolate and prestigious wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.
After dinner, the bars along the River Po come to life and fill the air with sound. Every night music, art exhibitions and street theatre artists become part of the life of a Torino which will amaze you.
This town, named "Bardisca" after the Emperor Ottone III in the year 1001, takes its name from the French term bardot or bard (mule or saddle), in memory of "mule back" transport which once took place amidst the mountains. It is set in the middle of a large basin at the entrance to the Fréjus tunnel linking Italy with France. It is formed of two "borghi"; "Borgo Vecchio" comprises the original nucleus of alpine houses, which has become gradually smaller and smaller due to the expansion of the newer part of the town, "Borgo Nuovo", composed of residential buildings and hotels almost all in the same architectural style. The first historical details date back to 58 BC, when Caesar's Roman legions passed through this valley on their way to Gall. After the barbaric invasions and incursions of the Saracens, Bardonecchia was governed, for the entire feudal period, by the Bardonnèche viscounts, whose coat of arms is still used by the local Council. Following the death of Adelaide of Susa at the end of the 9th century the area was ruled by the "Dauphine" until 1349. Bardonecchia's strategic position was the cause of further military invasion during the Spanish war of succession which ended in 1713. Having fallen to the Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, the history of Bardonecchia became that of Piedmont and the House of Savoy.
One of the leading locations in Piedmont's "white circus" and one of the few alpine ski resorts to have its own railway station, Bardonecchia has long been part of Italy's skiing history, an example of this being the construction of the first lift system, the Colomion "sledgeway", in 1939.
Prestigious season of winter sports, Bardonecchia, is known not only for its snow but for its endless Alpine treasures,such as important religious edificess cattered throughout the resort and its hamlets: Rochemolles, Milleaures, Melezet and Les Arnaud. Churches whose furnishings bear witness to a wealth of art and history which this small town of the valley is always restoring and promoting.
And you cannot speak about Bardonecchia without mentioning its main street: Via Medail. Dedicated to an illustrious inhabitant of the valley, Giuseppe Francesco Medail , who was born there on 24 September 1784. He was that modest customs commissioner who presented a report to the Piedmontese government, as early as 1841, which described the building of the Frejus tunnel as the most convenient way of connecting Piedmont to France.
The feather in the cap of Bardonecchia is without a doubt the Palazzo delle Feste. A lovely structure used as a congress hall, where pleasant musical and theatrical events are held every year and every tourist season. If we start mentioning traditional costumes and wooden carving, Bardonecchia is now known not only in the entire valley but all over Italy and abroad.
Precious costumes, those worn throughout the centuries on the occasion of fetes, but also on regular work days, are on exhibit in the local civic museum. For the admirable works in wood, here there is a centuries-old school of carving where masterful woodworkers make valuable works. The school is that of Melezet, a cheerful hamlet ten minutes from Bardonecchia; known for its works since the Middle Ages. Thus, in many churches of the valley you can enjoy: altarpieces, pulpits, portal statues, etc , handcrafted by artists from this school, among the most prominent of the world.
In Roman times, Sestriere was known as "Ad Petram Sistrariam", as it was situated sixty miles from Torino. Then in the early 20th century, a little hotel named the “Baraccone” was built to host the first skiers to enjoy the delights of the 2000 metre-altitude of Colle Sestriere. Just a little higher up, the Regina Pacis church was completed in 1924 by the well-known architect, Carlo Charbonet.
In the 1930’s, Senator Giovanni Agnelli and his son Edoardo set up Società Incremento Turistico Sestrières (Society for the Promotion of Tourism in Sestriere) and every kind of facility was built: hotels, ski lift systems and the highest golf course in Europe. And so one of the world’s most famous winter sports resorts was born. The emblem of this famous location: two imposing cylindrical buildings designed by Bonadè Bottino, the Torre (Tower) in 1932 and the Principi di Piemonte (Piedmont Princes). Together with the great cable cars and the first beaten ski runs, the two buildings succeeded in attracting numerous Italian industrialists and the most famous personalities from the world of entertainment to spend their leisure time in Sestriere – joined by millions of skiers. As the fascist regime in Italy supported the development of winter sports, Sestriere became the ideal place in which to practice Alpine skiing.
The numerous memories of the old Sestriere, include famous names from the past, champions who won the most important international winter sports competitions. It would be impossible to list them all. Many of them were depicted in posters to publicise the resort and its important competitions, such as the Tre Funivie or the Kandahar Trophy. One of these was Hans Nobl, who directed the Sestriere Ski School for years and was the resorts first great skier.
The town of Sestrières was founded in 1934, and at that time it included Sauze di Cesana and part of Pragelato. In 1935 to “Italianize” all proper names, as imposed by the laws of the Fascist regime, its name was changed to Sestriere. The year later the works were started to erect the church of San Edoardo, dedicated to Senator Giovanni Agnelli’s son, who died tragically in an airplane crash.
In a certain sense he was the one who invented, along with his beloved father, that which today is a large modern for winter sports resort. Sestriere has been famous around the world ever since its creation as a "paradise of alpine skiing". It is also noted for numerous other sports events, which it has always hosted efficiently: Giro d' Italia, Tour de France, major athletics events, football schools and even the World Championships of Alpine Skiing of 1997 which, as Francesco Jayme, esteemed Mayor of the Colle loves to put it: "These events brought prestige and glory, as well as professional growth to the tourist operators of the area".
Now Sestriere is working on becoming a venue for the Olympic Winter Games of Torino 2006. A major commitment that will once again bring world-class skiers to the Colle. And more. On that occasion, the eyes of the world will be focused on the resort with the two tall Towers (that of the Dukes D'Aosta and that of Hotel La Torre) which has already seen myriad legends of alpine skiing whiz by on its slopes: Zeno Colò, Karl Schranz, Jean Claude Killy, Gustavo Thoeni, Pierino Gros and, naturally, Alberto Tomba.
In a basin, in the middle of a wood, Sauze d'Oulx was the favourite destination of Turin's aristocracy in the early Twentieth century. The area was inhabited in ancient times, as proven by the 400 Roman votive vases from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD discovered in the region. In the Middle Ages Sauze was part of the territory linked with Novalesa Abbey and later with the Parish of Oulx. In political terms, it followed the High Valley: first linked with the kingdom of Burgundy, then the Dauphine, passing to the House of Savoy in 1713. In 1747 an episode in the war for the succession to the Austrian throne made the town legendary: the Austro-Piedmontese and French-Spanish troops fought on the hill of Assietta and the victory of the former ended the seven-year war. The French, who were based in Sauze, lost 6,000 soldiers in battle, who were buried in an area which was named Le Fosse. The remains of the fortresses and the "cannon road" which leads to Mount Assietta, bear witness to the battle. The old, typically alpine village is arranged around the Sixteenth century parish church of St. John the Baptist, surrounded by a town which is now made up almost entirely of modern buildings.
"Sportina is born, a dream in the forest, aparadise of snow". "Skiers are not born, at Sportina they become". This is what we read on some of those "Affiches" - posters, that advertised Sauze d'Oulx and Sportina, the wooded mountain just above the town. It's1950 and the colourful posters bear the signature of the painter Felice Vellan. These posters, real treasures for collectors today, portray not only snow and skiers, but also lots of flowers and areas of green nature.
Sauze, in fact, precisely
because of its stupendous geographical position, has always been a destination
for summer holidays, holidays that feature not only excursions and mountain
climbing, but also vacation camps.
In 1936, fulfilling the wishes of Vittorio Valletta, the FIAT "Colonia", "Tina Nasi Agnelli" of Salice D'Ulzio was born. FIAT's example was quickly followed by Martini e Rossi and many years later by don Alberto Prunas, who founded the Casa Letizia. We are in the 1970's and Sauze, thanks also to these summer holiday camps, becomes a tourist town of high prestige. Countless condominiums are built and more and more new hotel facilities. Advertising posters change, too, no longer those of Vellan, but more modern "Affiches" and brochures are printed, more technical that boast of many services. From a prevalently farming town, Sauze was soon transformed into what it is today: one of the most important tourist resorts in Italy.
Cesana Torinese lies in a large
basin in which the Ripa and Piccolo Dora torrents join to form the Dora Riparia,
and the hamlet named San Sicario sits at the feet of mount Fraitève, opposite
mount Chaberton. The origins of this town date back to ancient times and it was
mentioned in the Roman itineraries, in which it is referred to as "Goesao" or "Gadeone".
The Dauphine granted the town permission to coin its own currency and it was the
scene of religious wars from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Many Tuscan miners
arrived from Apuane in the early Nineteenth century to work in the green marble
mines between Cesana and the Pascià crest. The town is also remembered for
having hosted Vittorio Alfieri at the house of Alliaud in the summer months; and
for being home to the family of Paul Cézanne, who was born in 1839 and, as his
surname suggests, spent a large part of his life here.
As far as skiing and tourism linked with this sport are concerned, thanks partially to promotion by Luigi Faure, the first great champion from the Susa Valley, Cesana wasted no time distinguishing itself from other resorts which sprang up from the 1930's onwards.
That's right! They lived here for some time in a castle they built. The Dauphin Giugo V, in 1155, even had the privilege of coining money in Cesana. But the strangest story is the one told about the Marquis Tolosano Desorus. Who was this person? He was a squire, intensely disliked by the population of Cesana for a series of abuses of power and for the many ambuscades he laid for the womenfolk of his subjects. But the people eventually had their revenge; while the two daughters of the Marquis, against their father's will, withdrew into a convent of Oulx, he was stabbed to death by an insulted bridegroom. The Marquis' son, who appeared to have inherited his father's wicked ways, was invited to climb up the bell tower of the town church to admire the panorama. As the young man was leaning against the center column of one of the twin lancet windows, someone gave him a push. The Column that previously was broken gave way and the young marquis fell to his death. The column too, fell to the ground; it was never replaced and today, in the tower window that faces the village of Bousson, that column is still missing.
That Cesana, which far back in 1720 counted 460 inhabitants, in a few years doubled its population thanks to the arrival of many Tuscan miners coming from the Apuana Alps to work in quarries of green marble between Cesana and Cresta Pascià. It did not take long for the town to be transformed into a tourist resort of exceptional qualities. After the pioneers of Italian Skiing, the town and surrounding villages became the destination of many holidaymakers arriving from Turin to spend their summer and winter vacations. Among these there was also Vittorio Alfieri; for many years he was the guest of a local family and it is said that he composed some of his works in the town.
As for skiing and the
development of tourism tied to this noble sport, Cesana waste no time in
distinguishing itself from other resorts that, starting in the 1930's, grew up
throughout the area. And how did it do this?
Perhaps not everyone knows that Luigi Faure, the first great Champion from the Susa Valley who, besides filling the sports news of the 1920's and taking part in the Winter Olympics of Chamonix in 1924, also raced for the Cesana Ski Club. Luigi Faure, the Alberto Tomba of the last century, was a great driving force and he made Cesana known to all those who wanted to practice all the skiing disciplines of that period.
It is set at the entrance to
the wide dip of Monginevro, between France and Cesana. Claviere has ancient
origins and is even mentioned by Petrarch in an ode written in 1353 in praise of
several examples of Italian beauty.
Located on the threshold of a mountain pass of great importance, Monginevro, it is thought that the etymology of the name can be traced back to the Latin term clavis (key) or the French Claviere (lock). The Monginevro pass was known to the Greeks and the Romans crossed it on their way to conquer Gaul, making the town of Claviere an important border town. The road has always had a significant effect upon the life of the town. The existing road was traced by Napoleon in 1803, as is commemorated on an obelisk erected on the hill of Monginevro.
Claviere's recent history is linked with skiing and snow sports. It all began in the early Twentieth century, with the alpine skiers. In the 1930's, the fifty or so inhabitants of the village were joined by a consistent number of people to run the hotels which sprang up like mushrooms to host the winter sports' enthusiasts who flocked to the area in increasing numbers. So, in a very short space of time, the old cellars dotted throughout the village were replaced by real hotels. Fabulous hotels! The guides written in the 1930's classified them among the best on the Italian Alps. After the second world war, which almost completely destroyed the town, the French - Italian border was placed, a little carelessly, right in the middle of the town and it wasn't until 1974 that it was finally repositioned entirely within the Italian border.
Francesco Petrarca wrote an ode in 1253 quoting Clavière, among other locations, to exalt the beauties of the mountains. The history of Clavière can boast this prestigious quotation and more. The history of the village is that of coaches, battles, progress and - especially since the 20th century - snow sports. Until 1700, Clavière belonged to Monginèvre and then became an autonomous municipality, one of the highest in Italy (1786 metres over sea level). Before Napoleon had the road leading to the Monginèvre pass built (along which the entire village is developed), the few houses of Clavière could only be reached by a mule track. The track was so narrow and rough that usually travellers needed to dismount and load their coaches on the back of the mules. According to a legendary episode documented by graffiti on the wall of the Saint Gervais chapel, a brave coachman of the time managed to reach the Monginèvre pass without dismounting from his coach pulled by two horses which, after the adventure, were considered heroes.
The recent history of Clavière is very different. It is linked to skiing and snow sports. It all started at the beginning of the 900's, with the alpine skiers. During the early thirties, a considerably number of workers, staffing the hotels built to host winter sports lovers whose numbers were growing very fast, joined the fifty or so souls who populated the scarce houses in the village. In this way, genuine hotels took the place of the old scattered cellars. And what hotels they were! The guidebooks of the thirties classified them among the best of the Italian Alps. The main hotels in the mountain resort included the Grand Hotel Clavières, the Savoia, the Albergo Santi (founded by Mario and Ettore Santi, two proselytes of Italian skiing), the Roma, the Torino, The Albergo del Club Alpino Italiano, the Passero Pellegrino, the Bes, an old, traditional "piola" now turned into a luxury, comfortable mountain hotel. Clavière was also famous for its ski jump hill, which was demolished in the forties. Resort attractions included a skating rink and a small bobsleigh slope in the "Forte del Bue" area.
Oulx, the first Italian winter sports resort (1906) and a major historical, artistic and cultural centre, was called "Ad Martis" in ancient Roman times due to the presence of a temple devoted to Mars. Located in a position of transit, the village was invaded and destroyed several times: the first time by the Longobards in 574 and finally by the Saracens 906, who sacked the village and slaughtered the monks at Novalesa. Oulx was the important cultural centre of the Delphinate in medieval times and battleground of the fights between the Waldesians and the French. The biggest building is Oulx today is the "Saracen Tower" constructed in the 12th century during the French Delphinate domain. The history and culture of Oulx is also found in the hamlets of Savoulx and Beaulard. Savoulx is famous for the church devoted to S. Gregorio Magno built in 1442.
The excavations carried out to build the A32 motorway led to the discovery of a prehistoric village near La Maddalena. Archaeologists believe that the area was populated in the Neolithic era (4200 AC ca.). A village called Caumontium by the Romans stood on the left bank of the Dora along the Gaul road. The settlement was moved to the right bank away from the disastrous landslides which frequently slipped down the mountain in the 8th century when the new imperial road was built. Chiomonte was property of Novalesa abbey and Saint John's Hospital Chevaliers in medieval times. It was acquired along with the higher Susa valley by the French Delphinate in 1223 and was returned to the Savoia rule by king Victor Amadeus II in 1713.
Located where the Monginevro and Moncenisio roads meet, the illustrious history of Susa is demonstrated by Augustus' Arch and the Roman amphitheatre, the town's medieval buildings and the castle. The Civic Towers overlook the Cathedral devoted to Saint Giusto and other remarkable churches: S. Maria Maggiore, S Francesco, S. Saturnino. The ruins of the huge Brunetta fort rise in the north. Religious treasures are kept in the Diocesan Museums of Holy Art in Chiesa del Ponte, the bishop's seat. Susa is a major tourist resort. Its flavours and specialities make it the heart of the valley.